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Xenophobia: Instigated by Apartheid and Exacerbated by Globalisation

EkhayaJoshua Hovsha, in a recent article entitled “Xenophobia and Integration: Fear, Near and Far – Part II: South Africa and the Living Past”, cites the research of Jason Hickel, co-author of Ekhaya: The Politics of Home in KwaZulu-Natal.

Hovsha highlights the role of globalisation in xenophobic violence in South Africa. He refers to Hickel’s writing, which outlines two main variations of this argument: the first concerning the threat posed to national identities, and the second which argues that the violence is a response to economic policies implemented to accommodate global competition, creating “vicious contests over scarce resources including employment opportunities and housing”.

According to Hickel, the apartheid goverment planned an economic foundation, the stability of which relied on “the image of a married black male breadwinner ‘living in a formal township house and working a stable job in manufacturing, mining, or the civil service’.” However, because of a reliance on migrant labour, men were “treated as foreigners in their own country”.

The result was a systemic undermining of the stability of township life which has been termed a “crisis of social reproduction”— a term referring to the transfer of culture, knowledge and labour power from generation to generation.[9] The ultimate effect was a compounding of limits on opportunity. Indeed, apartheid restrictions on employment, training and education were now amplified by declining income stability for many.

One manifestation of this crisis cited by Hickel is a rapid decline in marriage rates from the 1960s to the point “that today only 3 of 10 South African adults are married”.[10] Here a clear connection is drawn between high unemployment rates and an inability to recreate the basic elements of traditional households across generations. In Hickel’s words “with unemployment rates as high as they are, most young men find it impossible to raise the resources they need to pay lobola (bridewealth) and establish their own legitimate, respectable homes.”[11]

The ramifications are grave with xenophobic attacks only one in a range of potential outcomes. We are forced to ask — if the old model has been lost, what then may pave the way for sustained social reproduction and stability, if not shared dignity, prosperity and success?

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