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If you go to Alexandra (Johannesburg), to Sunnyside (Pretoria) ... everywhere, spaza shops, hair salons, everything has been taken over by foreign nationals ... They displace South Africans by making them not competitive. (Major Kobese, Director of Policy Support in the Office of the Director General, Department of Home Affairs, South Africa, cited by C. van der Westhuizen in Cape Times, 6 September 2011, p. 11)

Recent literature on the continent has focused attention on the increasing number of forms of belonging using different labels: autochthony, nativism, indigeneity, ethnicity, and in some cases xenophobia. The latter term generally refers to discourses and practices that are discriminatory towards foreign nationals, but Wimmer (1997) also sheds light on the existence of deeper political struggles for the collective goods of the state and the building of structures of legitimacy in accessing those goods. In many instances, those structures are based on collective identities and real or fantasized notions of national community (Wimmer 1997: 32). In the African contexts, decolonization struggles have specifically shaped the type of nation-building enterprises that have emerged in the postcolonial period (Chipkin 2007). Taking into consideration both this broader theoretical dimension and the specific historical trajectories of nationalist discourses in the African contexts, our understanding of xenophobia as discussed in this issue consists of the systematic situated (in one institution) or cross-cutting construction that sees strangers as a threat to society, justifying their exclusion and, at times, their suppression. In many instances, the term ‘strangers’ does not refer only to foreign nationals but can be used to describe strangers to one’s community, locality or province, or one’s ethnic or language group. In such instances, xenophobia takes on the features of autochthony, a much researched concept. However, while autochthony points to specific spatialized and essentialized structures of belonging to a community, a place or the soil (Geschiere and Nyamnjoh 2000), it does not necessarily encompass expectations against the state that are generally [End Page 2] associated with the broader notion of xenophobia. Common to both is the production of an array of metaphors that invariably construe allochthons or strangers as threats to social order, to public health, and, in short, to the purity of the social body (Geschiere and Nyamnjoh 2000). The nuances of such metaphors are documented in this issue.

The analyses contained here make use of the vast literature devoted to the rhetoric and practice of autochthony, and the mobilization of multiple repertoires (ethnicity, territory, nationalism, indigeneity, ancestral land ownership, etc.) in the struggles for a redefinition of citizenship (Bayart et al. 2001; Meyer and Geschiere 1999; Kersting 2009; Cutolo 2008; 2010). Using the words ‘autochthony’ or ‘indigeneity’ is not without its problems, however. In several instances across the region, autochthony tends to reduce the reading of exclusion to an ontological sense of ownership over territory (whether real or fantasized). Discourses of indigeneity and autochthony are highly politicized, are subject to local and national particularities, and produce ambivalent, sometimes paradoxical, outcomes (Pelican 2009): they place the researcher at the heart of power struggles (Geschiere 2011: 212). Viewed from outside the continent, the current popularity of the term ‘autochthony’ in Africa includes an analytical bias; despite efforts to analyse autochthony within the process of globalization and to bridge the gap between Africa and the global North (Geschiere 2009), there is a risk of considering the continent as more prone to manifestations of belonging of a particular type, divorced from wider historical trends. That is, there is a danger of seeing the continent as one dominated by ‘ethnic’ and ‘first-comer’ claims rooted in the past, whereas other regions, mainly the West, are viewed as being dominated by nationalism, ‘non-ethnic’ or citizenship claims that are associated with territory through place of birth and/or residence (Zenker 2011). Our conceptual position is therefore to consider autochthony, nativism and indigeneity as local concepts used by actors in situations of xenophobia. In using ‘xenophobia’ as a generic key word, our intention has been to problematize the multiple meanings of these various ideas associated with it, but also to try...


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