May 2008 Xenophobic Attacks On Black Foreign Nationals Criminology Essay

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According to the editorial of the Tribune (2008), South Africa finds itself in the grip of a major struggle - a struggle to rid the country of black foreign nationals, causing injury not just to those finding themselves in the country at that time, but also damaging the country's image on the continent and around the world (IOL, 2008).

Xenophobia! An online search on this word can produce close to two million search results on various search platforms, i.e. Google, Yahoo, AltaVista, Excite, Galaxy, AOL, etc. The amount of books, reports and various articles written about this particular subject identifies it as a 'global phenomenon' (Ragaven, 2008).

Even though xenophobia can be fueled by poverty, lack of and access to resources, lack of basic service delivery (Luhanga, 2009), exacerbated by the global financial crisis (Mutiga, 2009), perceptions, ethnic hatred, misunderstandings, greed, laziness, lawlessness (Harris, 2003), the word itself has become synonymous with words and emotions like hatred, fear, displacement, incompetence, bigotry, racism, violence, etc. Adesanmi, (2008) highlighted this trend when he said that "Black South Africans have found an easy explanation for the myriad problems of poverty, housing, transportation, unemployment, crime, violence, decay of public and social infrastructure.'Ah, the makwerekwere!' These Nigerians are all criminals! When they are not busy trafficking drugs, they are taking over our jobs, our houses and, worse, our women. All foreigners must leave this country!?"

We find ourselves living in a society that wants to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative, even though the negative has become more prevalent and has form the basis for most of our choices, actions and decision making processes. Understanding why these attacks took place and what fueled them will ensure preparedness strategies that will highlight key indicators and early warning mechanisms.

Background to Study

"We were against these people from the onset that's when terms like "makwerekwere" (derogatory term for foreigners) came about, we were against them in a light manner but now people are getting angry that is why they beat them up, their numbers are growing and some have babies this side it's as if this is their hometown; this violence happened because people are getting angry, this thing has always been there but it wasn't as strong as it is now. We never said we are happy to live with them but it was a light thing so people resorted to violence because of the realization that the situation is getting serious."

(Focus group respondent, HSRC Xenophobia study, June 2008)

May, 2008 will go down in history pages of this country as its most shameful period after the first democratic elections in 1994 (ukzambians, 2009). Months of brewing tension within the townships (Carus, 2008), sporadic but calculated attacks on foreign nationals (Hill & Lefko-Everett, 2008), and series of riots disguised as service delivery protests (Hough, 2009, Burger, 2009), should have been key indicators of an impending disaster. State institutions as well as the security forces found themselves flat-footed and overwhelmed when faced with the rapid spread of the attacks and its escalation around the country (Mahlangu & Shangase, 2010).

These attacks left scores of people dead; homeless, fearful and displaced (Misago, Landau & Monson, 2009:7) and have cause large numbers of foreigners leaving the country as "part of a stunning reverse migration" (Bearak, 2008). Even though nearly a third of those who were killed were South African citizens (CORMSA, 2010), this study can safely conclude that the intense 'dislike' (even though not restricted to attitude) felt for foreigner nationals in this country turned into full scale xenophobic attacks in May 2008 (Harris, 2002:2).

"The crowd was yelling, 'Kill the Shangaanis, kill them all!'" he said. "Those people know me. They even said, 'Comrade, help us kill the Shangaans.' But I couldn't do that. I have loyalty to my ancestors" (Bearak, 2008).

The proposed study will focus on the root causes of xenophobic attacks on foreign nationals within the Reiger Park area. "The Ramaphosa settlement, near Reiger Park in Boksburg, made international news two years ago after the gruesome killing of a Mozambican immigrant - Ernesto Alfabeto Nhamuave - who was set on fire by attackers." (Mahlangu & Shangase, 2010)

We do realise that xenophobia is not indigenous to South Africa and its Provinces, but countries such as Germany, Belgium, China, and the United Kingdom had their fair share of xenophobic attitudes and behaviour. They have succeeded in addressing the root causes and underlying issues through effective communication strategies (De Wet, & Geldernhuys, 2008). Identifying key indicators of potential danger and adopting best practices will ensure a safer environment for all living is South Africa.

Purpose and Aim of Study

In a paper prepared for the South African Human Rights Commission, authors Landau, Ramjathan-Keogh, & Singh, (2004) stated that "South Africa has made commitments to all who live in the country, regardless of citizenship, nationality, or country of birth."

The purpose of this study would be a "thick description" (Mouton, 2009:188), of xenophobia and will not just focus on the behavior of those involved, but also provide insight to the context in which these attacks took place. It will focus on the xenophobic attacks that left countless foreign nationals homeless and destitute in the Cyril Ramaphosa informal settlement an extension of Reiger Park on the East Rand.

The aim of this study will be to contribute significantly by:

Providing a well documented resource available to all those interested in researching xenophobia in local communities

Ensuring that the content stimulates further research projects

Contributing to the limited resources available on this particular subject in the local community.

Significance of this study

This study will be significant in its efforts to debunk stereotypes that foreign nationals are "job stealers", "criminals", "illegal's" (Danso & McDonald, 2000), and it will highlight the role the local community has to play in uniting various culture and ethnic groups.

Literature Review

In their attempt to define 'risk' authors Wisner, Blaikie, Cannon & Davis (2004:49) is clear that "risk of disaster is a compound function of the natural hazard and the number of people, characterized by their varying degrees of vulnerability, to that specific hazard, who occupy the space and time of exposure to the hazard event." The Pressure and Release (PAR) model which suggests the idea of two opposing forces: the vulnerability of the foreign nationals as well as South African citizens on the one side being exacerbated by hazards, whether man made or natural, on the other side, creating pressure that can result in xenophobic attacks (Ibid, 50).

The Root Causes

Economic, demographic and political processes can be identified as the leading root causes within the community (Ibid, 52). Even though Laher (2009) highlighted a few possible causes: a) negative beliefs and stereotypes, b) perceived threats to culture and national identity, d) religious doctrine, e) competition for scarce resources,

Further reading and research has prompted the researcher to investigate the following areas:

a) Institutional frameworks - that perpetuate marginalization within the community. Its access to resources, e.g. identification documents, refugee status, grants, housing,

b) Socio-economic conditions - identifying levels of poverty within the community,

c) Rule of law - crime pays - sending confusing messages to people in the community, addressing the issue of accountability, and identifying the levels of trust in both the area of law enforcement and the criminal justice system. Dealing with the perception that the police do not provide a climate of accountability and mob justice,

d) Factors inhibiting foreign national's participation in community activities - participation in the upliftment of the community,

e) Historic trauma within the community - the value system subscribed to in the community and the 'legacy of apartheid'.

The Dynamic Pressures

This process according to Wisner, (2004:53) "translates the effects of the root causes into unsafe conditions." There are two factors that play a major part in the dynamic pressures of this PAR model: the increasing demand on the community's resources highlighting the lack of basic resources and large scale or macro forces that has a dire impact on the community.

The dynamic pressures in Reiger Park derive from an increasing demand on resources and an influx of foreign nationals into the area. These actions contribute to an increase in unemployment and crime rates, loss of cultural identity, and the disintegration of cohesion within the community.

The Unsafe Conditions

Daily intimidation, looting of shops and attacks on foreign business people have created unsafe conditions within the community. Wisner, (2004:55) states that "unsafe conditions are the specific forms in which the vulnerability of a population is expressed in time and space in conjunction with a hazard."

Foreign national's physical environment, economic status, social isolation and never ending battle with institutional bureaucracy's within the community forms the foundation of this 'unsafe condition'.

The Hazards

It may be seen as events that "may affect different places singly or in combination, with varying degree if intensity and severity" (Wisner, 2004:49).

The May 2008 xenophobic attacks started as sporadic incidents of intimidation, looting, assaults which give way to full scale attacks that rapidly spread from township to township within the Gauteng province and than to other provinces (Talbot, 2008).

Statement of the Problem

In a paper presented to the South African Human Rights Commission, (SAHRC, 2004:1) the authors stated that "South Africa is a highly xenophobic society, which out of fear for foreigners, does not naturally value the human rights of non-nationals."

The "Report on the SAHRC investigation into issues of rule of law, justice and impunity arising out of the 2008 public violence against non-nationals" was release by the commission and presented to parliament in an effort to unpack the root causes of the attacks (Mataboge, 2010).

This study will endeavor to unpack this statement by employing the PAR model to determine the root causes of this fear, the dynamic pressures exacerbating it and the conditions within the local community contributing these disastrous consequences (Wisner, Blaikie, Cannon & Davis. 2004:51).

Many authors argue that xenophobia is a violation of any person's human rights and strong messages debunking the myths of foreigners "stealing our jobs, raping our women, dealing in drugs and committing crime," (Pityana 1998, SAHRC 1998, Fine & Bird, 2004) needs to be advocated by all our leaders and heralded in all forms of media.

Research Question

Even though South Africa has long-since been praise for having the most progressive and liberal constitution in the world, it lacks the judicial backbone and political will to protect foreigners within its borders. Identifying the root causes for these attacks, that will provide movement from a platform of vulnerability to one of increased safety, will be fundamental to this study.

What are the root causes of xenophobia, the dynamic pressures exacerbating it and the conditions within the local community contributing these disastrous consequences within the Cyril Ramaphosa Township, an extension of Reiger Park in Boksburg?


Based upon newspapers articles and interviews, reports tabled before parliamentary committees and television programmes investigating the issues surrounding xenophobia, the researcher is certain that a number of non-nationals have encountered a great deal of frustration in:

Finding definite answers as to why these attacks were happening,

Dealing with the way the xenophobic attacks were investigated and,

Their efforts to relocate back into their old communities

Research Objectives

The research objectives of this study are outlined as follows:

To investigate the community attitudes before the attacks

To investigate the protection and lack thereof given to non-nationals.

To explore the flagrant disregard for the human rights of non-nationals before, during and after their ordeal.

This study will seek to answer the following main questions.

To what extend does community cohesiveness prevent xenophobia?

What role does the police and protection agencies play in minimizing xenophobia within local communities?

Can non-nationals claim human rights abuses within the borders of a foreign country? How do the conceptions of human rights and nationality affect political xenophobia?

The methodology will be discussed in relation to the research design, sampling, data collection and data analysis.

Research Design and Methodology

The provisional plan for this project is to locate and speak with ten (10) South African citizens living in the Informal Settlement as well as ten (10) foreign nationals who have had negative experiences with xenophobia during their stay in the Reiger Park Township outside Boksburg.

Some of the following questions will form part of the questionnaire:

Their understanding of xenophobia.

Their perceptions of the xenophobia they have faced since arriving in their supposed country of refuge.

How do they view xenophobia in South Africa?

What would they like people here to know about them?

How does xenophobia impact their families' daily lives?

What do they think will encourage a change in perceptions?

The breakdown of the group of foreign nationals who will be interviewed will be as follows:

They will be from all walks of life, different educational backgrounds, women, men, adults, seniors, youth and children.

The research will be a qualitative study using target sampling of 10 foreign nationals, aged 12+ years with equal number of men and women. The same will be for the South African citizens.

DeVos, (2005:74), makes it clear that "qualitative research aims mainly to understand social life and the meaning that people attach to everyday life. The qualitative research paradigm in its broadest sense refers to research that elicits participant accounts of meaning, experience or conceptions. It produces descriptive data in the participant's own written or spoken words. It thus involves identifying the participant's beliefs and values that underlie the phenomena. The qualitative researcher is therefore concerned with understanding rather than explanation to research that elicits participant's accounts of meaning that people attach to everyday life."

Sampling Approach

Target sampling is seen by many as "a purposeful, systematic method by which controlled lists of specified populations within geographical districts are developed and detailed plans are designed to recruit adequate numbers of cases within each of the targets" (Ibid:420).

Data Collection

In order to collect the most relevant information for this project, a structured process of in-depth interviews, utilizing open-ended questions will be followed. The interviewer will take down notes during the interviews and make use of a tape or video recorder (with permission) to capture the essence of all these interviews. This will also help in capture the non-verbal cues of the interviewees. A translator will be on hand to assist with challenges posed by language barriers.

Data Analysis

All interviews will be transcribed from tape or video recorders as well as written notes onto a computer. Each transcript will be printed out and carefully scrutinized to reflect the honest intent of the interview. The broad themes, categories and sub categories as determined by the researcher, will be established, outlined and applied to all scripts.

Ethical Considerations

This paper will take into account some of the main ethical considerations during the preparation, construction and execution of this research project. Considerations outlined by DeVos (2005:57-66) should be given attention to:

Avoiding harm to any participant,

Informed consent

Deception of subjects and/or respondents

Violation of privacy/anonymity/confidentiality

Actions and competence of researchers

Release or publication of the findings

Debriefing of respondents

Limitations of this Research Project

Research Design

This research paper as mentioned before will follow a qualitative research approach. This approach is usually viewed as more subjective than a quantitative approach. Furthermore, the data collected can be difficult to analyze and interpret, which is why it is very important to have a strong literature review in this type of research. However, the research is exploratory in nature so this approach does suit the goals.


This strategy is effective when the focus is on a specific section of the community in a particular geographical area, and where the emphasis is on hidden problems within the community. Reaching the target number of respondents can be difficult due to fear of participating in the sample group. Every effort needs to be made to ensure the safety of the participants.

Data Collection

This strategy will be a face to face interview strategy. The possible limitations to this may be that non-verbal cues may have to be interpreted by the researcher. This may be problematic, because non verbal cues are often also cultural, and for that reason may be misinterpreted.

There may also be problems with the data collection equipment. While working mostly in informal settlements with virtually no electricity, the tape or video recorder will have to be battery operated.

The language difference may prove to be a problem for the researcher. The researcher must make sure that the interpreter understands the culture and customs of the participants.

The psychological trauma experienced by the participant as well as reliving their traumatic experiences may cause some problems for the researcher.

Data analysis

The researcher may develop problems with the equipment used to capture information, making him dependent on only one form of information gathering. The computer used to capture information can crash leaving the researcher vulnerable. A power failure in the area may make it impossible to analyse the data correctly and accurately

Personal Limitations or Bias

As a coloured South African, it may be difficult for these foreign nationals to understand the researcher's accent. Inherent cultural nuances may play a definite role in his understanding of the real plight of these foreign nationals.

Working Programme:

This research has been scheduled to be undertaken in the time frame allocated for the master's mini dissertation period. The current plan allows having the interview process completed by the end of August 2010, the transcription and data analysis by the mid September 2010 and the final thesis by mid October, 2010.

Draft Chapters

Chapter 1: Introduction

Chapter 2: Literature Study

Chapter 3: Research

Chapter 4: Data Analysis

Chapter 5: Conclusions and Recommendations drawn from the data analysis.


Most of the expenses for this research project will be financed by the researcher. The following table will serve as an example of a proposed budget.


Have this Item

Need to Purchase




Tape Recorder


Video Camera










Interview Site


Research Cost







Misc Expenses




Clarification of Concepts:

Foreigner: A person belonging to, or owing an allegiance to, another state. (World Migration: 2008)

Human rights: Those liberties, benefits and entitlements, which, by accepted contemporary values, all human beings should be able to claim "as of right" in the society in which they live; e.g. as contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948 and the International Covenants on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and on Civil and Political Rights, 1966 (together frequently referred to as the "International Bill of Rights"), and developed by other treaties from this core (Ibid.).

Internally displaced persons (IDPs): Persons or groups of persons who have been forced or obliged to flee or to leave their homes or places of habitual residence, in particular as a result of or in order to avoid the effects of armed conflict, situations of generalized violence, violations of human rights or natural or human-made disasters, and who have not crossed an internationally recognized state border (Para. 2, Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, UN Doc. E/CN.4/1998/53/Add.2) (Ibid.).

Non-national: A person who is not a national or citizen of a given state (Ibid.).

Refugee (mandate): A person who meets the criteria of the UNHCR Statute and qualifies for the protection of the United Nations provided by the High Commissioner, regardless of whether or not s/he is in a country that is a party to the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, 1951 or the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, or whether or not s/he has been recognized by the host country as a refugee under either of these instruments (Ibid.).

Reintegration: Re-inclusion or re-incorporation of a person into a group or a process, e.g. of a migrant into the society of his/her country of origin (Ibid.).

Repatriation: The return of a refugee or a prisoner of war to his/her country of nationality under specific conditions laid down in various international instruments (Geneva Conventions, 1949 and Protocols, 1977, Regulations Respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land, Annexed to the Fourth Hague Convention, 1907, the human rights instruments as well as in customary international law) (Ibid.).

Resettlement: The relocation and integration of people (refugees, internally displaced persons, etc.) into another geographical area and environment, usually in a third country (Ibid.).

SAMP: South African Migration Project; a nonprofit organization founded for the purposes of educating and enhancing the lives of non nationals living in South Africa (SAMP. 2007)

The African Charter: guarantees for the rights of every individual, when persecuted, to seek and obtain asylum in other countries in accordance with laws of those countries, and international conventions (Africa Union, 2008).

UNHCR: Mandated in an absence of national framework to protect the rights of Refugees (SAHRC. 2006).

Vulnerable group: Any group or sector of society at higher risk of being subjected to discriminatory practices, violence, natural or environmental disasters, or economic hardship than other groups within the state; any group or sector of society (such as women, children, the elderly, persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples or migrants) that is at higher risk in periods of conflict and crisis (Ibid.).

Xenophobia: While no universally accepted definition of xenophobia exists, it can be described as attitudes, prejudices and behaviour that reject, exclude and often vilify persons based on the perception that they are outsiders or foreigners to the community, society or national identity (Ibid.).