Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Social Positionality and Xenophobia: The Case of Rugby Player Tendai Mtawarira in South Africa

Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Social Positionality and Xenophobia: The Case of Rugby Player Tendai Mtawarira in South Africa

Article excerpt


In 2009 South Africa experienced internal turmoil as xenophobic attacks on Black foreigners from other African countries led to deaths, beatings and loss of property. Whilst there are many explanations for this phenomenon, it is important to highlight how this intersection of race, ethnicity, class, citizenship and nationality influences the experience of everyday life in South Africa. In this paper, I use the emergence of Tendai Mtawarira as a star rugby player for the national team to interrogate how reaction to his rise by different sections of South African society illuminate the tensions around race, citizenship and access to space as researching sport provides fascinating avenues of analysis in life.

Sport is a readymade arena to play out the tensions in any social system. Post-apartheid South Africa offers an interesting backdrop to understanding how sport can be a space to promote exclusion. South Africa has a long history of exclusion based on race, gender, sexuality and citizenship. Hence, the story of Tendai Mtawarira is a continuation of this paradigm of exclusion albeit in a different context. Thus, this paper is an analysis of various texts including newspapers, magazines, blogs, web posts, social media comments and radio and television interviews relating to Tendai Mtawarira to highlight how Mtawarira's race and nationality were played out within South African media and brought into question during his participation at 2007 World Cup in France.

The central objective of the paper is to use the case of one athlete as a microcosm for analysing how experiences of xenophobia are dependent on the social positionality of the victim. Black foreigners do not all suffer xenophobia in the same way or at the same time, as the experiences are mediated by class, gender and background. Tendai Mtawarira ultimately achieved South African citizenship but his case remains an important gaze into how some South Africans of African heritage created and recreated African people not of South African heritage as outsiders.

Xenophobic attacks which portray the open hatred of African people not of South African heritage were mainly perpetrated by poor South Africans of African heritage on other poor African people living with and around them. Mtawarira's case is different in that he is not poor, attacks on him were not physical and they were mainly orchestrated by senior politicians. This is important in that it shows how xenophobia is part of the socio-political context of South Africa. In this paper I do not intend to explain or analyse the source of this xenophobia nor do I intend to analyse the wider xenophobic attacks. The paper does not seek to analyse the history of race and sport in South Africa or the debates around quota systems and transformation in white dominated sports such as rugby. My intention is rather focused on how the framing of Tendai Mtawarira's case shows xenophobia is not limited to poor African people living in the ghettos and poor neighborhoods but rather transcends class and location.

Mtawarira's move to play for South Africa is largely seen as the right move by Zimbabweans to ensure the growth if his career. Instead of harvesting the fruits of the years that it puts into rugby development in schools, Zimbabwe has become a breeding ground for international clubs and other nations who poach its free talent at a huge expense for the national team. Zimbabwe has the COTTCO rugby, the biggest schools festival in the world, and over 5000 players took part this year, but once the boys complete their studies, doors open for them to pursue their careers elsewhere. (The Herald, July 13, 2013's rise was to stardom was largely portrayed in a celebratory manner by newspapers in Zimbabwe as evidenced by the sports headline in the Zimbabwean Independent of 25 January 2009 which stated that: Tendai Mtawarira knocking down the barrier (http://www. …

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