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Xenophobic Violence and the Spaza Shop Sector: Situational Analysis Synthesis Report People to People Dialogues: Fostering Social Cohesion in South Africa through Conversation Implementing Organisations: ALPS Resilience (ALPS), Safety and Violence Initiative (SaVI)


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An analysis of xenophobic violence in the spaza shop sector in 4 provinces in South Africa
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Xenophobic Violence and
the Spaza Shop Sector:
Situational Analysis
Synthesis Report
May 2019
Project Title:
People to People Dialogues: Fostering Social
Cohesion in South Africa through Conversation
Award Number:
Period of Activity:
28 September 2018 – 28 December 2019
Implementing Organisations:
ALPS Resilience (ALPS), Safety and Violence
Initiative (SaVI)
Guy Lamb, Lauren October and Azwi Netshikulwe
Submitted by:
Laura Freeman | Deputy Director
e: | t: +27 21 879 1454
The author’s views expressed in this publication do
not necessarily reflect the views of the United States
Agency for International Development or the
United States Government.
Copyright © ALPS Resilience
All rights reserved. Apart from any
use as permitted under the
Copyright Act, no part may be
reproduced by any process
without prior written permission
ALPS Resilience
215 Magaliesberg Way
Westlake, 7945
1. Introduction Error! Bookmark not defined.
2. Research plan 5
3. Findings & observations 13
4. Common trends 28
5. Evaluation of the scorecard system 10
6. Reflections & recommendations 33
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ALPS Resilience
Cape Amalgamated Taxi Association
Congress of Democratic Taxi Associations
Community Policing Forum
Imizamo Yethu
Northern Region Business Association
People to People
Reconstruction and Development Programme
South African National Civic Organizations
South African Police Service
Somali Association of South Africa
Safety and Violence Initiative
University of Cape Town
United States Agency for International Development
People to People Dialogues
1. Introduction
This synthesis report is based on a qualitative study conducted by the Safety and Violence Initiative (SaVI)
at the University of Cape Town (UCT) on behalf of ALPS Resilience. It is part of a broader project: the
People to People Dialogues: Fostering social cohesion in South Africa through conversation’ project (P2P). The report
presents the findings of qualitative semi-structured interviews conducted in 15 selected sites in diverse
South African communities of the Eastern Cape (Walmer, Wells Estate, Korsten), Gauteng (Atteridgeville,
Katlehong, Mayfair), KwaZulu-Natal (Inanda, Ntuzuma, KwaMashu) and Western Cape (Belville South,
Imizamo Yethu, Lwandle, Masiphumelele, Mbekweni, Zwelihle) provinces. The objective of this study
was to understand and promote social cohesion. Prior to the fieldwork, researchers conducted extensive
background, quantitative, and qualitative analyses for each selected site. This was followed by fieldwork in
each location, including in-depth interviews with key stakeholders and community members, and informed
rapid conflict assessments in each researched community. While similar criteria were used to select each
site, the findings reveal that these communities are complex and dynamic, and hence there is no uniform
standard for understanding and analysing them as discussed below.
The research component of the P2P project included some important methodological aspects:
Site selection criteria: ALPS and SaVI worked to develop a flexible set of site selection criteria for
the project. This included an explicit focus on selecting a variety of sites, with an explicit focus on
not only researching poor, predominantly black townships that have been the sites of xenophobic
attacks. We noted that much of the prior research on violent xenophobia tended to focus in black
townships, and we did not want to extend and pathologize without a fuller sample. Indeed, this
research shows a complexity of issues across research sites. Furthermore, we developed a site
selection criteria that could be adapted while researchers were in the field. Given that site selection
depended on secondary research, if researchers found in the field information to the contrary, the
selection criteria could be used to develop alternative sites: this happened on more than one
occasion during field research.
Site scorecard and a direct relation between research and intervention: for this project, SaVI
researchers were closely interconnected to the intervention, dialogue side of the project. First, the
researchers developed a community scorecard that evaluated conflict and conflict resolution,
leadership and governance, and other categories related to intervention decisions. This was one
element that then guided interventions themselves. Second, researchers – in their site reports and
engagements with ALPS were asked to directly identify the risks and opportunities for the
dialogue programme in each site. The researchers made valuable and important insights.
From research to site selection for dialogues: Through agreements with USAID, it was decided
that ALPS would not have to intervene in every site researched. Should the conditions for dialogue
intervention be too hostile or problematic, or the chances of success too limited in the time given,
and depending on community dynamics, site selection for interventions could be based on research
findings. In this way, the project represents a ‘learning’ process whereby research directly informs
the nature of intervention, and the decision about whether to intervene at all.
Responsiveness: following research in the Eastern Cape, SaVI wrote a rapid assessment in which
they suggested to ALPS an accelerated entry, particularly for Walmer Township. Walmer was
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experiencing a rise of tensions around a community group that was trying to extort foreign national
businesses. Through engagements with our P2P facilitators in the Eastern Cape, ALPS was able
to implement a rapid intervention, which will have contributed to the calming of tensions and
prevention of violence in the Eastern Cape sites.
Overall, ALPS and SaVI worked to ensure that the research and programmatic design was such that
research and community intervention became strongly interconnected. This represents an important
innovation and valuable learning for the project.
This report is structured into three broad substantive sections. First, the research methodology and
approach are discussed, including how sites were selected, site changes (Section Two), and the broader
research methodology (Section Three). Second, this report gives individual summaries of field research in
each of the fifteen (15) sites (Section Four), followed by a presentation of common trends and emerging
themes from across the sites (Section Five). Finally, this synthesis report offers critical reflections on the
research component of the P2P project, covering an evaluation of the site scorecard (Section Six) and a
review of limitations and successes of the research (Section Seven).
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2. Research plan
2.1 Site selection methodology
In order to conduct successful interviews in relevant sites with potential respondents, the site selection
process was carefully carried out in line with the objective of the research project, which was to understand
and promote social cohesion in South African communities. Based on previous experience, this process
could have yielded unwanted results if the characteristics of the sites were not thoroughly examined prior
to the final selection. In this regard, researchers intended to follow a site selection process which consisted
of three steps, namely: determine site selection criteria; develop a list of candidate sites; and apply site
selection filter. The main purpose of this exercise was to gather and analyse sufficient information about
each potential site. This would allow the team to draw informed conclusions regarding the selection of the
most appropriate sites. The site selection process was as follows:
1. Determine site selection criteria
Ø Concentration of businesses: Eligible sites were selected based on the concentration of Somali and
foreign national-run ‘spaza’ shops in a particular area, and/or residential areas where they live.
Descriptive statistical data on each potential site was sought for this purpose.
Ø Previous tension/conflicts: Background research was conducted through desktop research,
specifically focusing on recent tensions or conflicts. Media articles as well as online websites such
as Xenowatch were useful in this regard.
Ø Current tensions/conflicts: Sites that had experienced tensions between local and foreign shop
owners and/or tensions between foreign national shop owners themselves were considered.
Ø Places that have experienced tensions/conflicts in the past but have been without reports of such
conflicts in recent years: These are communities that were able to quell tensions and have since
been living relatively harmoniously.
Ø One non-criteria site in each province: In each province, researchers wanted to enter one site
which did not fit into the above-mentioned criteria for site selection. These sites were determined
based on the concentration of the targeted group for xenophobic attacks but where there had not
been reported attacks. Preferably, the sites should not be townships. The basis for this decision
was to understand why these areas do not experience xenophobic conflict and violence, as well as
to avoid pathologizing poor (black) communities by only focusing on them in research. In general,
the sites that fitted this category were centers for shopkeepers, with owners who have multiple
spaza shops in their province residing in the area, and with provisions, such as wholesalers and
other business facilities, being present.
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2. Develop a list of candidate sites
Ø The team first identified an initial list of possible candidate sites. The list included potential back-
up sites to be entered in case of problems encountered within some of the sites selected initially.
3. Apply site selection filter
Ø The research team held a discussion to review the list of candidate sites and eliminated/added
based on the requirements.
Ø The research team attempted to coordinate with the Somali Association of South Africa (SASA)
to determine which sites specifically impacted Somali communities (although this proved to be
unsuccessful, despite numerous attempts to arrange a meeting).
Ø It was decided that if, upon site visitation, the environment was not conducive for fieldwork
purposes, researchers would identify another site based on the selection criteria.
Following in-depth research about each site, the research team started fieldwork with the following original
list of candidate sites:
Table 1: Original list of candidate sites
Western Cape
Eastern Cape
Imizamo Yethu
Mitchell’s Plain
Humansdorp/St Francis
2.2 Site changes
Upon commencing fieldwork, researchers immediately experienced problems. In many cases, desktop
research had proven inadequate/outdated as a means of accurately reflecting the dynamics and conditions
in these communities. Therefore, the decision that researchers would identify another site if one was not
conducive for fieldwork was particularly useful. Several changes were made once fieldwork began.
In the Western Cape, the ‘non-criteria site’ – Mitchell’s Plain was switched to Bellville South,
which was informed by fieldworker site observation. After making several contacts in Mitchell’s
Plain and touring the area, researchers determined that there was not a clearly defined area that
could be predominantly viewed as a haven for foreign nationals. Researchers worked with the
assumption that Somalis in particular would live peacefully in an area with a predominantly Muslim
and Coloured population. This did not appear to be the case in Mitchell’s Plain. Rather, Bellville’s
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central business district was perceived as a ‘safe haven’ for Somalis. However, researchers did not
think it would be conducive to measure social cohesion in a business area. Instead, researchers
focused on the residential area of Bellville South. After an initial visit to the area and establishing
initial contacts, researchers noticed a large number of Somali nationals who appeared to feel safe
in the site. It was thus selected as a research site.
In the Eastern Cape, researchers met with the staff of the Eastern Cape Refugee Centre (ECRC)
who advised the research team against entering Grahamstown. The reasoning was that the Somali
presence had significantly declined since researchers had previously entered the area. Based on this
information, researchers went to observe for themselves and discovered that there were only 2-3
Somali shops operating in the space. Ethiopians were now the primary spaza shop owners. The
ECRC suggested switching to Walmer Township as a site due to current xenophobic tensions in
the area. Researchers found the change in sites to be particularly helpful. Additionally,
Humansdorp and St Francis Bay in the Eastern Cape, initially identified as sites, were too isolated
and too distant for the budget of this project. The decision was made to switch to Motherwell
instead. However, since Motherwell is such a large area, researchers decided to further narrow
down the scope of the site and rather focused on Wells Estate (which is based within Motherwell)
as it was a site of xenophobic protests in 2017.
In KwaZulu-Natal, there were numerous difficulties when choosing sites. Upon visiting Verulam,
where the media had reported xenophobic attacks having taken place, researchers found that the
violence was sectarian (between rival Muslim groups) and not based on xenophobia. Furthermore,
when researchers entered KwaDabeka, they found that most of the shops were owned by South
Africans and there were not many foreign-owned shops in the area. Based on these observations
and through consultations with police representatives, community leaders and political
organizations, researchers decided to focus on the INK area – Inanda, Ntuzuma and KwaMashu.!
The final sites selected and researched are outlined in the table and marked on the map below:
Table 2: Final list of candidate sites
Western Cape
Eastern Cape
Imizamo Yethu
Bellville South
Walmer Township
Wells Estate
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2.3 Research methodology
This synthesis research report is based on qualitative fieldwork that was carried out in fifteen (15) selected
sites in diverse South African communities of Eastern Cape (Walmer, Wells Estate, Korsten), Gauteng
(Atteridgeville, Katlehong, Mayfair), KwaZulu-Natal (Inanda, Ntuzuma, KwaMashu) and Western Cape
(Bellville South, Imizamo Yethu, Lwandle, Masiphumelele, Mbekweni, Zwelihle) with the intention of
understanding and promoting social cohesion. The main objective of the project was to deepen
understandings of social cohesion, conflict resolution mechanisms, community violence, and community
relations. While some of the areas have experienced waves of xenophobic attacks in recent years, others
were selected because they are known to be relatively peaceful and are perceived as socially cohesive.
The fieldwork was initiated in November 2018 and was completed in March 2019. While most of the
interviews were conducted in public spaces, including local shopping centres, others were conducted in
private homes at participants’ convenience. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with research
participants including foreign nationals, community members, community leaders, representatives of the
local municipal authority, and representatives of community-based organisations. The respondents were
males and females of various age groups from early twenties to 65 and above. The interviews were
conducted in isiXhosa, Afrikaans, English, as well as isiZulu, and in some cases, Somali (with the help of
an interpreter for Somali respondents). As mentioned above, the researchers took a qualitative approach,
but combined different research methods, namely: individual face-to-face interviews and focus group
interviews (as was the case with a Somali female group in one site), and human and locational observations,
lWells Estate
lBellville South
lImizamo Yethu
Western Cape
Eastern Cape
Figure 1: Map of selected research sites by province
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including informal conversations with police. Some of the respondents were purposively selected by our
partner organisations, particularly those who are involved in community structures, while researchers also
employed a snowballing technique during the fieldwork in order to identify other participants.
Most respondents were willing to take part in the research and even welcomed the researchers into their
private spaces (homes and shops). On the other hand, foreign nationals, Somalis in particular, appeared
suspicious, and in some areas were difficult to access. In some sites, researchers could not access the few
local organisations that were specifically dealing with issues related to foreign nationals. Although foreign
nationals have their own organisational structures largely based in the city centres, it often proved difficult
to connect with their leaders who could have then assisted the researchers in connecting with foreign
nationals in the selected sites. These leaders also appeared to be suspicious of the research team and were
evasive and unwilling to meet with the researchers (despite numerous attempts to interview them). In
addition, some local (South African) respondents and police officials were suspicious of the research
intentions but felt comfortable after explanations from the researchers. Furthermore, some respondents
wanted to know what benefit they would receive and whether there were any incentives for taking part in
the research. KwaZulu-Natal proved to be a highly politicised area and, with the election around the
corner, proved difficult to access some key stakeholders in their communities.
All interviews and discussions were voluntary and conducted in accordance with an ethically-approved
protocol of informed consent. Additionally, all interviews and observations used in this report were
confidential in nature, in accordance with this protocol. For the sake of preserving this confidentiality, all
participants are referred to by a collective name such as ‘CPF member’ or ‘community member’ or ‘police
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3. Evaluation of the
scorecard system
After exiting each site, researchers would score the community based on its social cohesion and its ability
to peacefully solve conflict. These scorecards then informed ALPS Resilience as to whether intervention
was necessary in a site. The figure below represents the scorecard that was used in each site:
Table 3: Community peace-making potential scorecard
Community Peace-making
Potential scorecard
Scorecard key:
1 = strongly disagree
2 = disagree
3 = neither agree nor disagree
4 = agree
5 = strongly agree
It appears that community leaders are generally concerned with
the wellbeing of all residents irrespective of their race, ethnicity
or nationality.
It seems that community leaders are generally trusted and
respected by residents.
It appears to be no discrimination (on the basis of race, ethnicity
or nationality) in terms of the allocation of, and access to
common community resources.
Racism and
There seems to be an absence of racist and/or xenophobic
comments and behaviour in the community.
Community members have a general understanding of what it
means to be xenophobic or racist.
Cohesion &
It seems that residents will help each other when they are in
trouble irrespective of their race, ethnicity or nationality.
It appears that there are good relations between neighbours and
residents on the streets.
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Conflicts in the community seem to be resolved in a fair and
non-violent manner.
There appear to be processes and/or structures in the
community that have been created to resolve conflicts in a non-
violent and fair manner.
There seems to be active community-based organisations and/or
NGOs that provide welfare and development interventions in
the community.
The Police
There appears to be general community trust in the South
African Police Services (SAPS), and community members
typically report crimes to the SAPS.
There appears to be active community police organisations
and/or neighbourhood watch type structures that work to
promote safety for the whole community.
It seems that residents are not overly fearful to walk in the streets
during the day and night.
between shop-
There appears to be no tensions between shop-owners of
different nationalities
Residents think of themselves as part of this community
regardless of where they come from.
Overall score (out of 75)
The scorecard was taken into account with all research findings. Each site was unique and presented
certain opportunities and challenges for dialogue interventions. These needed to be carefully calibrated
ahead of community entry. Indeed, the scorecard might have been an accurate measure of the effectiveness
of community structures and trust in the police among other things, but they did not accurately measure
community resilience. In other words, the categories of the scorecard, while useful, were not reflective of
the community. For example, in Imizamo Yethu, there was strong leadership and strong trust in those
leaders to provide safety. Yet, the area itself was run autocratically with an extra-legal group enforcing an
illegal curfew for residents.
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Table 4: Overall scorecard results per site
Scorecard results per site
Social cohesion scale:
0-15 Very poor
16-30 Poor
31-45 Fair
46-60 Good
61-75 Excellent
Score out of 75
Imizamo Yethu
Bellville South
Wells Estate
Despite not being an accurate reflection of a community, the scorecard was particularly helpful for
researchers as it aided the team to coordinate thinking, reach consensus and provide a better understanding
of the communities in which research was conducted. At first, each researcher filled out an individual
scorecard for each site and then compared these results. However, researchers soon realised that while we
had all entered the same community, we often had different understandings of the community. Discussing
the variance in our scores allowed the research team to better share information and reach understandings.
It was then determined that researchers would work together to score the community on one scorecard,
while making note of any issues where there was disagreement.
As such, it was the discussions after scoring the community that enabled researchers to make better
recommendations regarding whether ALPS should enter the site. The scorecard itself should, therefore,
not be used as a sole determining factor for site entrance. The scorecard might be useful for drawing
comparisons between sites thereby gaining an understanding of the processes and dynamics of the site.
However, when determining which sites require intervention the scorecard should only be used in
conjunction with the findings and recommendations in the site reports.
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4. Findings &
This section summarises the major findings in each selected site. Researchers observed certain trends and
commonalities across various sites, which will be discussed after the summaries. The findings of this
research study are an important steppingstone to deepen understandings of social cohesion, conflict
resolution mechanisms, community violence, xenophobia, and community relations. It also provides
insights in understanding community complexities and dynamics in each site and informs the development
of mechanisms with the potential to prevent violence in these communities.
4.1 Imizamo Yethu
Imizamo Yethu (IY) is a relatively small township located in the mostly affluent area of Hout Bay. There
is a significant population of foreign nationals from Malawi, Zimbabwe, as well as Ethiopia and Somalia,
who reside in the area and who own several shops in the community. This research found that competition
between shop owners has resulted in some violent episodes in the past, and informal regulations have
been implemented in order to limit the number of shops operating in the area. This strategy seems to have
worked as incidences of violence related to spaza shops have reportedly decreased significantly in recent
The researchers also established that some tensions between South Africans exist, which are mostly
underpinned by conflicts relating to a lack of housing and the re-blocking process that is currently
underway in the area due to a massive fire that destroyed numerous dwellings in 2017. In this context,
foreign nationals who live in the site targeted for re-blocking are caught up in these tensions as they fear
losing their houses when the government builds new ones for South Africans. Furthermore, the findings
suggest that there are some tensions between locals and foreign nationals as a result of fishery employers
who prefer foreign nationals over locals.
There is ongoing taxi-related conflict and violence centred around the licencing process and access to
lucrative taxi routes. The violence is believed to be related to ongoing disputes between two associations
affiliated with the two main taxi associations, the Cape Amalgamated Taxi Association (CATA) and
Congress of Democratic Taxi Associations (CODETA), with one of the taxi associations attempting to
prevent competitors from operating in the area. This violence has claimed the lives of five people and left
two injured in early April 2019.
Interview with the Community Development Worker, Imizamo Yethu, November 2018.
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There are some community initiatives that seek to foster good relations between South Africans and
foreign nationals, and one of them is iSolezwe, which is the most influential community leadership
structure in the area. iSolezwe has multiple functions, but its largest function is as a community safety
patrol. However, iSolezwe is a patriarchal organisation that has regularly used violence and intimidation
to resolve conflicts and exert social control. Besides researchers observing people going in and out their
office, several respondents mentioned this organisation as being a key actor they approach when they are
in need of assistance with family matters, robberies, truancy, etc. In order to receive assistance from the
iSolezwe group, community members are expected to pay certain fees for their services. The biggest
challenge is that, through violence, this structure has acquired some legitimacy and is trusted by many
residents, including foreign nationals.
Lastly, while observing the community and trying to get access, researchers established that the Imizamo
Yethu community needs to be approached delicately. There were major sensitivities where community
leaders took offence at the word ‘violence’ when researchers described the project. Several community
leaders wanted to know where the team had heard that there was violence in the area and complained
about how the media misrepresented the community. Researchers were often made to feel unwelcome
and the attitude towards research without material benefits created a hostile environment at times. The
community leaders argued that they would have preferred to be approached as a group, because they want
to be transparent, and many interviews were denied because no one wanted to speak on an individual
basis. When they heard that the research team was only on site for three days, they said the team should
come back in several months after a WhatsApp group had been formed and all leaders had been informed
of the research project.
4.2 Masiphumelele
Masiphumelele is an area that has previously experienced xenophobic violence, as well as protest violence.
At the time this research was conducted, Masiphumelele appeared to be a relatively calm place, and foreign
nationals, including spaza shop owners, have been able to live in relative peace for the last few years.
Informal regulations around the number of shops and closing times appear to be in place and seem to
facilitate communication and the management of business-related conflicts between foreign national shop
owners. The findings suggest, however, that a key challenge is the current lack of credible community
leadership structures owing to the leadership vacuum left behind after the previous protests, and the
disconnect between younger and older people in the area (due to the inter-generational change of
leadership). Vigilantism as a collective method of problem-solving seemed to have led to tensions between
the older and younger generations. Such a state of affairs would make any effort to implement a dialogue
or conflict resolution process a risky endeavour. There is, however, a distinct need for interventions that
focus on foreign national women within Masiphumelele. Foreign national men appear to have integrated
well in terms of business and community relationships. The women, however, are still dependent on the
men to help them integrate and this has not been happening. If relationships can somehow be built
between women of different nationalities, this might help foreign national women to feel safer in the
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Overall, Masiphumelele does not appear to be a community where xenophobic attacks are likely to happen
anytime soon. This assumption is founded on an event that occurred after researchers left the site, where
a foreign national drove over a South African resident, but the community was able to resolve the problem
peacefully. However, the leadership vacuum in the site does mean that, should xenophobic attacks occur,
then such conflict would be difficult to manage. The tribal issues caused by the lack of oversight of shop
openings combined with the lack of community structures are likely to cause tensions in future. Business
owners seem to be the most organised, but community tensions cannot be resolved by only talking with
business structures. Moreover, one cannot leave out the community structures that are still claiming to be
in control of the community. The community might be seen as relatively cohesive for now, but there are
several challenges which can affect that cohesion. Various groups are vying for a leadership role, and this
may give rise to conflict within the community in the near future. Additionally, when a community is seen
as leaderless and disorganised, it is more likely that radical individuals or vigilante groups will emerge and
attempt to assume control.
4.3 Lwandle/Nomzamo
Lwandle is an area that has previously experienced xenophobic violence, violent protests and considerable
crime against foreign national shop owners. Despite this, research shows that the community is relatively
cohesive and there are identifiable leadership structures in place that seek to maintain peace. These
community leadership structures seem to be functional and are able to undertake interventions, implement
conflict resolution mechanisms, and get involved as peacekeepers in cases of alleged xenophobia. There
is, however, a misunderstanding within the community regarding what constitutes xenophobia (as
explained below). In this regard, it is paramount that any interventions in the area should clarify this, as
well as contribute to understandings of xenophobia and the integration of foreign nationals in this
community, especially Nigerians. In addition, members of the South African Police Services (SAPS) at
times have been accused of being complicit with regards to some extra-legal activities by virtue of working
with some structures within the community.
Community leaders appear to be competent and seem concerned about the needs of the community and
are generally trusted by the residents of Lwandle. This includes the police. There have been attempts to
resolve conflict in a non-violent manner. However, the extra-legal mechanisms employed by the taxi
association have undermined community efforts to resolve its conflicts peacefully. Moreover, there are
many service delivery protests which are sparked by a lack of housing in the area. Despite community
members being encouraged to hold protests outside the area, property does get damaged during protests.
There does not seem to be xenophobic rhetoric within the community. Rather, the community appears to
rise up against criminality and violence in the community regardless of whether the perpetrators are locals
or foreign nationals. However, the understanding about what constitutes xenophobia is contested.
Community members appear to disregard individual actions against foreign nationals as xenophobia. They
also seem to think that perceptions of whether a foreign national is guilty or innocent contributes to
whether or not actions are deemed xenophobic. Therefore, while the community is willing to stop acts of
collective violence against foreign nationals, they do not seem to recognise and are blinded to small-scale
xenophobia based on rumours and perceptions of wrongdoing. Community leadership, however, seems
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committed to stopping any possibility of xenophobia in the area. They believe that the community is
Within this community, the leaders assume that everything is going well, but they cannot speak to how
foreign nationals experience the community. The reasons for this are twofold: firstly, most foreign
nationals running spaza shops are employed by the owners who live outside of the area, and secondly,
community leaders communicate with owners of the spaza shops on issues mostly related to business. It
was a major disadvantage for researchers not to be able to access foreign nationals in this community,
particularly Ethiopians and Somalians. Those who are running spaza shops are hardly able to speak local
languages and appear to be uncomfortable in speaking to outsiders/researchers without the consent of
their bosses.
4.4 Mbekweni
The research in Mbekweni uncovered a history of tension between community members from different
backgrounds and origins. The community is divided in terms of those who were born in the Western Cape
province, those born in the Eastern Cape, and those from elsewhere. As such, there have been many
incidents of collective violence, especially between Western Cape ‘borners’ (those who were born in the
area) and Eastern Cape migrants (those who were born in the rural areas of Eastern Cape). While, there
are no major conflicts or tensions between foreign nationals and South Africans, tensions continue to exist
between the ‘borners’ and Eastern Cape migrants, which may be typified as a category of xenophobia. It
is alleged that the groups frequently compete over resources relating to service delivery, particularly
housing. Somali shops are often looted during these service delivery protests. Those who were born in the
Western Cape tend to claim more citizenship and have a sense of entitlement when it comes to services
and opportunities. This group tends to think those who were born in the Eastern Cape are backward and
look down on them. On the other hand, those who were born in the Eastern Cape view those who were
born in the area as weak and lazy individuals. Consequently, these struggles create an ideological friction
between these groups. This friction is exacerbated by ‘borners’, who are mostly backyarders, claiming that
Eastern Cape migrants often stay in shacks and tend to receive more attention from government, especially
RDP (Reconstruction and Development) houses. This often plays out in leadership structures when those
who are from the Eastern Cape are elected in positions because they are the majority. Leadership structures
are often crippled by factional battles between these groups.
The community has also been affected by xenophobic attacks where migrants from outside South Africa
were targeted. These tensions still seem to be active, but more specifically between foreign nationals
working in the farms and surrounding areas. These tensions have arisen around employment practices on
farms in the area. Some farmers have allegedly been favouring the hiring of foreign nationals (especially
Zimbabweans) over South Africans as foreign nationals are reportedly willing to work for lower wages
than South Africans. Consequently, it was reported that South Africans have been evicted from housing
on farms, resulting in unemployed persons settling in Mbekweni, which in turn has exacerbated tensions
around access to housing. In short, the most commonly referred to xenophobic tensions appear to be
aimed at foreign national farm workers who are perceived to be taking work opportunities away from
South Africans. However, foreign-owned shops also seem to be targeted for looting whenever there is a
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protest. Since there are only a handful of shops that are owned by South Africans, and the community
does experience frequent violent protests, this may be reported as xenophobic looting.
Currently, there appears to be a significant deficit in terms of trusted leadership and conflict resolution
mechanisms in existence within Mbekweni. The community leadership in Mbekweni is considered
inefficient and absent. Community members usually try to take care of community problems themselves.
However, extra-legal groupings are said to be a challenge, and this makes it difficult for any structures to
operate freely in the area. One such group is a structure that has allegedly used extra-legal mechanisms to
control the community and who are perceived as corrupt and violent. Some residents refer to this group
as a neighbourhood watch, but most refer to them as gangsters. This structure has allegedly blackmailed
police officers and have reportedly intimidated residents that have stood up against them.
There is very little evidence of robust social cohesion in this community. Community leaders and police
are generally mistrusted and perceived as corrupt and nepotistic. There also appears to be significant
xenophobic sentiments in the community, including from Western Cape ‘borners’ against migrants from
the Eastern Cape. The only thing that unites these two groups is when they both stand up against the
foreign nationals who are considered as more problematic ‘outsiders’.
4.5 Zwelihle
Zwelihle experienced a series of violent protests in 2018 relating to housing and access to land. Spaza
shops, including those owned by foreign nationals, were looted during some of these protests. Foreign
nationals and their properties were attacked and displaced because some of them decided to go to work
and were accused of not supporting the protesters in their attempt to occupy a piece of empty land.
Respondents claimed that attacks on foreign nationals do not occur because they are hated or seen as
‘other’, but rather because certain foreign nationals were not part of the collective and did not support the
protests. The looting was also considered by all, including foreign nationals, to be criminally motivated,
since South African shops were also looted. However, some of the respondents complained that
employers, especially in the hospitality industry, prefer to hire foreign nationals from Malawi and
Zimbabwe. This has been a cause of concern and may destabilise relations between groups.
The protests over land also saw the emergence of Zwelihle Renewal, which has become a key power
broker within the community. During researchers’ conversations with community members and some
members of Zwelihle Renewal, this group appears to be unbiased in the way they deal with the community.
However, due to political allegiances they are not trusted by all within the area. While the findings reveal
that residents approach them to solve problems and keep the peace, they are viewed by some as being
opportunistic. Although the group are entrusted with a conflict resolution mandate by some members in
the community, such conflicts are often not solved in a peaceful manner. There is no communication
from elected officials and so the community is looking towards radical groups to communicate on their
behalf. Zwelihle appears to have devolved into an autocratic community led by unelected, yet
representative, leaders. This has happened because community-based organisations are active but not
functional; while NGOs are considered powerless. When researchers left the area the dynamics within the
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community were still volatile and there have been tensions between various groups of spaza shop owners
as discussed below.
It was also established that there are very few problems between the foreign nationals and the community.
The tensions are more between South African and Ethiopian shopkeepers regarding the opening of new
shops in the area. The land occupation in the area has expanded and presented opportunities for opening
spaza shops for both locals and foreign nationals. However, local entrepreneurs and Somali shopkeepers
claimed that there are too many Ethiopians and that they should not be allowed to open new shops. They
agreed that opportunities should be given to South Africans and Somalis who have fewer shops in the
area. During the fieldwork, tensions between Ethiopians and Somalis/locals were high because one of the
Ethiopians opened a shop without following the rules. Ethiopians were also accused of buying pangas
(machetes) from the nearby hardware store in order to defend themselves should they be provoked or
4.6 Bellville South
Bellville South is considered a relatively ‘safe haven’ for foreign nationals, particularly Somalis, as it
reportedly does not have a history of xenophobia or xenophobic violence. Despite major challenges of
securing formal interviews with Somali residents, comments by the respondents in this research suggests
that there is considerable social cohesion in this area. In addition, the research findings also showed that
conflict resolution mechanisms have been successfully employed by a variety of community leaders and
organisations to manage tensions. Key stakeholders in this regard are the ward councillor, the Imam, and
the Bellville South Community Policing Forum (CPF).
Observations reveal there is evidence of significant social cohesion in Bellville South. A possible
contributing factor is that people living in predominantly Coloured areas, where religious involvement is
emphasised, tended to be more accepting of foreign nationals because they do not necessarily see them as
‘other’ or ‘different’. Coloured people are descended from different races and nationalities and therefore
may recognise a bit of themselves in every race or nationality. So much so that in the Western Cape,
everyone who is not White or Black African is often thought of as ‘Coloured’. This is especially true of
Muslim foreign nationals, because of the familiarity with Muslim culture even amongst Christian Coloured
This often leads to a blanket acceptance of everyone in their communities. When asked why there is little
violence in the community, most respondents claimed that it was: “the Coloured culture”; “the Coloured
upbringing”; or that “Coloured people are simply not violent”. While this is not necessarily true, it is highly
unlikely that violence in Coloured communities will be based on contrasting identities, and especially not
national identities. In urban Coloured communities, much of the population understands or is aware of
Muslim culture, which contributes to the acceptance of Muslim foreign nationals, particularly Somalis.
There is no singular Coloured identity that dictates collective action, collective spaces, or collective
behaviour. Therefore, there is no strong attachment to or ownership of the surrounding spaces, which
means that they do not often claim that others should not invade those spaces.
People to People Dialogues
Another contributing factor to the good relations is that the area is a predominantly residential area and
that there are few people who choose to run businesses in the space. Therefore, there is less business
competition leading to tensions between locals and foreign nationals or between foreign nationals
themselves. Most of the foreign nationals living in Bellville South own shops in the Bellville CBD and
thus are not seen to be ‘taking’ any opportunities from local residents. The area also appears to be quite
affluent, with many residents finding job opportunities, finding it easier to travel to work outside Bellville
due to it being a transport hub, and finding many opportunities for self-improvement due to the proximity
of tertiary institutions such as Northlink College, the Cape Peninsular University of Technology (CPUT)
and the University of the Western Cape (UWC). However, differences in cultural practices and beliefs
have nonetheless contributed to tensions at times, and foreign nationals do not feel entirely at home in
the area. For example, a Somali female respondent explained that she would never expect her neighbours
to help her, not because she was Somali, but because “nobody helps anybody here”.
There are strong, trusted and effective community leaders in Bellville South. The councillor seems to be
trusted by most community members and has been frequently approached by residents from various
backgrounds, including foreign nationals, to facilitate the resolution of certain issues affecting the
community. The CPF and sector forums appear to enjoy high levels of trust amongst community members
as well, despite some accusations of being exclusionary. On the other hand, the presence of the mosque
appears to be extremely helpful with regards to conflict resolution. The Imam is the key person for
community leaders to approach with regards to issues around foreign nationals, especially Somalis; while
the Imam is also the point of contact for Somalis to approach for problem-solving. The Muslim identity
appears to be a strong unifying factor, allowing Muslim foreign nationals to be seen as part of the Muslim
community. Indeed, nationality does not seem to be an impediment to the Muslim identity in Bellville
4.7 Korsten
During a study on social cohesion in 2016, SaVI researchers visited Korsten and noted what seemed, at
face value, to be a relative haven for foreign nationals, despite being surrounded by several communities
where xenophobia was prevalent. Based on this observation and discussions with ALPS Resilience and
the Eastern Cape Refugee Centre (ECRC), it was determined that Korsten would be an appropriate
research site. Researchers also found relatively positive integration between foreign nationals and South
Africans. However, the reasons behind the perceptions of safety were unexpected. While a shared religious
faith and supporting infrastructure is a major reason for foreign nationals feeling integrated in the area,
researchers also found that some foreign shop owners were paying protection money to local gangsters in
Korsten so that their businesses would not be robbed.
There were also increasing tensions between the non-Muslim Coloured population and the Muslim
population in general, which includes Somali nationals. The area had previously seen intense business
competition between Ethiopians and Somalis, as well as clan conflict within the Somali community.
Interview with Somali national, Bellville South, 21 January 2019.
People to People Dialogues
However, in 2018, as a way to resolve the business-related and intergroup conflicts, a new structure was
established by foreign nationals in the area. This structure was created in order for its leadership (mostly
elderly) to be more inclusive, and representative of different clans and ethnicities among the Somalis and
Ethiopians residents. Since then, crime and conflict has reportedly decreased, despite recent reports of
Somali in-fighting. Although interventions have already taken place through the ECRC, an intervention
targeted at improving Muslim-Christian relations in the area might go a long way to prevent future
It seems that the peacebuilding work undertaken by the ECRC in the area has had a positive impact. Prior
to their intervention, there was in-fighting between foreign national shop owners, but such incidents
seemed to have lessened. However, there is a need for dialogue to address xenophobic attitudes held by
the South African community leadership. Community leaders and members feel suffocated by the
presence of foreign nationals and blame them for disregarding zoning laws. Although local community
leadership structures make xenophobic utterances, it rarely translates into conflict between foreign
nationals and South Africans.
4.8 Walmer
Walmer Township is an area that has previously experienced xenophobic violence. As early as 2001,
Somalis who operated spaza shops in the area were threatened and attacked by rival local business people.
Local business people were also able to mobilize other community stakeholders in an attempt to force
foreign nationals to leave the area. The tensions relating to foreign nationals within the spaza shop business
arena are still present within this community. Currently, the community is experiencing tensions regarding
the regulation of foreign-owned shops. While foreign nationals have made significant progress in terms of
integration in this area and with the community at large, business structures representing some South
African residents in Walmer have laid several grievances against foreign shop owners. The most
controversial of these structures is a youth business forum called Vuka, which is attempting to place
limitations on foreign-owned shops. Vuka is closely allied to the ward councillor and together they are
advocating for locals to be hired in shops and for increased health inspections to be conducted in shops.
Other demands from Vuka are that foreign owned spaza shops must pay R1500 per month to Vuka, and
source products made in Walmer (such as bread). In response, foreign nationals have united under one
representative business forum that incorporates all nationalities, tribes and ethnicities. They have also
closed their shops in solidarity and to protest against these measures. During the fieldwork, the local
councillor and relevant stakeholders initiated a dialogue to improve the situation, but tensions remained
Walmer Township appears to be cohesive in terms of general relations between residents on the street.
There does not appear to be much interpersonal conflict and relations between customers and shop
owners are good. However, residents will not offer the same help when crime occurs, on occasion
intervening directly when a local is affected and only offering sympathy when a foreign national is affected.
This might indicate that foreign nationals are treated well merely due to the commercial services they
provide, but they are not necessarily accepted as part of the community.
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The community does have structures that provide platforms for nonviolent methods of resolving conflicts,
such as the CPF, Area Committees and even external help from ECRC. Nevertheless, violence has still
occurred in this area and, in most cases, foreign nationals are targeted. There are also reports that
community groups such as Vuka have resorted to criminal activities and the use of violence against foreign
nationals in order to pursue their specific business interests. On the other hand, tensions between shop
owners of different nationalities are not as high as in other areas because regulatory measures have been
put in place to prevent such conflicts. Nonetheless, foreign nationals do not seem to have feelings of
belonging in the community. They appear to want to belong; however, the local leadership has been
making it difficult for them to integrate.
4.9 Wells Estate
Wells Estate is a relatively small community on the outskirts of the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality that
has a significant population of foreign nationals (mainly Somalis and Ethiopians), especially in the spaza
shop sector. It has a history of xenophobic violence (i.e. in 2001, 2007, 2011 and 2013), in which
xenophobic attacks often involved the looting of and damage to foreign-owned – predominantly Somali
- shops. Nonetheless, the findings of this research show that conflict resolution mechanisms have been
established by community leaders with foreign nationals, as well as the ECRC, with an aim of preventing
conflicts and violence in relation to spaza shops. Such mechanisms have been the outcome of extensive
dialogue between foreign nationals, local authorities, community leaders and community groups.
Furthermore, the efforts of the Eastern Cape Refugee Centre have reportedly had positive effects on
reducing xenophobic sentiments through proactive dialogues and the implementation of measures that
educate South African communities about foreign nationals.
However, policing in the area appears to have been substandard. The police station is situated quite a
distance away and not easily accessible to residents of Wells Estate. Community members have claimed
desperation as the reason for their acts of vigilantism because their community is plagued by crime, which
is often violent. Community leaders have established structures to deal with crime, and apparently do not
condone vigilantism, but they seem to empathise with the community members who they feel cannot rely
on the government and police to deal with criminality. Consequently, vigilantism is a common occurrence.
Furthermore, the expansion of the area may lead to future xenophobic-related conflicts, especially in terms
of competition over the establishment of new spaza shops. Wells Estate community groups have
established conflict management processes and implement informal regulations in an attempt to prevent
and proactively deal with conflicts, particularly in the spaza shop sector. Such processes have appeared to
be effective to date, but from an economic point of view, such an approach is anti-competitive as it has
ultimately sought to prevent new entrepreneurs from establishing shops in the area. With the growth of
the new informal settlement called eNdlovini on the outskirts of Wells Estate, such conflict resolution
mechanisms may be insufficient. Consequently, this may ultimately contribute to conflict and violence in
future if individuals or groups that are not party to the spaza shop regulations attempt to establish shops.
While researchers were conducting fieldwork, it became apparent that there were already allegations of
bribery in relation to the establishment of some new shops in eNdlovini.
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4.10 Atteridgeville
Atteridgeville has experienced several xenophobic attacks in recent years and is considered to be at-risk
for future xenophobic attacks. However, the reasons for xenophobia do not appear to be similar to other
sites visited for this project where business competition is rife. Instead, there appears to be a political
motive behind xenophobic attacks in the area, and pro-violence community groups and networks,
including those engaged in extortion, being active in the area. There were reports of community members
calling meetings for genuine issues such as housing, but then using these meetings to foment anti-foreigner
sentiment. Foreign nationals in the area feel as though they have little protection or adequate
representation in the community. When a protest takes place, it is extremely likely that these protests will
result in the looting of foreign-owned shops. As soon as protests start, most foreign national shop owners
tend to relocate to Pretoria West in anticipation of being looted.
The area is diverse in terms of income, providing some opportunities for employment and
entrepreneurship, which means that there is less competition for jobs between South Africans and foreign
nationals. There are very few active community organisations, and even fewer effective ones. Most leaders
appear to only join structures with an aim of gaining experience or recognition for future employment.
The CPF appears to be the most functional structure in the area. However, there is only one police station
and most formal community structures are based in the centre of the town, with very few in informal
areas. Community leaders appear to be generally concerned with their own interests and seek community
leadership positions for their own financial or personal gain. The councillors are generally seen as corrupt
and the police as inefficient. As a result of these perceptions, there have been numerous instances of mob
justice and looting.
When interviews were eventually agreed to, researchers were often caught off-guard by respondents
suddenly ending interviews or only allowing a certain amount of time to talk before dominating the
conversation in a way that made it difficult for researchers to ask specific questions. This meant that
researchers could not interrogate some of the more nuanced questions, such as whether there is
discrimination in terms of access to resources; whether residents think of themselves as part of the
community; or whether community members have a general understanding of what it means to be
xenophobic or racist.
Conflicts and crime in the community are also generally solved in a violent manner since the community
is not well organised and police are not trusted. Researchers heard that “if they catch you, you will die”,
as well as “if they catch you, you will lose a hand”. There are processes and structures, such as South
African National Civic Organizations (SANCO) representatives and the CPF in the community that seek
to resolve conflict peacefully. However, these structures appear to exist in name only and are not
functioning well. The CPF is the most trusted structure, but only sees its mandate as being that of police
oversight. Furthermore, there are no neighbourhood watch or community safety structures. Thus, in the
absence of trusted structures to deal with community issues in such a volatile environment, it is likely that
foreign nationals may experience the same attacks in the future when local residents embark on protest
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4.11 Mayfair
As in Korsten, researchers in Mayfair anticipated that foreign nationals would be well-integrated and co-
existing well with local South African residents in this area. This study found that there is a significant
population of foreign nationals, mostly Ethiopians and Somalis, who seem to outnumber South Africans
in the area. Residents are divided along national, ethnic or tribal lines. However, in this context, ethnic or
tribal identities tend to be stronger than national identities which sometimes leads to conflicts between
different tribal/ethnic groups. In addition, the findings show that, while tensions were often centred
around business competition, most of the time, conflict takes place on an interpersonal level and escalates
into tribal/ethnic conflicts. Elders from each group are considered as important role players in maintaining
peace and fostering reconciliation among the community members. Furthermore, interviews with female
respondents reveal that there is a perception that Somali/Ethiopian women are discriminated against in
local hospitals because of their high number of pregnancies and children, and their religious belief against
contraception. Concerns were raised that, despite various objections, pregnant women had been pressured
into having caesarean sections (further research should be undertaken on this issue).
There is no one group of community leaders that is concerned with the wellbeing of all residents, as
leadership is also divided along ethnic and tribal lines. Each ethnic group seems to have its own leadership
structure that generally does not communicate with other structures and only represents its own interests.
Somali leadership is viewed as providing help exclusively to those from their own tribes. Leaders are not
completely trusted by residents. Elders are seen as only being able to handle certain issues, while local
leadership is barely acknowledged. Additionally, women’s issues are often neglected.
There does not appear to be much discrimination with regards to access to schools based on nationality
or ethnicity. This is mostly because there are specific Muslim and Somali schools, and many other services
that cater to the Muslim population. However, there were cases where some Somali children were not
allowed into schools without asylum-seeker documentation. There are also issues related to discrimination
and harassment in taxis, clinics, and hospitals outside Mayfair.
The community has a general understanding of xenophobia and racism, but this does not mean that
xenophobia and racism are not present in the space. Researchers were told several times, especially by
Somali women, that “the blacks are the biggest challenge”.
There have also been threats of what some
leaders termed reverse-xenophobia, where Somali people joked with the local Indian population that they
were going to conduct an ethnic cleansing of Indians in Mayfair.
When it comes to community cohesion, residents tend not to help each other across tribal lines. There are
also not many interactions on the streets across the ethnic divide. Researchers witnessed several intergroup
altercations among foreign nationals during the fieldwork. However, if an outsider threatens the wellbeing
of the residents of Mayfair, foreign nationals in the area often mobilise in response. This often takes the
Interview with Somali woman, Mayfair, February 2019.
People to People Dialogues
form of mob justice. People seem to feel safe walking around at all hours of the day. However, Somali
women still reported feeling unsafe.
The community of Mayfair is often described as lawless, and residents usually resort to violence to solve
conflicts. However, there are structures in place to resolve conflict peacefully. The elders might not always
be able to resolve conflict through peaceful means, but their decisions are usually respected. Due to the
more traditional mechanisms of conflict resolution, the residents of Mayfair do not always report safety
issues or crimes to the police. Trust in the police is minimal, as it was alleged that the police often exploit
foreign nationals, seek bribes, and perform illegal searches on them. However, the issue with Mayfair
residents not reporting to the police seems to be less about issues of trust than about issues of procedure.
They have their own methods of solving conflict, and the police are considered unnecessary and
unwelcome in Mayfair.
There are still tensions between shop owners of different nationalities. It was reported that Somalis and
Ethiopians (predominantly of the Oromo ethnic group) frequently fight amongst themselves due to
business competition. However, most of the conflict and violence happens within their own groups.
Researchers also heard vehement claims of belonging in Mayfair, where foreign nationals complained
about police because they were intruding in ‘their’ space. This sense of belonging has prevented authorities,
such as law enforcement officers, from conducting their duties in the area as they are seen as outsiders. In
sum, while official mechanisms of conflict resolution are in place, foreign nationals prefer traditional
approaches and view officials as outsiders.
4.12 Katlehong
Katlehong (Mandela Park) used to have a number of foreign nationals from countries such as Ethiopia,
Somalia, Pakistan and Bangladesh. During the fieldwork, it was established that these nationalities were
not visible in Mandela Park, but were located one street adjacent to Maphanga area. All spaza shop
operators from the above-mentioned countries from were displaced by community members, led by pro-
violence structures and networks, like the Business Association, SANCO, as well as CPF. The findings
suggest that Katlehong is an area that is mostly governed by local extra-legal groups and businessmen who
have been against foreign nationals who operate spaza shops in recent years. The research focused on an
area called Mandela Park, also referred to as Holomisa. Mandela Park is an informal settlement where
foreign national spaza shop owners were previously displaced in late 2016 due to threats from South
African residents in the area who subsequently seized control of their shops. Perpetrators of these
xenophobic attacks reported that, as they had permitted foreign national fruit vendors to remain in the
area, the displacement of the spaza shop owners should not be considered as xenophobic. During the
fieldwork it was established that those foreign nationals who were displaced were still not welcome in the
community by the Business Association.
Community structures and leadership appeared to be xenophobic, particularly toward foreign national
shop owners. Foreign nationals, especially Ethiopians and Somalians, struggled financially after they were
forced to leave the area due to xenophobic violence. Many of the local landlords want the Somali and
Ethiopian shop owners to return because it was reported that they generally paid rent on time, gave the
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landlords credit, and provided cheaper prices than the South African shops. Other foreign nationals such
as Malawian, Mozambican and Zimbabwean businessmen who remain in the area appear to have been
exploited the Business Association financially. In order for this group to operate a business in the area,
such as selling fruit and vegetables, they have to pay a fee of R5000 to the Association.
There is very little trust in the police, with residents on occasion refusing to allow the police access to the
area. There have been several killings of community leaders, leading to mistrust and an atmosphere of
tension. ‘Parliament’ is the converging space for community leaders where community members typically
go when they are faced with challenges, such as conflict and crime. Leaders of the ‘Parliament’ are usually
based in their shack office and tend to address community concerns and criminality extra-legally, and
sometimes even resort to vigilante justice. Residents do engage with street committees and the CPF to
address some community problems, but most of the conflicts in the community are solved in a violent
manner. Voices of dissent are often disregarded, and the areas that have protected foreign nationals have
been ‘othered’, with some of the leaders of Mandela Park stating: “if anything happens in that area because
of those foreigners, we will not help them.”
4.13 Inanda, Ntuzuma, KwaMashu (INK)
KwaZulu-Natal had mixed spaza shop types and was in many ways quite similar to the sites in Gauteng
and the Eastern Cape. The three researched areas that make up the INK site (Inanda, Ntuzuma, and
KwaMashu) are represented here as one section because they face similar issues that are often a result of
shared key role players who have an influence over all three areas. In the INK areas there are quite a
number of shops owned by South Africans, where they sell through windows. Similarly, container shops
owned by Ethiopians sell to their customers through windows. Somali shops were rented spaces in houses
while Ethiopians would either be located outside the yard or on the fence or gate inside the yard. Ethiopian
shops would often be minded by two shopkeepers while, with Somali shops there would be, on average,
four staff in addition to a cleaner (usually from Malawi).
In the INK area there are numerous groups and networks that have the potential to formant collective
violence in the communities. A key group is a regional business association covering the entire area called
the Northern Region Business Association (NoRBA). NoRBA is in opposition to the business
competition presented by foreign nationals in the area and the association has resorted to violence and
intimidation against foreign nationals. The association has allegedly mobilised drug addicts and other
community members to incite violence against the foreign nationals in the spaza shop sector. One of their
justifications for attacks included an accusation that foreign nationals get preferential treatment from
wholesalers. They postulate that, because most Somalis are Muslim, Indian wholesalers (who are also
predominantly Muslim) give Somali business owners exclusive discounts and credits. This argument is
quite flawed in that Ethiopians are predominantly Christian and are fast becoming the majority in the
spaza shop sector in the area.
Interview with Business Association member, Katlehong, 9 February 2019.
People to People Dialogues
The area has a well-documented history of collective violence. Since the 1980s, the area has been renowned
for politically motivated killings and rivalries between members of the African National Congress (ANC),
Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), and, more recently, the National Freedom Party (NFP). Over the past 20
years, there have been various incidents of xenophobic violence, including the looting of foreign-owned
shops. The reasons for such violence towards foreign nationals have generally appeared to be due to
business competition between local (South African) and foreign national shop owners combined with
opportunistic behaviour by some residents who loot shops run by foreign nationals during xenophobic
Local shop owners, many of whom are represented by NoRBA, perceive foreign-owned shops (and large
shopping malls) in the area as being major threats to their business survival. This group has demanded
that every spaza shop owner, including foreign nationals, be registered on a database and certified with
the aim of preventing the perceived unsustainable proliferation of new spaza shops in the area. Many local
residents, however, appear to be supportive of the foreign-owned shops due to the generally lower prices
of their goods. Members of the local community leadership structures expressed a generalised sense of
dissatisfaction with the local municipal authority and the South African Police Services (SAPS), particularly
regarding their inadequate responses to conflict within this community. There appeared to be minimal
levels of visible civic organisation and participation, but there was distinct party-political activity taking
place, especially in hostels.
Inanda has high levels of poverty, unemployment and crime. Since 2015, it has been affected by various
acute incidents of xenophobic violence, with the most recent incident occurring in May 2018. During this
incident, foreign-owned shops (mainly owned by Somalis and Ethiopians) were damaged or destroyed and
looted. The violence was exacerbated by the actions of NoRBA. NoRBA demanded that foreign national
shop owners close their shops and vacate the area, which was largely ignored by shop owners. The conflict
resolution process that was initiated by government, both local (eThekhwini Metropolitan Municipality)
and provincial (KwaZulu-Natal led by premier Willies Mchunu and former Member of the Executive
Council for Economic Development, Sihle Zikalala) has largely been unsuccessful to date. Efforts to
establish longer-term peace-building processes by the eThekhwini Metropolitan Municipality have been
stalled given the lack of robust and representative community leadership structures and tensions within
the community of foreign nationals in the area. This is also exacerbated by the divisions among general
community members who still prefer foreign national shops in the area.
Ntuzuma is the most underdeveloped of the three INK areas (Inanda, Ntuzuma and KwaMashu). At
present, leadership in the area appears ineffective, especially from elected leaders. Leaders are said to be
unaccountable and inefficient. The community policing forum (CPF) and South African National Civic
Organisation (SANCO) leaders have reportedly dealt with community issues inadequately. Police are not
trusted and appear to lack adequate resources. Furthermore, foreign nationals are not organised within the
community, making it difficult for them to engage with South African community leadership structures.
However, foreign nationals (spaza shop owners) seem to have a good relationship with some CPF
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members, resulting in the CPF providing information and protection to some foreign nationals at the time
of the attacks. Compared to the other two INK areas, the effects of attacks driven by the North Region
Business Association (NoRBA) were relatively minimal in this area.
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5. Common trends
5.1 Main perpetrators
Researchers found that perpetrators of xenophobic violence were mostly young males who were usually
unemployed and/or drug users. However, in many cases these young men were sent by others that were
part of pro-violence groups and networks, and were not always personally motivated to attack foreign
nationals. Most xenophobic attacks in the sites were difficult to define is ‘xenophobic’ because they
appeared to be motivated by business interests. In Katlehong, for example, local shop owners instigated
attacks against foreign national shop owners in order to reduce business competition, but only targeted
shop owners and left many other foreign national groups alone. In Lwandle, Mbekweni and in the Eastern
Cape sites, foreign nationals were often sent to destabilise the businesses of other foreign nationals. In
Mayfair, one foreign national hired a South African to kill another foreign national. The incident was
reported as xenophobia because the perpetrator was South African. However, it was difficult to establish
the motivations behind many of the attacks. This is because the dynamics in these communities are
complex: understanding the nature of inter-relations (or lack thereof) and the way in which multiple
discriminations may influence an attack is important to properly unpack the nature of xenophobia in each
5.2 Main victims
Somalis and Ethiopians are targeted the most in townships, seemingly because they are the ones who have
food-stores (spaza shops with bread, maize meal, etc.). Somalis used to be the primary target; however,
the targeting of Ethiopians as increased as their dominance in the spaza shop sector grows. In many cases,
the foreign nationals who run fruit and vegetable stalls or sell blankets and crafts are barely acknowledged.
Alternatively, in more rural, industrial, and farm-based areas, Zimbabweans appear to be the primary
targets. The reasoning behind this is that they often work for low ages. Other groups of foreign nationals
were barely mentioned. Interestingly, in earlier research, it was uncovered that Nigerians were often
targeted as victims of hate-crimes due to rumours and stereotypical views of Nigerians as being drug
dealers. In this case, however, Nigerians were barely mentioned when discussing foreign nationals and
5.3 How xenophobic violence starts
In many cases, foreign nationals will hire their friends and/or family members to operate shops without
helping them understand the local language, norms, and social values of the community. This possibly
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discourages foreign nationals from further integration in their communities. This, in turn, encourages
foreign nationals to band together, thus reinforcing local perceptions of foreigners as ‘outsiders’.
The continual migration of different people into communities makes it difficult for locals to accept
foreigners, especially when familiarity cannot be established. Furthermore, many migrants have been
traumatised by violence (often from their homelands and in South Africa) and their first instinct is to
defend themselves. Communities have come to believe that Somalis, in particular, are trigger-happy and
prone to respond to injustice with gun-violence.
While there is often xenophobic resentment in a community, it usually spills over into violence once there
has been a shooting at a spaza shop. In Katlehong, local business owners admitted to waiting for a shooting
to happen so that they could use it as an opportunity to chase foreign nationals out of the area. This
occurred in KwaZulu-Natal as well. Most xenophobic attacks also occurred during service delivery
protests. Again, the targets during these protests were the groups of foreign nationals who sell food. Often,
these shops are attacked indiscriminately, but it is still reported as xenophobia.
Researchers found that very few locals still own spaza shops in many of the sites. For this reason, when
spaza shops are targeted, it is immediately reported in the media as xenophobia. This is problematic
because it negatively influences site selection when researchers come to investigate media reports of
xenophobia and find little evidence of such. However, not all these attacks are based on opportunistic
looting. Foreign nationals are often targeted for robberies because community members know that the
police do not protect foreign nationals and police at times extort money/goods from foreign national
shop owners. Several foreign nationals also reported not going to the courts (after being victims of crime)
because of time constraints, religious reasons, or fear of retaliation. This, in turn, makes them easy targets.
5.4 How xenophobic violence is prevented
Evidence from Katlehong shows that leaders in the Maphanga area, which is adjacent to Mandela Park,
stood up against xenophobic leaders and allowed foreign nationals to operate in their area. This indicates
strong leadership is central to the prevention of xenophobic violence. This was after Mandela Park
community members and their leaders decided to chase out spaza shop owners who they collectively
referred to as ‘Pakistanis’.
The findings also reveal that having informal regulations in place can allow for effective dialogue between
foreign nationals and locals, which ensures communication and decreases the chance of tensions and
conflict. In areas where there are well-organised business structures amongst foreign nationals, allowing
for internal cooperation and coordinated engagement with other groups, there is more social cohesion.
They can communicate with other community structures if any issues related to their shops arise. For
example, the opening of a new shop outside of agreed restrictions by a Somali national in Masiphumelele
did not result in violence because of communication between leadership structures. In Lwandle, protestors
attempted to loot spaza shops, but this was prevented by community leaders who recognised foreign
national leadership structures.
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The relationship between shopkeepers and the community also plays an important role in preventing
xenophobic attacks. This study has established that landlords and neighbours who provide shop rental
space for foreign nationals can act to prevent xenophobic violence. Lastly, foreign nationals who get
involved in community issues (funerals, sports, etc.) tend to be better integrated into surrounding
communities, and the practice seems to foster acceptance in the community. This also ensures that they
are not exploited by illegitimate community leaders because their involvement in the community would
increase awareness of legitimate leadership structures.
5.5 Non-criteria sites
As previously mentioned, Mayfair, Korsten and Bellville South were selected as sites because they were
centres of migrant trading populations. Research found some shared commonalities. These areas are places
where most spaza shop owners stay with their families. They send their children to schools within these
vicinities, not far away from their residences. Business owners, especially those who have been successful
in township businesses, do not stay in their shops, but rather hire shopkeepers (often males from their
countries of origin). This is in contrast to other sites where most foreign national spaza shop owners sleep
in their shops. Many respondents during the fieldwork mentioned that residents opportunistically used the
apparent health concerns associated with shopkeepers sleeping in their shops as a justification to loot
spaza shops owned by foreign nationals.
Another important finding is that foreign nationals, particularly Muslims, feel welcomed and comfortable
living in these areas because of their religious links and the availability of infrastructural support, such as
the presence of mosques. Islam stipulates how Muslims should do business, which lays a foundation for
common understanding between the foreign nationals and local Muslims in these areas. Moreover, all
Muslims pray in Arabic, so a common language is shared regardless of their country of origin.
Yet, the apparent cohesiveness of community members in these areas is often questionable. At face value,
one might assume that foreign nationals live in these areas because they connect well with locals. Instead,
the evidence shows that some foreign nationals pay protection fees in order to feel safe in these areas. For
example, foreign nationals in Korsten were assumed to have developed good relations with the Coloured
community, but the real reason they felt comfortable was because they paid local gangsters for protection.
The community is diverse (not only Muslims) and, as a result, foreign nationals felt they needed protection
against those who are not Muslim.
5.6 Foreign nationals, income generation and
South Africa has experienced significant and steady urbanisation over the last two decades. Pronounced
poverty and unemployment in rural areas of the country has led many South Africans to migrate to the
metropolitan cities of Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, the Eastern Cape (Port Elizabeth) and the Western Cape.
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Similarly, migrants from other countries outside of South Africa also prefer to live in these cities to search
for better opportunities. Like other research conducted in these areas, the current research has shown that
xenophobia tends to happen in areas that have experienced considerable internal migration of South
Africans. These are areas where, to some extent, foreign nationals compete for jobs with South Africans.
It must be noted here that those who are competing for jobs are not necessarily operating or employed in
the spaza shop sector.
In Imizamo Yethu, Mbekweni, Lwandle and Zwelihle there have been issues with the employment of
foreign nationals, especially in the hospitality, fishing and farming industries. Employers have been accused
of hiring the cheapest labour and those most desperate, usually foreign nationals. This leads to tensions
between foreign nationals and locals. Farmers in the surrounding areas of Mbekweni have been accused
of ejecting South African labourers and their families from their farms in favour of hiring foreign nationals.
5.7 Informal regulations
One noticeable trend in the areas of Masiphumelele, Lwandle, Zwelihle, Walmer, Wells Estate, Imizamo
Yethu, and Katlehong is the formulation and implementation of informal regulations in order to regulate
spaza shops. The following are some examples of the informal regulations agreed upon by foreign
nationals operating spaza shops, and to some extent these agreements involve community structures and
local authorities:
There must be no more opening of new shops by foreign nationals in these townships. However,
if South Africans wish to open shops they are not restricted by these agreements.
Unless the shops are selling different items, each shop must be at least 100 meters away from each
When new opportunities arise, such as the development of a new settlement in the area, preference
is given to a local or it can be given to a foreign national who has fewer shops.
If anyone opens a new spaza shop outside the agreements, it can be forcefully shut down.
If there is an opportunity to open a new shop, community members who live in that street need
to agree to it.
Operating hours/prices must be agreed upon and monitored by relevant business forum members.
In these townships, key stakeholders or stakeholder groups are empowered to enforce these informal
regulations through various mechanisms depending on the dynamics of the township.
The presence and active participation of both foreign nationals and community stakeholders in ensuring
compliance to the informal regulations have both positive and negative implications. On the positive side,
in areas where there is presence of informal regulations agreed upon by community stakeholders, foreign
nationals gain acceptance and are protected by community leadership structures. The successful
implementation of the agreements provides an identifiable channel for conflict resolution for each party
and simultaneously promotes social cohesion. In this environment, foreign nationals fight less and
collaborate with local community members making them feel more welcome in these areas. The
establishment of business forums for each group (locals and foreign nationals) to oversee adherence to
the regulations provides a platform for engagement in a peaceful manner. In addition, community leaders
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who are party to the agreements take responsibility and protect foreign nationals in the event of eminent
While the introduction of informal regulations has brought somewhat of a perceived ‘peace’, it has also
led to violent threats between community members and among competing foreign national traders. This
is partly because informal regulations are generally not accepted as legitimate and codified by foreign
nationals who want to open new shops. Thus, although some community members are part and parcel of
these agreements, they are not widely accepted as legitimate and are therefore not ‘rules in operation’.
Consequently, informal regulations have resulted in the use of extra-legal mechanisms of conflict
resolution, tension and criminal activities instigated by foreign nationals, as well as corruption.
5.8 Somali migration
Compared to the findings of previous research conducted by the Safety and Violence Initiative in
collaboration with the African Centre for Migration & Society (ACMS), this research has revealed that
Somalis are gradually leaving the townships while Ethiopians are taking over the businesses. For example,
in 2016/2017, researchers went to Joza township in Grahamstown and found that there were some Somali
shops in operation. The current research found that most of the Somalis had left the township and sold
their shops to Ethiopians. In addition, when Somalis leave the townships, most relocate closer to the city
centres in areas that are referred as ‘Little Mogadishu’ or ‘Somali Town’ such as Mayfair, Korsten, and
Bellville. Some move to places that have infrastructural support for their businesses or religion (such as
mosques). It appears that the entry of Ethiopians into the spaza business sector has increased competition
and has caused friction between the various groups operating in the spaza shop sector. Friction between
Somalis and Ethiopians seems to have been exacerbated by Ethiopians having been more adept at
integrating into South African communities than Somalis. This was particularly noticeable in terms of the
greater number of marriages and friendships between Ethiopians and South Africans (compared to
Somali-South African marriages).
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6. Reflections &
recommendations for
future research
The findings of this research project revealed that the determinants, nature and dynamics of xenophobic
violence (or the absence thereof) in the 15 sites were relatively complex and often differed considerably
from how this issue has been portrayed in the media. Indeed, there were stereotypical cases where groups
of South Africans used violence to target foreign national spaza shop owners for commercial or personal
reasons. In many cases, the findings showed that much of the violence that had been directed at certain
foreign-owned spaza shops and/or spaza shop owners had been perpetrated by foreign nationals.
Nonetheless, xenophobic sentiments were acute in many areas. Furthermore, given the reported
inadequate service provided by the SAPS in many areas, combined with the lack of trust that foreign
nationals had in the police, the research findings emphasised the importance of ward councillors, CPF
members and some community organisations as key facilitators of both social cohesion and conflict
resolution. Hence, these entities are essential to arranging and sustaining community dialogues that are
geared towards building peace (where required).
This section outlines the various methodological constraints encountered, lessons identified, and solutions
that were pursued during the research process. Recommendations for future research projects and possible
interventions are also noted.
6.1 Constraints: Methodological & access-related
Politicization: In areas where there were upcoming elections and/or contestation between groups, the
researchers were often suspected by respondents as being spies or members of opposing political parties.
For example, in Zwelihle, one of the researchers was wearing a blue t-shirt on the day of fieldwork. Some
residents were suspicious and mentioned that they did not trust strangers wearing the colours of the
Democratic Alliance (DA). The assumption was that researchers could be spies sent by their opponents
(presumably the DA) to spy on them. Some respondents also questioned the timing of the research as the
research took place shortly before the 2019 national elections. KwaZulu-Natal areas and Zwelihle were
similar in terms of being highly politicized spaces, not just for locals but also for foreign nationals. Hence,
many respondents appeared guarded during the interview process. In KwaZulu-Natal, for
example,political assassinations are a regular occurrence, and as a result, many local councillors have armed
bodyguards accompanying them. This made it difficult for the research team to set up meetings with
politicians and councillors.
Time and contacts/networks: Within the researcher sites, one ideally needed months to build
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relationships and trust with residents. Site visits of only two to three days ensured that many of those
respondents gained through the snowball technique were unavailable. For example, in Imizamo Yethu,
one respondent wanted us to give her two months to get everyone together, and start a WhatsApp group,
claiming “researchers can’t just come in there and expect people to be available”.
Community dynamics: It was often difficult to understand the dynamics of the various communities
and ask relevant questions if one has not had sufficient time to undertake extensive background field
research relating each community. As pointed out earlier in this report, desktop and media reports can
often be misleading. Some of the respondents claimed that the researchers did not really know what was
happening in the community. Examples of some of the comments were as follows: “Did you just learn
this in the media?” “Do you know the real story?” “Did you even do research?” Often, researchers initially
approached the inappropriate/irrelevant community representatives who did not possess the relevant
Over-researched areas: Many of the communities appeared to have been over-researched (by other
research groups) and claimed to have never experienced any benefits of the research findings. Researchers
were often viewed as people who just visited the area to mine the community for information for their
own purposes without providing feedback to the community.
Somali-focus: Cultural and other differences make it very difficult for non-Somali researches to access
potential Somali respondents, and the lack of facilitation from SASA made this very difficult for the
research team.
Budget constraints: Due to the limited research budget, only two researchers were allocated to most
sites. However, due to insufficient pre-established contacts in sites, more than two researchers were
needed. As a result, the Eastern Cape team was too small. Researchers never had an opportunity to take
pictures and it was difficult to gain a well-rounded understanding of the community without a well-
balanced research team. The very limited time that was available to conduct research in 15 sites also limited
access to relevant respondents and other data sources.
6.2 Lessons Identified and Solutions Pursued
During the research process a number of key positive lessons were identified and important solutions
pursued in relation to the constraints encountered.
Community access through existing networks: Researchers were able to link up with non-
governmental and community organizations who were already working with foreign nationals in some of
the targeted areas, and many of these organizations were able to provide researchers with access to some
relevant respondents. This approach was particularly useful in the Western Cape, Gauteng and the Eastern
Cape through the aid of ALPS Resilience, the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR)
and the Eastern Cape Refugee Centre (ECRC), respectively. KwaZulu-Natal was a province where
researchers had no connections, and where it was extremely difficult to gain the trust of the community.
In some areas, researchers were able to gain access to relevant respondents through previously existing
personal networks.
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Making use of existing foreign national networks: In sites that where there were relatively significant
populations of foreign nationals (especially Somalis), researchers were able to use connections from
previously researched sites to make contact with relevant foreign nationals in the some of the other
research sites. For example, a Somali contact in Mayfair assisted the research teams in making contact with
foreign national respondents in Atteridgeville.
The role of the police: Although the police were often not trusted by foreign national residents in many
of the targeted areas, in the KwaZulu-Natal targeted areas, the research team found the local police to
have been being particularly helpful in identifying potential respondents and making the necessary
introductions. The police also had a well-informed understanding of the relevant community dynamics in
these areas.
Use of foreign national facilitators: In some areas the research teams were assisted by Somali
facilitators/interpreters. In such cases it appeared that respondents were less suspicious of the research
team and were more open in their responses during the interview process.
6.3 Recommendations for future research
Whilst undertaking research for this project the team identified the following key topics for future research
in this area:
Informal regulation of the spaza shop sector: This was a relatively common feature in most research
sites, where there appeared to be a correlation between the nature of the how the spaza shop sector was
regulated and controlled (particularly in relation to foreign nationals) and xenophobic-related tensions and
violence. A more informed understanding of such regulations is essential for more nuanced future
peacebuilding efforts.
Competition and conflict between different nationalities: In a number of research sites competition
and conflict in the spaza shop sector was evident between foreign nationals from different countries,
especially between Somalis and Ethiopians. At times these conflicts had linkages with local criminals or
criminal groups. A more informed understanding of such conflicts and tensions are important from a
peacebuilding perspective.
Xenophobia and the role of the police: Police have the potential to make valuable peacebuilding
contributions in communities affected by xenophobia and related violence. However, the research team
often found that trust between foreign nationals and the police was relatively low. Research on how trust
between the police and foreign nationals in such areas is much needed.
Xenophobia and the role of local councillors: As the research showed, local councillors can build peace
or contribute to xenophobic conflict. Further research on how councillors can more effectively contribute
to local peacebuilding is essential.
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