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From Foreign Natives to Native Foreigners. Explaining Xenophobia in Post-apartheid South Africa

Explaining Xenophobia in Post-apartheid South Africa

Michael Neocosmos

Publication Year: 2010

The events of May 2008 in which 62 people were killed simply for being ëforeigní and thousands were turned overnight into refugees shook the South African nation. This book is the first to attempt a comprehensive and rigorous explanation for those horrific events. It argues that xenophobia should be understood as a political discourse and practice. As such its historical development as well as the conditions of its existence must be elucidated in terms of the practices and prescriptions which structure the field of politics. In South Africa, the history of xenophobia is intimately connected to the manner in which citizenship has been conceived and fought over during the past fifty years at least. Migrant labour was de-nationalised by the apartheid state, while African nationalism saw the same migrant labour as the foundation of that oppressive system. Only those who could show a family connection with the colonial and apartheid formation of South Africa could claim citizenship at liberation. Others were excluded and seen as unjustified claimants to national resources. Xenophobiaís conditions of existence, the book argues, are to be found in the politics of post-apartheid nationalism where state prescriptions founded on indigeneity have been allowed to dominate uncontested in conditions of an overwhelmingly passive conception of citizenship. The de-politicisation of an urban population, which had been able to assert its agency during the 1980s through a discourse of human rights in particular, contributed to this passivity. Such state liberal politics have remained largely unchallenged. As in other cases of post-colonial transition in Africa, the hegemony of xenophobic discourse, the book contends, is to be sought in the specific character of the state consensus.

Published by: African Books Collective

Title Page

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pp. iii

Copyright Page

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pp. iv


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pp. vii-viii

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Preface to the First Edition

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pp. ix-x

As this work progressed, it became apparent that what was required in a study of xenophobia in South Africa today was not an empirical assessment of its extent, which by all accounts is indubitably (although contradictorily) widely prevalent in society as well as within state institutions, neither a description of its characteristics, as there are plenty of these already, but rather an explanation for its existence. ...

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Preface to the Second Edition

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pp. xi-xiv

The fundamental reasons for a second edition of this book were the events of May 2008, which could only be described as systematic pogroms against ‘foreigners’ in many South African townships. These violent events left 62 people dead at least, and displaced thousands more, leading to introspection in the press regarding the violent re-assertion of social differences which the country, it was felt, had been able to overcome through its reconciliation...

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CHAPTER ONE - Introduction: Accounting for Xenophobiain Post-apartheid South Africa

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pp. 1-18

By all accounts, the South African society has experienced a massive problem of xenophobia since its liberation in 1994, a problem which is particularly shocking given the massive international support for the struggle against apartheid, particularly during the 1980s. This xenophobia is directed overwhelmingly at Africans from all over the continent while some nationalities,...

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CHAPTER TWO - The Apartheid State and Migration to South Africa: From Rural Migrant Labour to Urban Revolt

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pp. 19-59

In this chapter, the relationship between political economy and the apartheid state, in other words the character of structural relations historically dominant in the Southern African region, is established. This issue is important because social divisions developed around migrant labour on the one hand and the character of state interpellations on the other, provide the structural context for the formation...

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CHAPTER THREE - The Construction of a Post-apartheid Nationalist Discourse of Exclusion: Citizenship, State, National Identity and Xenophobia

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pp. 61-104

The migrant labour system became transformed in the post-apartheid period not so much as a result of a democratic development but rather as a process of nation formation led by the state which then organised a distinction between citizens and foreigners. This distinction differed from both the apartheid state’s distinctions as well as from the popular nationalist one founded on political agency and forged...

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CHAPTER FOUR - Conclusion. Theory and Political Agency

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pp. 105-116

Existing explanations of xenophobia in South Africa – in terms of economic crisis, political transition, relative deprivation, or remnants of apartheid – all contain a grain of truth but none are adequate in themselves; neither is a mere addition of these accounts sufficient. Moreover, for Human Rights Discourse, there is no need to think an explanation as a remedy is already clearly and obviously at hand...

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EPILOGUE: May 2008 and the Politics of Fear

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pp. 117-149

The explosion that occurred in South African townships and informal settlements in May 2008 traumatised the country for a while. The fact that sixty-two people died as a result of pogroms in which apparent foreigners, primarily from the rest of Africa, were sought out and killed, were violently expelled from communities, and their belongings looted in an orgy of plunder and mayhem, left the country reeling...


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pp. 151-157


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pp. 159-169

List of Interviews

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pp. 171-172

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9782869783355
Print-ISBN-13: 9782869783072

Page Count: 188
Publication Year: 2010