ArticlePDF Available

Africa's Fear of Itself: the ideology of Makwerekwere in South Africa

  • Amnesty International


Since the collapse of apartheid, the figure of Makwerekwere has been constructed and deployed in South Africa to render Africans from outside the borders orderable as the nation's bogeyman. Waves of violence against Makwerekwere have characterised South Africa since then, the largest of which broke out in May 2008 in the Johannesburg shantytown of Alexander. It quickly spread throughout the country. The militants were black citizens who exclusively targeted African foreign nationals, with some witnesses reporting grotesque scenes of sadistic behaviour. So far these violent spurts have been described as xenophobia, overlooking the history of colonial group relations in South Africa. From the perspective of this article, the history of colonial group relations cannot be overlooked, for the relations between citizens and non-citizens are extended shadows of this history. I argue that, rather than rushing to characterise these relations as xenophobia, we should factor in the history of colonial group relations and the extent to which the post-apartheid ideology of Makwerekwere and South Africa's ‘we-image’ vis-à-vis the rest of Africa may bear the imprints of this history.
Africa’s Fear of Itself: the ideology of
Makwerekwere in South Africa
ABSTRACT Since the collapse of apartheid, the figure of Makwerekwere has
been constructed and deployed in South Africa to render Africans from outside
the borders orderable as the nation’s bogeyman. Waves of violence against
Makwerekwere have characterised South Africa since then, the largest of which
broke out in May 2008 in the Johannesburg shantytown of Alexander. It
quickly spread throughout the country. The militants were black citizens who
exclusively targeted African foreign nationals, with some witnesses reporting
grotesque scenes of sadistic behaviour. So far these violent spurts have been
described as xenophobia, overlooking the history of colonial group relations in
South Africa. From the perspective of this article, the history of colonial group
relations cannot be overlooked, for the relations between citizens and non-
citizens are extended shadows of this history. I argue that, rather than rushing
to characterise these relations as xenophobia, we should factor in the history of
colonial group relations and the extent to which the post-apartheid ideology of
Makwerekwere and South Africa’s ‘we-image’ vis-a
`-vis the rest of Africa may
bear the imprints of this history.
Half a century ago Fanon wrote of the ‘black man’ as ‘a phobogenic object, a
stimulus to anxiety’ among whites.
Today it is fair assessment to suggest that
Africans are phobogenic unto themselves, that Africa is a stimulus to its own
anxiety. Africa’s fear of itself is exemplified by the loathing of black foreign
nationals in South Africa—peculiarly by the nation’s ex-victims of apart-
heid—which is increasingly becoming a fundamental component of South
Africa’s collective identitification and public culture. Since the collapse of
apartheid, the phantom of Makwerekwere has been constructed and deployed
in and through public discourse to render Africans from outside the borders
orderable as the nation’s bogeyman. Waves of violence against Makwer-
ekwere have been rocking South Africa since 1994. The largest and best
known broke out in May 2008 in a Johannesburg shantytown of Alexandra.
It quickly spread throughout the country. The militants were black citizens
who exclusively targeted African foreign nationals, with some witnesses
reporting grotesque scenes of sadistic behaviour.
How did victims of
David Mario Matsinhe is a policy analyst at Human Resources and Skills Development Canada.
Third World Quarterly, Vol. 32, No. 2, 2011, pp 295–313
ISSN 0143-6597 print/ISSN 1360-2241 online/11/020295–19
!2011 Southseries Inc.,
DOI: 10.1080/01436597.2011.560470 295
David Mario Matsinhe is an adjunct professor of African Studies at Carleton University.
apartheid become victimisers with such violent gushing of ire almost
exclusively against Africans? This is the central concern of the article.
According to Danso and McDonald, South African xenophobia amounts
to violent harassment of immigrants from other countries in Africa, killing
‘tens, if not thousands’.
In a study of West African nationals in
Johannesburg, a Nigerian national is quoted saying, it is hatred of ‘blacks
against blacks’ in which white foreigners are seen as tourists and black
foreigners as ‘makwerekwere’.
A joint statement by the Southern African
Migration Project (SAMP)andtheSouthAfricanHumanRightsCommis-
sion (SAHRC) indicates that the victimisation of black South Africans is
being replaced by the victimisation of African foreigners, noting that not
only are more and more citizens becoming more xenophobic but they also
perceive ‘almost exclusively black foreigners’ as directly responsible for
rising unemployment and violent crime.
On 18 April 1997 a Mail and
Guardian article headlined ‘Searching for a guilty Nigerian’ reported
activities of the South African Narcotics Bureau policemen, describing how
they ‘celebrated a colleague’s birthday by endeavouring to arrest as many
Nigerians as possible in the Hillbrow area’.
Generally studies on South
African xenophobia agree that African foreign nationals are more likely
than other nationalities to be victims of physical violence.
xenophobia on the University of Johannesburg campus made similar
revelations. A Turkish student notes that both black and white South
Africans equate the word ‘foreigner’ with ‘black foreigner’, which in turn is
given ‘all dierent negative connotations’. A Dutch student agrees, pointing
out that not only do black South Africans loathe ‘black nationalities’ but
also ‘show a lot of respect to white people, because to them they are the
creators of wealth’.
A recent study found that in South Africa’s tourism
industry ‘tourist’ is a ‘whites only’ category; African foreign nationals are
personae non gratae.
Method and sources
This article is part of a larger study that involved 10 months of fieldwork,
from October 2006 to August 2007, which comprised participant observa-
tion, group and individualised interviews, informal conversations, and other
data sources (see below). The site of fieldwork was the inner city of
Johannesburg, particularly the neighbourhoods of Hillbrow and Yeoville.
Johannesburg is an ideal location for a project of this kind for several
reasons. First, its mining industry has for generations attracted large
numbers of migrant workers from neighbouring countries, particularly
Mozambique, Malawi and Lesotho. On the one hand, these migrants have
crystallised in dierent national groupings, forming a specific power
figuration with each other. On the other hand, these various groupings are
interlocked in an established–outsider figuration with the citizenry. Second,
virtually all members of the established and outsider groups have no visible
skin colour or socioeconomic status dierences. In many cases, they share
ancestries, traditions and languages. This means that members of one group,
notably members of the establishment of the citizenry, engage in the
narcissism of minor dierences to blame and stigmatise members of other
groups, particularly members of the weaker groups. Third, since the early
1990s Johannesburg has seen explosions of aggression and violence by
members of the citizenry against members of outsider groups. The latest
incidents of violence occurred in May 2008, killing over 60 (reported) foreign
nationals, injuring over 600 and displacing over 30 000.
It is noteworthy
that, although this latest spurt of violence was nationwide, Johannesburg was
the centre-stage. As the media reported, the violence began from Johannes-
burg and spread like wild fire across the country.
Again, in this case elements
of the narcissism of minor dierences animated the violence.
In addition, there is a literature on attitudes towards foreign nationals in
South Africa, out of which I draw on five sources: 1) reports on human rights
of foreign nationals produced by the Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the
SAHRC;2)ocial statements by politicians; 3) surveys on attitudes to
immigrants and immigration conducted under SAMP auspices; 4) the
electronic media and press articles; and 5) dissertations and other academic
Beyond xenophobia
Several theses have been put forward to explain what is construed as
xenophobia in South Africa. Thus, for example, Morris proposes the
scapegoat thesis, according to which the loathing of foreign nationals—eg
blaming them for social ills such as crime, unemployment and the spread of
HIV/AIDS—is the manifestation of frustration by poor and unemployed
Similarly, Tshitereke’s relative deprivation thesis contends that
dissatisfaction and frustration with the inadequacy and slowness of
redressing the inequalities of apartheid are leading the deprived masses to
turn against foreigners: ‘This is the ideal situation for a phenomenon like
xenophobia to take root and flourish’.
Morris also proposes the isolation thesis, contending that the hostility
towards foreign nationals issues from the prolonged seclusion of South
Africans, particularly blacks, which precluded contact not simply with the
world beyond Africa but with Africa itself.
The demise of apartheid ended
the seclusion, opened the borders, and subjected citizens to overwhelming
exposure to the world. Xenophobic sentiments and attitudes issue from
sudden and intense exposure to strangers.
A popular ‘biocultural theory’ has been put forward, placing the uneven
loathing of African foreign nationals squarely on their alleged visible
otherness: ‘The biocultural hypothesis locates xenophobia at the level of
visible dierence, or otherness, ie in terms of physical biological factors and
cultural dierences exhibited by African foreigners in the country’.
claiming that the Congolese and Nigerian nationals ‘are easily identifiable as
the Other’, Morris is also a proponent of this argument. ‘Because of their
physical features, their bearing, their clothing style and their inability to
speak one of the indigenous languages’, he writes, ‘they are in general clearly
distinct and local residents are easily able to pick them out and scapegoat
Harris suggests an explanation that situates xenophobia within the
apartheid/post-apartheid transitional period, wherein broad social institu-
tions such as the media produced negative representations of Africa and
African foreigners.
These representations are congruent with the state’s
criminalisation of African foreign nationals as ‘illegals’, ‘illegal aliens’, ‘illegal
immigrants’, ‘criminals’ and ‘drug trackers’, most notably by the South
African Police Service and the Department of Home Aairs.
Neocosmos proposes an elaborate explanation that locates anti-African
xenophobia within South African nationalism.
‘Poverty can only account
for the powerlessness, frustration and desperation of the perpetrators, but
not for their target’, he writes. ‘Why [are] not Whites or the rich or for that
matter White foreigners in South Africa targeted instead?’.
He argues that
it is because of the anti-rural and pro-urban character of South African
nationalism, which during the apartheid era ruralised and devalued black
lives, on the one hand, whilst urbanising and valuing white lives, on the
other. The post-apartheid state simply shifted this rural/urban binary
opposition to Africa/South Africa, such that Africa is perceived as rural
and backward and South Africa as urban and modern. This is also aided by
the urban-centred imagination of nationality and citizenship among freedom
fighters, which ultimately led to the belief in citizenship as autochthony.
There are grains of truth in these explanations but, alas, with Neocosmos’
exception, they only scratch the surface of the problem. None of them,
including Neocosmos’ thesis, begins to appreciate the elephant in the room:
the psychosocial dynamics of group relations at work in this process. One
might ask: how did it come to pass that in the imagination of an African
nation, Africa and Africans represent the negativity of Otherness? The lack
of appreciation of the socio-emotional dynamics of group relations, notably
the imprints on ‘behaviour and feelings and social character’
of the history
of white supremacy and violence leaves a lot to be desired in South African
xenophobia literature. This article seeks to bring these historical, psychoso-
cial dynamics of collectivities into the theorisation of South African
Before I do so, however, I would like to discuss my theoretical framework,
which draws on Fanonian and Eliasian theorisation of group dynamics to
deconstruct what has hitherto been framed as xenophobia in South Africa.
Dynamics of colonial group relations
A discussion of antagonistic relations between groups of people that resemble
each other, as is the case under consideration here, should take into account
the socio-emotional dynamics of the groups in question. In his theory of the
established and the outsiders, Elias speaks about one crucial feature of
relations of this type, namely that the established often imagine the physical
aspect of the outsiders as marks of their inferiority, thus setting them apart as
fundamentally dierent. It is part of a ‘collective fantasy evolved by the
established group’.
On the one hand, the established portray themselves
with positive physical attributes as a sign of their superiority: ‘Almost
everywhere members of established groups and, even more, those of groups
aspiring to form the establishment, take pride in being cleaner, literally and
figuratively, than the outsider groups’.
And given the inferior and often
inhumane conditions in which the outsiders are forced to live, the established
are ‘probably quite often right’. This also speaks to the fear of pollution often
prevalent among the established groups: ‘The widespread feeling among the
established groups that contact with members of an outsider group
contaminates refers to contamination with anomy and with dirt rolled into
one.’ And where the power dierentials are great, with correspondingly great
oppression, ‘outsider groups are often held to be filthy and hardly human’.
The wonder and the power of stigmatisation of outsiders by the established
consists in the magical transubstantiation of establishment fantasy into flesh:
The social stigma that its members attach to the outsider group transforms
itself in their imagination into material stigma—it is reified. It appears as
something objective, something implanted upon outsiders by nature or the
gods. In that way the stigmatising group is excluded from any blame: it is not
we, such fantasy implies, who have put a stigma on these people, but the powers
that made the world—they have put the sign on these people to mark them
of as inferior or bad people.
With time, such asymmetric power dynamics produce in the weaker groups
what Elias called ‘identification with established’ groups, wherein members of
the former measure their personal and collective self-worth according to the
social standards of the latter. As a result, members of the weaker groups
develop self-contempt that often manifests itself in self-destructive behaviour,
including contempt and destruction of those who resemble them the most.
South African xenophobia contains characteristic features of collective
Afrophobic self-contempt. It is symptomatic of the painful socio-emotional
imprints of apartheid power asymmetries that produced a colonised self
among blacks, to which I now turn.
Colonized (Afrophobic) self
In order to put South Africans’ display of hostility towards other Africans in
perspective, it is helpful to examine the imprints of colonial established–
outsider relations on South Africa’s ‘we-image’, and to see how in turn
this ‘we-image’ tilts the ‘we–they’ balance, where ‘we’ is South Africa and
‘they’ is Africa.
Fanon provides analytical tools for such an exercise.
According to Fanon, the distorted we-images among the colonised are a
direct outcome of colonial established–outsider relations. Fanon observed
this distorted collective identification among his fellow Antilleans, who were
colonised comprehensively to the point of negating the whole of their
heritage. He writes: ‘The Antillean does not think of himself as a black man;
he thinks of himself as a white man . . . The Negro lives in Africa.
Subjectively, intellectually, the Antillean conducts himself like a white
Similarly, longer than elsewhere in Africa, in South Africa one was
born into, and became part of, a colonising figuration, constituted through
the everyday comings and goings of colonialism, born of a colonial birth,
living a colonial life, and dying a colonial death. Within such circumstance,
the we-image of the colonised South Africans was distorted. Du Bois made a
similar point: ‘Say to a people: ‘‘The one virtue is to be white,’’ and the
people rush to the inevitable conclusion, ‘‘Kill the nigger!’’’
The almost
exclusive loathing of African foreign nationals in South Africa suggests that,
to a lesser or greater extent, South Africans—their social relations, their
interdependencies, their attitudes towards life, their habitus, their personality
structure, their collective conscious and unconscious, and their emotions—
bear the imprints of colonial/apartheid relations. Among African countries
South Africa is unique in that it is the place where the doctrine of white
supremacy was meticulously systematised and implemented to the smallest
detail of the mundane for the longest period of time.
Cole’s The House of
Bandage bears glaring witness:
The infectious spread of apartheid into the smallest detail of daily living made
South Africa a land of signs . . . to the African the signs are nothing but
oppressive. They are always there, wherever he turns, to remind him that he is
inferior. They shout at him that he is unfit to mingle, unworthy to enter through
facilities for the blacks are poor. The lines are long. The busses and trains are
jampacked because they run so infrequently.
These signs littering the landscapes mundanely represented colonised South
Africans as ‘the lower emotions, the baser inclinations, the dark side of the
They imposed group disgrace on black childhood—the most
malleable phase of life—and adulthood alike longer than elsewhere in
Africa. By the time the colonised reached adulthood, these constant
reminders of group disgrace had dealt heavy blows to their ‘we-image’.
Given the ‘open personality of human beings’,
we can assume that to a
greater or lesser extent the disgrace of blackness penetrated the soul and
social habitus of blacks.
Colonial social unconscious
Hopper puts forward an understanding of the social unconscious that is
relevant in this context. The social unconscious, he writes, consists of social
‘arrangements [that] are not perceived (not ‘known’), and if perceived not
acknowledged (‘denied’), and if acknowledged, not taken as problematic
(‘given’), and if taken as problematic, not considered with an optimal degree
of detachment and objectivity’.
Further, social unconscious is not random,
strictly speaking, but ‘structured like language’ (to use Lacan’s dictum).
the colonial context Afrophobia and white supremacy structured the
formation not only of the social conscious but also of the unconscious of
South Africa, or ‘the sum of prejudices, myths [and] collective attitudes of a
given group’
—in other words, the stock of commonsense knowledge and
mundane methods of reasoning which structure people’s lives without
necessarily being reflected upon.
An appreciation of the crystallisation of the South African social
unconscious, and of the social habitus that goes along with it, which underlie
the current anti-African orientation, requires an appreciation of what it
meant to be a South African in Africa. On this score Adedeji makes the
forceful observation that historically South Africa has set itself apart from
Africa, seeing itself as ‘a European outpost’, very much like other white-
settler societies, bent on either eradicating or subjugating the natives.
meant that, following the establishment of the Union of South Africa in
1910, citizenship and nationality were ‘Whites Only’ categories. Colonial
writings bear witness to the fact, as Oswin wrote at the time, that it was ‘no
exaggeration to say that the majority of South Africans feel an almost
physical revulsion against anything that puts a native or a person of colour
on their level’.
In the social unconscious ‘South African’ and whiteness
became synonyms, whereas blackness symbolised ‘evil, sin, wretchedness,
death, war, famine’.
Such social unconscious enabled the colonised to
idealise themselves in the image of the coloniser—a fantasy that finds
expression in the ideology of South African exceptionalism, out of which is
born the bizarre idea, among others, that South Africans have lighter skin
complexions than Africans from the greater continent. First highlighted by
Mamdani and recently by Neocosmos,
South African exceptionalism is a
‘dominant arrogant’ public discourse according to which ‘South Africa is
somehow more akin to a Southern European or Latin American country
given its relative levels of industrialization, and now increasingly of liberal
This attitude predates the post-apartheid era. Lazarus’
revelations on this question are particularly instructive. Recalling the
mentality of the white establishment of which he was part, he writes:
‘For most whites in South Africa, of course, South Africa was not really
in Africa at all. It was a ‘‘Western’’ society that just happened,
accidentally and inconsequentially, if irritatingly, to be situated at the
foot of the dark continent’.
Lazarus remarks how this attitude
characterised not only pro-apartheid forces but also ironically the anti-
apartheid forces and scholars:
Even within the anti-apartheid movement, a dangerous and inexcusable
ignorance about Africa was quite widespread. This ignorance was premised
not, obviously, on dierence but on categorical dierentiation . . . South
African commentators . . . tended always ‘to regard the country as sui generic
and somehow able to evade the pressures experienced by the rest of
Africa . . . the insularity, the provincialism, the inward directedness, the self-
obsession of so much South African scholarship, including left-wing scholar-
ship, and including that by South African scholars living abroad, in exile or by
choice. The conventional wisdom has been that South Africa would be able to
solve the problems of development (and maldevelopment or underdevelop-
ment) experienced by other African states, rather than to fall victim to them; to
control its own fate; to write its own scripts rather than find itself written into
ones not of its own devising.
This exceptionalism was not simply an ideology with which its proponents
constructed their social reality vis-a
`-vis Africa back then. It was also futuristic
in that, even at the time of the struggle, its proponents projected it into the
future, enabling them to hope for, and dream of, an exceptionally liberated
South Africa. This notion of exceptionalism is fundamental in the study of
the formation of South Africa’s we-images towards Africa.
Identification with the oppressor
In relations such as those between blacks and whites in apartheid South
Africa, where the asymmetric power is too great, weaker groups ‘measure
themselves with the yardstick of their oppressors’.
As Du Bois tells us, such
power dierentials deny the weak ‘true self-consciousness’ allowing them
instead the ‘peculiar sensation . . . this double-consciousness, this sense of
always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s
soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity’.
And once the ideals of the oppressor become the aspirations of the oppressed,
the oppressed has become a cultural clone of the oppressor. From this
vantage point we can hypothesise that, to a greater or lesser extent, the ex-
oppressed in South Africa have taken on the character of their ex-oppressor.
Identification with the oppressor goes hand in hand with self-destruction,
and both are facets of the colonised self. As Fanon writes: ‘I am a white man.
For unconsciously I distrust what is black in me, that is, the whole of my
In self-loathing, the self-loathers also loathe those who resemble
them the most. Oppression debilitates the psyche of the oppressed, which
‘leads eventually to depression or expressions of anger and self-hate, which
by the processes of symmetric logic can as easily be directed at others in the
vicinity who are like me and therefore are the same as me’.
Aversion to
those who resemble the self externalises self-contempt, and projects negativity
of self accrued through generations of vilification to the other. From this
point of view African foreign nationals are feared, hated and distrusted not
because they are dierent but because they resemble the former victims of
apartheid, which typifies narcissism of minor dierences.
Makwerekwere: fantasy of the foreign body
How do the socio-emotional dynamics of colonial group relations in South
Africa as discussed above, ie colonial (Afrophobic) self, colonial social
unconscious, identification with the oppressor, ‘we-image’ of exceptionalism/
superiority, inform the relations between South Africans and African foreign
nationals after apartheid? I suggest looking at how South Africans select
their object of hate, ‘the foreigner’ or Makwerekwere.
In South Africa’s imagination, the word ‘foreigner’ is an emotionally
charged signifier for African foreign national or Makwerekwere, whereby
African bodies become ‘literal ‘‘texts’’ on which . . . some of [the] most
graphic and scrutable messages’ of aversion are written.
Bodily looks,
movements, sounds and smells are legible as evidence of imagined citizenship
and foreignness. Deviation from bodily ideals of citizenship or conformity to
fantasies of strangeness warrants strip searches, arrests, detentions, deporta-
tions, humiliation, tortures, rapes, muggings, killings, etc. As Harris points
Reading physical features as signifiers of foreignness oers a valuable
framework for understanding the significance of these features in xenophobic
actions. Biological–cultural markers are significant in generating xenophobia
because they point out whom to target, ie they indicate which particular
group of foreigners the South African public dislikes and initiates violent
practice against.
The SAHRC reported that illegal immigrants were identified through profiling
of skin colour, language, hairstyle and manner of dress.
Bodies are viewed
as nation-building blocks that are subjected to an ongoing patriotic process
of selection. The bodies caught on the sieve are rejected, labelled coarse and
strange, and denied belonging and usefulness. They must not infiltrate South
African social spaces. If they do, they must be hunted down and destroyed or
removed. Either way national social spaces must be free from undesirable
bodies. This appears to be an ideal of the South African nation and state.
Curiously, as I indicated at the outset, although all social groups hold these
assumptions, black South Africans are the most ardent, rigorous and
vigorous in deploying them.
The looks
Two groups, one of African foreign nationals, and the other of police ocers,
in Johannesburg, confirmed the identification methods that media and
human rights groups had been reporting for over a decade. As one
participating foreign national noted: ‘They pay too much attention on
outward appearance of the person. If they don’t like the way you look, they
create problems for you. They arrest you only for your looks because they
think you have foreign looks.’
The size and configuration of the body are often scrutinised, because in the
imagination of the citizenry foreigners bear physical features that are
distinctively strange. Body parts are examined, graded and coded. When
asked how they identified foreigners, the police ocers replied: ‘It’s very easy.
People from Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroon and places like that have big noses,
big lips, and round heads’.
Physical self-presentation is put under scrutiny,
graded and coded, eg in terms of dress style and haircuts. Another
participating foreign national indicated: ‘They use language and the way
you look, also the dress code . . . because people from Congo, from
Nigeria . . . you can see how they dress’.
Attention is also paid to the shades of skin colour. The idea that foreigners
are ‘too dark’ or ‘too black’ is part of the collective South African fantastic
imagination. So is the idea that ‘they dress funny’. Criminals also deploy this
method to select their victims, since lives of African foreign nationals are
devalued, and consequently crime and violence against them are culturally
acceptable. Lucky Dube was killed because the killers mistook the South
African reggae star for a Nigerian. The killers had the nerve to say this to the
court. Did they hope to elicit public sympathy with this excuse? Did they
believe killing Makwerekwere was culturally acceptable?
Where do these
beliefs come from? With a few exceptions, the South African public displayed
no moral indignation. According to the HRW report, ‘Dress and hair are [also]
handicaps in the context of rife street crime’ (emphasis added).
HRW also
found that detainees at Lindela Repatriation Camp had been arrested
because the arresting police ocers felt their victims bore features of
strangeness: ‘Suspected undocumented migrants are identified by the
authorities through unreliable means such as complexion, accent, or
inoculation marks. We documented cases of persons who claimed they were
arrested for being too black,havingaforeignname,orinonecase,walking
like a Mozambican’ (emphasis added).
Similarly, in 1996, Minaar and
Hough reported that the internal tracing units of the South African Police
Service relied on people’s physical appearance in determining citizenship,
nationality and illegality.
In 2001 the SAHRC memo entitled ‘Teacher
Assaulted for Being too Dark’ condemned the police methods of determining
citizenship: ‘Their criteria for judging whether or not a person is a citizen, are
highly questionable as it appears that one’s skin colour and dress sense serves as
the basis for assessing one’s legal status within South Africa’.
As recently as
2008 a student was arrestedbecausethepoliceconcluded,afterbrieylooking
at him, that his body was not light-skinned enough to be South African. ‘They
took one look at me and said I was too dark to be South African’, he told
reporters. The reporter’sindignationshowstheironyandabsurdityofthese
methods: ‘It is self-evident that no one ever has been or will ever be deported
from South Africa for being ‘‘too White’’’.
The performances
In the South African imagination, indigenous bodies are expected to produce
authentic native sound patterns. In contrast, nothing but incompetence and
lack of authenticity in this regard is expected of foreign bodies. Thus
language and accent are crucial signifiers of imagined nativity and
strangeness. Where one is suspected of being a stranger, the gatekeepers of
South African social spaces—state agents and civilians—initiate com-
munication in a Nguni or Sotho language.
When and where the suspect
fails to produce Nguni or Sotho sound patterns, the gatekeeper changes his/
her demeanour instantly, changes communication from his/her native
language to English, and addresses the suspect impolitely and indignantly:
‘Where is your passport?’; ‘What do you want in South Africa?’; ‘Why don’t
you go back to your country?’ I had a personal experience of this in
Johannesburg on three dierent occasions. This has often been the case with
state agents and civilians. As a Nigerian national explained:
Once you speak their language they immediately know you are one of them.
Once I was drinking in a bar and this South African man was speaking in Zulu
to me. I felt so bad because I could not reply in Zulu, when he noticed that I am
not South African his reactions towards me changed. He was no longer friendly
as he initially seemed.
As a rule it matters little whether the presumed foreigner is in South Africa
legally or illegally. Either way the hatred is as intense. Furthermore, although
the ability to speak an indigenous language is absolutely necessary, in itself it
is an insucient signifier of nativity. The accent must carry the sound of
authentic nativity. Thus, where the alleged foreigner speaks the indigenous
language, the accent is subject to scrutiny. The accent tests must be passed on
the spot. In 1996 Minaar and Hough reported that the South African Police
Service engaged in this practice:
In trying to establish whether a suspect is an illegal or not, members of the
internal tracing units focus on a number of aspects. One of these is language:
accent, the pronouncement of certain words (such as Zulu for ‘elbow’, or
‘buttonhole’ or the name of a meerkat). Some are asked what nationality they
are and if they reply ‘Sud’ African this is a dead give-away for a Mozambican,
while Malawians tend to pronounce the letter ‘r’ as ‘errow’.
According to Minaar and Hough’s study, Lesotho nationals were
frequently harassed and arrested because they ‘speak slightly dierent
However, speaking the language and mastering accents are
often not sucient signifiers of nativity. Additional testing is often required,
in which case the suspects must state, to the satisfaction of the inquisitive
police ocer, their native village, about which they are also quizzed
thoroughly—eg ‘Who’s the village chief?’; ‘What’s the name of the village
primary school and who’s the principal?’; ‘What’s the village high school
and who’s the principal?’ A Zimbabwean refugee reported being subjected
to such scrutiny:
The other day they [the police] stopped me and asked for ID.Theytalkedtome
in Zulu. If you can’t speak Zulu or Tswana they think you’re illegal. But I speak
Zulu very well because I’m Ndebele. So they said, ‘Can I see your ID?’ I told
them I left my ID at home. They didn’t believe me. I have South African ID but I
avoid carrying it around because I know if they find me they will tear it o. So
I leave it at home. So they asked me, ‘Where is your home town?’ I told them
secondary school, the principals, the chiefs and all that shit.
The smells
In the South African imagination, African foreign bodies emit foul odours.
African foreign nationals are perceived as lacking appreciation of technol-
ogies of smell, ‘technologies of self’,
through which subjects cultivate
themselves into culturally agreeable and docile bodies. As one such
technology, deodorant aids individuals in producing themselves as pleasantly
smelling bodies. In the discourse of the citizenry typical African foreign
bodies are positioned as non-users of this technology, as primitive and
lacking a culture of good smells. According to Harris, the Internal Tracing
Unit of the South African Police Service adopted sning out methods to
identify their suspects and victims.
In my interviews policemen in
Johannesburg claimed they could identify the ‘illegals’ through their smell.
‘It’s easy to smell these people’, said one. The rest agreed. When asked how,
they all shrugged in visible expression of disgust: ‘Agh . . . Ba nuka la bantu!’
(‘Yuck . . . These people stink!’).
This belief appears to be part of South
African received wisdom. For instance, despite being married to a Nigerian
national, a South African woman held this belief. ‘These people smell
terribly, to tell you the truth’, she said. Then she added: ‘I don’t know why
they smell so bad. They don’t use cosmetics. I don’t know whether it’s their
nature, where they come from’.
The deodorant and smell are thus markers of group as well as
individual identity, mediating the ‘we–they’ dierentiation between citizens
and non-citizens. On the one hand, deodorant and pleasant smells are
markers of one’s membership in the establishment of citizens. They
represent the ‘we-images’ and ‘we-ideals’ of citizenship and nationality. On
the other hand, non-usage of deodorant and foul smells are proof of
the Others’ outsider position, to which citizens assigned them in the first
The violence of May 2008
The violence of May 2008 was neither random nor isolated; neither the first
nor the last, I am afraid. It was a salient manifestation of a broadly and
deeply entrenched disdain of black foreign nationals. Within this broader
national trend there have been numerous outbreaks of violence since 1994.
These outbreaks have kept research and human rights organisations busy,
such as the Forced Migration Studies Programme, Southern African
Migration Project, Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation,
HRW and South African Human Rights Commission. To these organisations,
to the victims of these outbreaks, and to those who pay close attention to
anti-foreign sentiments, attitudes and practices in South Africa, May 2008
was not surprising. The violence of the ideology of Makwerekwere is an
everyday problem.
The structural characteristics of all the violent outbreaks, including May
2008, were the same: the aggressors were black insiders and they blamed their
victims for crime, unemployment, the spread of HIV and patronisation of
local women. The victims were black outsiders and black insiders perceived
as black outsiders. State ocials were in denial (refusing to acknowledge the
problem, let alone its breadth and depth) and, as usual, state institutions
(police and armed forces) and ocials were slow to respond. The significant
dierence between May 2008 and the previous outbreaks of violence was
magnitude. To put the violence of May 2008 in perspective, let us consider
well known violent outbreaks since 1994 reported in the media and
chronicled by the International Organization for Migration:
.December 1994. In Alexandra, Gauteng, armed youth gangs destroy
foreign-owned homes and property and demand that foreigners be
removed from the area.
.September 1998. In Johannesburg, Gauteng, two Senegalese and a
Mozambican are thrown from a moving train by a group of individuals
returning from a rally at which migrants and refugees were blamed for the
levels of unemployment, crime and AIDS in South Africa.
.October 2000. In Zandspruit, Gauteng, fighting breaks out between
South African and Zimbabwean residents.
.August 2005. In Bothaville, Free State, Zimbabwean and Somali refugees
are beaten.
.December 2005. In Olievenhoutbosch, Gauteng, groups of South
Africans chase foreign Africans living in the township of Choba’s
informal settlement from their shacks, shops and businesses.
.July 2006. In Knysna, Western Cape, Somali shop owners in a township
outside Knysna are chased out of the area and at least 30 spaza shops are
.August 2006. In Cape Town, Western Cape, during a period of just over a
month, between 20 and 30 Somalis are killed in townships surrounding
Cape Town.
.February 2007. In Motherwell, Eastern Cape, violence triggered by the
accidental shooting of a young South African man (by a Somali shop
owner) results in the looting of over 100 Somali-owned shops in a 24-hour
.May 2007. In Ipelegeng Township, North West, shops owned by
Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Somali and Ethiopian nationals are attacked,
looted and in some cases torched.
.September 2007. In Delmas, Mpumalanga, after a service-delivery protest
by residents, 41 shops owned and staed by non-nationals are attacked
and looted. One death and two serious injuries are reported, and 40 non-
nationals take refuge at mosques and with friends.
.October 2007. In Mooiplaas, Gauteng, after a clash between a
Zimbabwean and a South African family went awry, the local population
retaliated by attacking the migrant community, killing two people,
brutally injuring 18 and looting 111 shops.
.January 2008. In Duncan Village, Eastern Cape, two Somalis are found
burned to death in their shop. Police later arrest seven people in
connection with the incident after finding them in possession of property
belonging to the deceased.
.January 2008. In Jerey’s Bay, Eastern Cape, after a Somali shop owner
allegedly shoots dead a suspected thief, a crowd of residents attacks
Somali-owned shops, and many Somali nationals seek shelter at the
police station.
.January 2008. In Soshanguve, Gauteng, a foreign national is burned to
death, three others killed, 10 seriously injured and 60 shops looted after
residents apprehend the suspects and attack foreign residents in
retaliation for the alleged robbery of a local store by four non-nationals.
Subsequently, residents call for foreigners to leave, and many non-
nationals flee the area.
.January 2008. In Albert Park, KwaZulu-Natal, the community forum
holds a meeting to address the issue of non-nationals living among them,
during which the community indicates that they want foreign nationals
living in the area to leave.
.February 2008. In Laudium, Gauteng, at a community meeting in the
informal settlement of Itireleng some members encourage residents to
chase non-nationals out of the area. Violent clashes take place. Shacks
and shops belonging to non-nationals are burned and looted.
.February 2008. In Valhalla Park, Western Cape, residents of Valhalla
Park forcefully evict at least five Somali shop owners from the area,
injuring three people after having apparently ‘warned’ the shop owners to
leave three months before.
.May 2008. In Alexandra, Johannesburg, an armed mob breaks into
foreigners’ shacks, evicting them, looting and/or appropriating their
homes, and raping women. The violence spreads across the country
and continues for two weeks. Violence begins on 11 May. However,
President Mbeki condemns the violence only 16 days later on 26 May.
As usual, the ANC government’s initial reaction was to bury its head in the
sand, claiming that a ‘third force’ trying to tarnish the image of South Africa
was behind the violence. Members of President Mbeki’s ‘administration
claimed a shadowy ‘‘third force’’ was at work’, writes Evans. When asked,
‘they declined to say what that force was but blamed armed, drunken
criminals for the violence. A spokesman said the National Intelligence
Agency had joined the investigation into the causes of the attacks which
erupted in the Alexandra township 11 days ago.’
The ‘third force’ argument
did not hold up to scrutiny. The aggressors were isolated local groups
scattered across the country, acting without an organising and co-ordinating
‘third force’. The violence was fuelled through news images of compatriots
rising up against the nation’s enemy, Makwerekwere, whom the state seemed
unable to expel. Despite spatial separation, the scattered local mobs appeared
organised because a crowd mentality mediated through the media united
them. In fact, the absence of local government—in other words, the retreat of
the state from these neighbourhoods—is considered an engendering factor
for the violence.
Nationally, the retreat of the state was demonstrated by
the president’s 16-day inaction as the mobs terrorised the country.
On 3 July 2008 President Mbeki spoke again against the violence.
However, denial still structured his speech:
What happened during those days was not inspired by possessed nationalism,
or extreme chauvinism, resulting in our communities violently expressing the
hitherto unknown sentiments of mass and mindless hatred of foreigners—
xenophobia . . . I heard it said insistently that my people have turned or become
xenophobic . . . I wondered what the accusers knew about my people which I
did not know . .. And this I must also say—none in our society has any right to
encourage or incite xenophobia by trying to explain naked criminal activity by
cloaking it in the garb of xenophobia . . . None of us can be happy or satis-
fied with this reality.
It is worth pointing out here that the normalisation of violence against black
foreign nationals by black nationals and the black state’s persistent pattern of
denial are perhaps part of the most salient sociological questions confronting
not only South Africa but also the entire continent today.
Discussion and conclusion
Historically competition for power, prestige and survival intensifies as
dierentials between the competing groups wane. In other words, as groups
tend towards diminishing contrasts, especially when the means of survival are
scarce, they exert on each other greater competitive pressure tending towards
ruthlessness. Contempt for the others within us emanates ‘from projection of
one’s dangerous impulses onto others . . . [a] mechanism [that] succeeds best
when the other resembles oneself’.
Freud called this mechanism the ‘narci-
ssism of dierences’ between groups. The course of human history suggests a
pattern of groups undergoing diminishing contrasts yet engaging in one-sided
exaggeration of the same increasingly diminishing contrasts and tending
toward ethnic cleansings. The discrimination against the Burakumin in Japan,
the violence against blacks in the American South following the abolition of
slavery, the violence between equals among the court nobility in France and
Germany, the growth of anti-Semitism in Germany, the civil war in the
Balkans, the ethnic cleansing in Rwanda, to mention a few well known cases,
occurred alongside with diminishing dierences between the groups involved.
This phenomenon was uncovered in an English working class community.
Rwanda the Hutus had to be Tutsifed and the Tutsis Hutufied before the
mobilisation of fantasy and genocide.
Anti-Semitism grew to deadly levels as
the Jews grew indistinguishably German.Accusedof‘sneakingaboutindisguise
to hide subversive activities’, viewed as ‘parasitic vermin . . . dangerous to the
body politic if not watched’, they needed to ‘be stamped out with vigilance and
ideological protection’. Therefore ‘every right minded citizen has a duty to be as
watchful as in the protectionofindividualhealth.
Relations between South Africans and African foreign nationals are a
striking case of narcissism of minor dierences. Immigrants are sources of
fears and anxieties the more they are imagined as invisible intruders who look
and sound like citizens, and are in fact often citizens. Immigrants from the
southern African region in particular assimilate easily in South Africa given
the cultural and economic hegemony of the country in the region. South
African languages and their respective cultures, namely Shangaan, Sotho,
Tswana, Ndebele and Swazi, are spoken and practised in five other countries
in the region, namely Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Swaziland and
Zimbabwe. This cultural and linguistic similarity renders the outsiders
invisible and stimulates anxiety in the South African imagination. It signifies
the enemy within, the enemy who looks like us, the enemy who is us. The
destructive logic of this process is ultimately self-annihilation.
The condition of possibility for the belief of exceptionalism is a
mythologisation of selective reading of history that represses internal
negativities, ie apartheid and its legacy, the growing HIV.AIDS pandemic,
persistent ignorance and illiteracy, growing inequality and poverty, the
multiplication of shanty towns, increasing violent crime, and astonishing
rates and types of rape. In this context the in-your-face display of superiority
feelings towards African Others by the wretched majority is impressive:
‘We’re the richest in Africa’; ‘We’re the most powerful in Africa’; ‘We are the
best in Africa’; ‘We have the best technology, best economy, best schools and
universities’. The fantasy of imagined communities is clearly at work here.
The ignorant are wise, the poor are rich, the uneducated are educated, the
weak are powerful, the losers are winners, and the vanquished are invincible.
As Hage writes:
One of the most enjoyable powers of collective ‘we’ lies precisely in its capacity
to make an ‘I’ experience what the ‘I’ by itself cannot possibly experience. ‘I’
can be uneducated and yet can confidently claim that ‘we are highly educated
compared to the Muslims’. ‘I’ can be a peasant but can proudly boast that ‘we
are a very sophisticated people’. ‘I’ can speak only in Arabic but can proudly
claim ‘we have always spoken French’. Likewise ‘I’ can be poor but can note
that ‘we are a rich community’. And finally in much the same way ‘I’ can be
dark skinned and say ‘we are white’.
In the context of South African history the violent aversion towards African
foreign nationals in South Africa can best be described as Afrophobia. The
ideology of Makwerekwere seeks to make visible the invisible object of fear in
order to eliminate it. The roots of this ideology ‘must be sought in the
psychological realm of ego-weak characters who construct their identity by
denigrating others . . . [in need of] scapegoats to externalise what cannot be
The ideology of Makwerekwere externalises internal repres-
I wish to thank the anonymous reviewers for their comments on an earlier
draft of this article. The article is part of larger project on migration,
nationalism and violence in South Africa funded by the Social Sciences and
Humanities Research Council and the International Development Research
1FFanon,Black Skins, White Masks,NewYork:GrovePress,1967,p151.
2SPillay,Thepictureofthingstocome?,Mail and Guardian,21May2008.
3 R Danso & D McDonald, ‘Writing xenophobia: immigration and the print media in post-apartheid
South Africa’, Africa Today,48,2001,pp115138.
thesis, University of the Witwatersrand, 2005, p 207.
5JCrush,Immigration, Xenophobia and Human Rights in South Africa,CapeTown:Idasa,2001.
living in Johannesburg’, Ethnic and Racial Studies,21(6),1998,p1130.
7SeeJCrush,The Perfect Storm: Realities of Xenophobia in Contemporary South Africa,Southern
African Migration Project, Cape Town: Idasa, 2008; Crush, Immigration, Xenophobia and Human
Rights in South Africa,CapeTown:Idasa,2001;HumanRightsWatch(
HRW),Prohibited Persons:
Abuse of Undocumented Migrants, Asylum-Seekers and Refugees in South Africa,NewYork:HRW,
1998, at, accessed 12 January 2008; R Mattes et al, ‘South
African attitudes to immigrants and immigration’, in D McDonald (ed), On Borders: Perspectives on
International Migration in Southern Africa,Kingston:SouthernAfricanMigrationProject,2000;
Mattes et al,Still Waiting for the Barbarians: South African Attitudes to Immigrants and Immigration,
Southern African Migration Project, Cape Town: Idasa, 1999; A Morris, Bleakness and Light: Inner
City Transition in Hillbrow,Johannesburg:WitsUniversityPress,2000;MNeocosmos,From ‘Foreign
Natives’ to ‘Native Foreigners’: Explaining Xenophobia in Post-Apartheid South Africa,Dakar:
CODESRIA, 2006; F Nyamjoh, Insiders and Outsiders: Citizenship and Xenophobia in Contemporary
Southern Africa,London:ZedBooks,2006;SouthAfricanHumanRightsCommission(
‘Report: open hearings on xenophobia and problems related to it’, 2005, at
sahrc_cms/downloads/Xenophobia%20Report.pdf, accessed 12 July 2008; SAHRC,Xenophobia: The
New Racism,Johannesburg:HeinrichBollFoundation,2000;SAHRC, ‘Lindela at the crossroads of
detention and repatriation’, Johannesburg, at
reports/sahrc1.pdf, 2000; and V Williams, ‘Xenophobia in South Africa: an overview and analysis’,
03.08.pdf, accessed 20 August 2008.
8 H Shindondola, ‘Xenophobia in South Africa: the views, opinions and experiences of international
students at the Rand Afrikaans University’, MA thesis, University of Johannesburg, 2001, p 56.
African’’ tourism’, Development Southern Africa,24(3),2007,pp523537.
10 ‘Toll from xenophobic attacks rises’, Mail and Guardian ,31May2008.
11 T Tshetlo, ‘Xenophobia epidemic spreads’, The Citizen (Johannesburg), 18 May 2008.
12 Morris, ‘‘‘Our fellow Africans make our lives hell’’’.
13 C Tshitereke, ‘Xenophobia and relative deprivation’, Crossings,3(2),1999,p13.
14 Morris, ‘‘‘Our fellow Africans make our lives hell’’’.
15 B Harris, ‘Xenophobia: a new pathology for a new South Africa?’, in D Hook & G Eagle (eds),
Psychopathology and Social Prejudice, Cape Town: University of Cape Town Press, 2002, at http://, accessed 1 March 2006.
16 Morris, ‘‘‘Our fellow Africans make our lives hell’’’, p 1125.
17 Harris, ‘Xenophobia’.
18 M Neocosmos, ‘The politics of fear and the fear of politics’, 12 June 2008, at http://, accessed 12 December 2008; and Neocosmos, From
‘Foreign Natives’ to ‘Native Foreigners’.
19 Neocosmos, ‘The politics of fear and the fear of politics’.
20 S Mennell, The American Civilizing Process,Cambridge:PolityPress,2007,pix.
21 N Elias, ‘Introduction: a theoretical essay on established and outsider relations’, in N Elias & J
Scotson, The Established and the Outsiders,London:Sage,1994,pxxxiv.
22 Ibid,pxxvii.
23 Ibid.
24 Ibid,ppxxxivxxxv.
25 For more details on ‘we–they’ and ‘we–I’ balances in group relations, see N Elias, The Society of
26 Fanon, Black Skins, White Masks,p148.
27 WEB Du Bois, ‘The souls of white folk’, 1920, at
is_6_55/ai_111269074/print, accessed 9 March 2006.
28 See M Mamdani, Citizens and Subjects: Contemporary Africa and the Legacy of Late Colonialism,
Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996.
29 E Cole, The House of Bandage,NewYork:RandomHouse,1967,p82.
30 Fanon, Black Skins, White Masks,p190.
31 For more on human beings as ‘open personalities’ as opposed to ‘closed personalities’, see N Elias,
What Is Sociology?,NewYork:ColumbiaUniversityPress,1978.
32 E Hopper, ‘The social unconscious: theoretical considerations’, Group Analysis,34(1),2001,p10.
33 J Lacan, The Seminar,BookIII,The Psychoses, 199556,London:Routledge,1993,p167.
34 Ibid,p188.
35 A Adedeji, ‘Within or apart?’, in A. Adedeji (ed), South Africa and Africa: Within or Apart?, London:
Zed Books, 1996.
36 Quoted in Fanon, Black Skins, White Masks,p88.
37 Ibid, p 191.
38 Mamdani, Citizens and Subjects;andNeocosmos,From ‘Foreign Natives’ to ‘Native Foreigners’.
39 Neocosmos, From ‘Foreign Natives’ to ‘Native Foreigners’,p5.
40 N Lazarus, ‘The South African ideology: the myth of exceptionalism, the idea of renaissance’, South
Atlantic Quarterly,103(4),2004,p610.
41 Ibid.
42 Elias, ‘Introduction’, p xxvi.
43 WEB Du Bois, Souls of Black Folk,NewYork:VintageBooks,1990[1903],pp89.
44 Fanon, Black Skins, White Masks,p191.
45 Dalal, Race, Colour and the Processes of Racialization: New Perspectives from Group Analysis,
Psychoanalysis and Sociology,Hove:BrunnerRoutledge,2002,p193.
46 For more on narcissism of minor dierences, see A Blok, ‘The narcissism of minor dierences’,
European Journal of Social Theory, 1(1), 1998, pp 33–56; and S Freud, Group Psychology and the
Analysis of the Ego,London:HogarthPress,1949[1922].
47 B Ashcroft, G Griths & H Tin, ‘The body and performance: introduction’, in B Ashcroft, G
Griths, & H Tin (eds), The Post-Colonial Studies Reader,London:Routledge,1995,p322.
48 Harris, ‘Xenophobia’.
49 SAHRC, ‘Report: open hearings on xenophobia and problems related to it’, 2005, at
sahrc_cms/downloads/Xenophobia%20Report.pdf, accessed 12 July 2008.
50 Interviews, Johannesburg, March 2007.
51 Interviews, Johannesburg, March 2007.
52 Interviews, Johannesburg, March 2007.
53 SAPA, ‘Dube mistaken for Nigerian’, at
for-Nigerian-20090203, accessed 23 November 2010.
54 HRW,Prohibited Persons: Abuse of Undocumented Migrants, Asylum-seekers and Refugees in South
55 Ibid.
56 Quoted in Harris, ‘Xenophobia’.
57 SAHRC, ‘Teacher assaulted for being too dark’, at
printer_97.shtml, 2001, accessed 27 March 2008.
58 ‘Boy ‘‘too dark’’ to be South African’, The Star,March2008,at
SectionId¼129&fArticleId¼2166065, accessed 25 May 2008.
59 The Nguni languages are isi-Zulu, isi-Xhosa, isi-Swati and isi-Ndebela. The Sotho languages are
seTswana,and northern and southern seSotho. South Africa has more native languages than these.
60 Quoted in Petkou, ‘The development of ethnic minorities’, p 202.
61 Quoted in Harris, ‘Xenophobia’.
62 Ibid.
63 Interviews, Johannesburg, May 2007.
64 M Foucault, ‘Technologies of self’, in P Rabinow & N Rose (eds), The Essential Foucault,NewYork:
New Press, 2003.
65 Harris, ‘Xenophobia’.
66 Interviews, Johannesburg, March 2007.
67 Interviews, Johannesburg, May 2007.
68 B Dodson, ‘Locating xenophobia: debate, discourse, and everyday experience in Cape Town, South
Africa’, Africa Today,56(3),2010,pp322.
69 JP Misago, LB Landau & T Monson, Towards Tolerance, Law, and Dignity: Addressing Violence
against Foreign Nationals in South Africa,InternationalOrganizationforMigration,RegionalOce
for Southern Africa, 2009, pp 23–28.
70 I Evans, ‘Mbeki is to blame for xenophobic attacks, says watchdog’, Independent,21May2008,
71 Misago et al,Towards Tolerance, Law, and Dignity.
72 ‘Mbeki says attacks on foreigners not xenophobia’, Mail and Guardian,3July2008,athttp:// See also N Nka-
na, ‘Mbeki calls for probe into attacks’, The Times, 17 October 2010, at
73 H Adam, F van Zyl Slabbert & K Moodley, Comrades in Business: Post-Liberation Politics in South
Africa,CapeTown:TafelbergPublishers,1998,p46.SeealsoDBar-On,The Others Within Us:
Constructing Jewish-Israeli Identity,Cambridge:CambridgeUniversityPress,2008.
74 Blok, ‘The narcissism of minor dierences’.
75 Elias & Scotson, The Established and the Outsiders.
76 Blok, ‘The narcissism of minor dierences’; and A de Swaan, ‘Widening circles of dysidentification: on
psycho- and sociogenesis of hatred of distant strangers—reflections on Rwanda’, Theory, Culture and
77 H Adam et al,Comrades in Business,p47.
78 The fallacy of disciplinary specialisation—ie designating subjects as biology, history, sociology,
psychology, etc—is a compartmentalisation of life in which it is imagined as exclusively social,
or exclusively historical, or exclusively biological, or exclusively political, or exclusively
psychological, and so on. In reality, however, life is at once biological, historical, political,
psychological (emotional), social, etc. These disciplines grapple with interdependent facets of the
human complex.
79 G Hage, ‘White self-racialization as identity fetishism: capitalism and the experience of colonial
capitalism’, in K Murji & J Solomos (eds), Racialization: Studies in Theory and Practice, Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 2004, p 201.
80 H Adam et al,Comrades in Business,p38.
Notes on contributor
David Mario Matsinhe obtained a PhD in sociology from the University of
Alberta. He is a policy analyst at Human Resources and Skills Development
Canada. His research interests include African politics, collective emotions
and behaviour, group relations, migration and violence. His forthcoming
book is entitled Apartheid Vertigo: The uprise against Africans in South Africa
(Ashgate Publishers). His articles ’Quest for alternative methodologies’ and
‘The dance floor: nightlife, civilizing process, and multiculturalism in
Canada’ were respectively published in the journals Current Sociology and
Space and Culture. David can be reached at
... This indirectly enabled the colonized South Africans to see themselves in the image of the white colonizer. Matsinhe (2011) sees this as an imagination that finds expression in the ideology of South African exceptionalism, out of which is born the bizarre idea, among others, that South Africans are better than Africans from the countries in the continent, hence an appreciation of what it meant to be a South African in Africa. ...
Full-text available
Xenophobia is a social evil that has seen the human rights of migrants violated all over the world. In South Africa, black foreign nationals are often humiliated, assaulted, and their businesses destroyed, in addition to being denied some basic services and seldom accused of dealing drugs and taking what belong to South African citizens in the form of jobs and social benefits. South Africans is considered a beneficiary of many acts of selfless solidarity during the apartheid era, however, some South Africa [to a certain extent] believes that what its people enjoy should be extended to the citizens from other country. Thus, its national interest can be daubed as people-centered while promoting the well-being, development and upliftment of its people and ensuring inclusive development of the country. Using a qualitative research method, this study interrogates the xenophobic noise surrounding migrants in South Africa while seeking to know whether xenophobism is a product of jealousy and ignorance? Thus, going by the influence of government policies, how can the principles of Ubuntu diplomacy be explored to checkmate the xenophobes in response to the circumstances surrounding it in South Africa? Theoretically, the study relies on scapegoatism theory, frustration aggression theory, and group threat theory and to explain the possible reasons behind the hostile nature of [black] South African towards black African migrants, concluding that the best, and only solution to the phenomenon is to remove the image of “they are our enemies” through Ubuntu diplomacy.
... This indirectly enabled the colonized South Africans to see themselves in the image of the white colonizer. Matsinhe (2011) sees this as an imagination that finds expression in the ideology of South African exceptionalism, out of which is born the bizarre idea, among others, that South Africans are better than Africans from the countries in the continent, hence an appreciation of what it meant to be a South African in Africa. ...
Full-text available
Covid disease was first identified by scientists in 1965 as a human coronavirus associated with a common cold. However, the virus that first appeared on a small scale in November 2019 in Wuhan, China soon translates into a global pandemic that resulted in a global loss of life, social disorderliness, disruption of states’ economies, decelerating sustainable development, as well as a threat to diplomatic relations. Amid this pandemic, students of tertiary institutions were conditionally forced to switch over to an online school system which is quite challenging for most students, particularly those living in rural areas. While trying to explore the experience of students in tertiary institutions located in the remote areas of Kwazulu-Natal Province of South Africa, this paper further highlights the inadequacies and inequalities in South Africa’s educational system. The paper used the theory of social and behavioral science which explain that moral decision-making during a pandemic involves uncertainty. Using the purposive sampling method, this work provides an understanding of the challenges of students in higher institutions living in the rural areas of Kwazulu-Natal Province of South Africa during the pandemic. The study was piloted on samples from the University of Zululand, KwaDlangezwa campus, using students and lecturers who resides in Esikhawini, Ngwelezana, and Vulindlela areas of KwaDlangezwa. Thus, the researcher was able to carefully assess the perceptions and the experiences of South African students living in ‘rural’ areas.
... The locals in South Africa see blacks from African continent as the only foreigners in their country simply because they are in the country to make a living and to seek asylum. The immigrants accept the little offer that they are given by the employers while in the country, hence the locals are not really impressed with that because they see this as stealing jobs and majority of South Africans believed that immigrants create unemployment and drain the country's economic resources (Matsinhe, 2011, Crush, Chikanda and Tawodzera, 2015, Cinini and Balgobind, 2019. ...
Full-text available
Despite all the migration policies implemented in South Africa and the world at large, the illicit immigrants continue to suffer in the hands of the host communities. This paper seek to address the challenges and experiences of illegal immigrants in South Africa and the hostility by the host communities. In this qualitative study, linguistic data was collected through the focus group discussions with illicit immigrants from different countries in the African continent as well as the blinded focus group with communities in Limpopo province. The aim of the study was to explore the hostile environment that the illicit immigrants find themselves in while in South Africa and the problem of integration with the host communities. Findings from this study revealed that the illicit immigrants continue to become a problem in the receiving communities, and this is because they are snatching job opportunities for the locals since they do not mind exercising cheap labour, that’s is why there is tension between them and the locals. Most employers prioritise employing illicit immigrants instead of the locals. Furthermore, the participants indicated that the immigrants continue to temper with job security in the host communities. The researcher conducted two focus group discussions, one consisted of illicit immigrants from different African countries like Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi and Burundi, and the other focus group with the locals as blind group discussion. This is conceptualized as fear or black-on-black hatred which is also famously known as Afrophobia
... However, despite making progress in some areas of government, the party's support is gradually eroding Fig. 1. " Four broad brand conversation shapes tend to emerge as the conversation moves from being highly centralized around a specific account to a more decentralized ecosystem around multiple anchor accounts: (a) hub-and-spoke conversations, (b) anchored spin-off conversations, (c) organic ecosystem conversations, and (d) uncontrolled conversations." because of widespread frustrations with the slow pace of socioeconomic change, growing inequalities, and corruption (Booysen, 2015;Everatt, 2016;Gumede, 2017;Marais, 2011). This has fuelled sustained high levels of protest (Runciman, 2016) and industrial action (Sinwell & Mbatha, 2016), while in some cases anger has found expression in violence towards foreign migrants (Matsinhe, 2011). Against this backdrop, some commentators have argued that South Africa is ripe for a populist rupture (Hurt & Kuisma, 2016, p. 17;Mathekga, 2008, p. 131;Mbete, 2015;Vincent, 2011). ...
Full-text available
A central claim common to all populist movements is that they are committed to giving voice and power to those who have been forgotten, maligned, or marginalised by the status quo. However, consensus holds that they rarely – if ever –fulfil this commitment. And yet, there is a gap in our understanding of why. This article provides an original conceptual distinction between vanguardist and devolutionary populism. While the former is concerned with accessing and wielding power within the existing spaces of politics, the latter is concerned with provoking and enabling popular reimaginings of the very spaces in which politics is constituted. Using the case of South Africa, we demonstrate how our novel method can help determine where a movement might sit on the continuum between vanguardist and devolutionary populism. We make a populist campaign legible by combining detailed archival work to understand the movement's background with cutting edge cartographic techniques to map its spread and reception in digital spaces. Our conceptual distinction and methods create space to consider whether, and in what circumstances, populists might reinvigorate politics or, alternatively, compound the cynicism, divisions and tensions manifest within contemporary global politics. FULL TEXT FREE HERE:
... Drawing from the past and projecting onto the future Immigrants in South Africa deal with xenophobic violence (Matsinhe 2011;Crush, Ramachandran and Pendleton 2013;Pugh 2014;Solomon and Kosaka 2014) and the challenge of attaining stable livelihoods for themselves and their families. African immigrant youth with refugee paperwork find that their documents limit their access to employment and educational opportunities. ...
Based on ethnographic fieldwork carried out in Cape Town over four months, this article addresses the question of how African immigrant youth experience life and live as “citizens” in Cape Town. African immigrant youth straddle multiple positions, localities and identities. This article examines the ways youth activate citizenship and belonging through civic participation, often in the absence of formal citizenship. This research finds that youth are actively deciding to be the change they want to see in the world, looking backwards and forwards to determine their decision to participate in civic engagement. The youth’s notions of themselves and their aspirations impact not only their future life goals and dreams but drive their actions to contribute towards the betterment or improvement of their communities in the present. Civic participation through community engagement allows African immigrant youth to dream and access citizenship and become a part of society where they are recognised as contributing members.
In examining xenophobia in South Africa, scholars have advanced various theoretical explanations to make sense of its causes and nature. Within this paper, I focus on the ways in which multiple structural arrangements create conditions for the manifestation of xenophobia in post‐apartheid South Africa. By drawing on Louis Althusser's notion of ‘interpellation’ and Judith Butler's concept of ‘the subject,’ I disconnect xenophobia in South Africa from the conscious and autonomous human agent and locate it within larger structural frameworks, namely historical residues of othering, neo‐liberal political economy, the exclusionary state and negative media representations of refugees and migrants. I argue that voluntary, conscious attitudes do not primarily lead to violence or other forms of exclusion as some may argue; instead, a constellation of systemic/structural forces shape and inform xenophobic attitudes and violence. This paper asks scholars to look more deeply into the relationship between exclusion/violence and structural constraints than perhaps they have.
In this article, I interrogate the concept of othering by foregrounding xenophobia, which has been ‘trending’ since the dawn of democracy in South Africa. I use lived experiences to assert that xenophobia is not confined to tussles between ‘foreign’ nationals and South African ­citizens but also manifests as ‘local xenophobia’ where South African citizens from ‘elsewhere’ in the country are maligned by ‘locals’ in areas to which they migrate. To underscore the ubiquitous and multifaceted nature of othering, and because it resonates with literature on ­xenophobia, I discuss sobriquets/nicknames as one example among various manifestations of otherness. Furthermore, I contend that self-subjugation as an unconscious process is, possibly, the pillar of othering and, that every human is a tacit or overt otherer. In conclusion, I assert that Ubuntu as an architectonic capability should be redefined and used to drive collective human efforts towards addressing othering.
Over the last decade, three significant ‘waves of violence’ have been observed across South Africa in 2008, 2015, and 2019. These have been significant as the targets of each wave of attacks were African migrants. Scholarly, media, and popular discourses on the violence highlight their xenophobic nature in the so-called Rainbow Nation—a term used popularly by former President Nelson Mandela to refer to the national dreams of inclusion for all, towards the future of South Africa. In the face of calls for unity and inclusion by powers both foreign and domestic, the reality in contemporary South Africa thus sees a rise in exhibitions to the contrary. The rise in hostilities towards those perceived to be foreign is therefore of vital significance to contemporary studies of social exclusion, as the climate of xenophobic victimisation and scapegoating seems only to escalate in proportion to the multi-dimensional deprivation of the modern South African state. With specific focus on the anti-foreigner violence, this chapter utilises the concept of social exclusion to explore the scale by which foreigners to South Africa have become a scapegoat for the failings of the modern nation-state.
"The Souls of White Folk," as it appeared in Du Bois' Darkwater (1920) and is reprinted here, was based on an essay in the Independent , August 18, 1910, together with part of a another essay, "Of the Culture of White Folk," Journal of Race Development , April 1917. The final version in Darkwater was reworked numerous times up to its final publication in 1920. This article can also be found at the Monthly Review website , where most recent articles are published in full. Click here to purchase a PDF version of this article at the Monthly Review website.
This essay explores the theoretical implications of Freud's notion of `the narcissism of minor differences' - the idea that it is precisely the minor differences between people who are otherwise alike that form the basis of feelings of strangeness and hostility between them. A comparative survey shows that minor differences underlie a wide range of conflicts: from relatively benign forms of campanilismo to bloody civil wars. Freud's tentative statements link up with the insights of Simmel, Durkheim, Lévi-Strauss, Dumont, Elias, and Girard. Especially helpful is what Bourdieu writes in Distinction: social identity lies in difference, and difference is asserted against what is closest, which represents the greatest threat. An outline of a general theory of power and violence should include consideration of the narcissism of minor differences, also because its counterpart - hierarchy and great differences - makes for relative stability and peace.