South Africa: Understanding Xenophobia - First Define It, Then Put It Into Context


The pathology of discrimination and anger is not directed at all foreigners, but at those who are encountered daily, in an environment of scarce resources, and in an atmosphere of general insecurity and vulnerability.

In recent times I was requested to provide a perspective on the attacks on foreign nationals in South Africa by investors from across the world who do business here. Traditionally these investors have been able to lure their best managers, engineers and other categories of skills to South Africa, based on the history of our country, the natural beauty of places like Cape Town, and the lifestyle options offered by our country. Obviously, xenophobia would be a major impediment to such transfers and investors.

A definitional debate?

The phenomenon of violence against people of other nationalities in South Africa has sparked a debate about whether these are manifestations of xenophobia, which official government responses have tried to steer away from, given that South Africa has a history of leading the fight against any form of discrimination, from racism to sexism. If indeed it were xenophobia, mostly against other African nationals, it would be an indictment on South Africa and would be compounded by the fact of...

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