Re-Visiting the May 2008 Xenophobic Attacks in South Africa

By Matunhu, Jephias | African Journal of Criminology and Justice Studies : AJCJS, Fall 2011 | Go to article overview

Re-Visiting the May 2008 Xenophobic Attacks in South Africa


Matunhu, Jephias, African Journal of Criminology and Justice Studies : AJCJS


Abstract

Xenophobia is a latent or obtrusive dislike of foreigners. It is anti-social and destructive of property and life. Xenophobic attacks in South Africa, which started around mid May in 2008 in the informal settlements of Alexandria claimed 62 lives. Thousands of foreigners were left homeless. What triggered the xenophobic attacks on foreigners? Better still, what can be done to stop xenophobia and xenophobic attacks in South Africa? This desktop research provides responses to these questions.

Key Terms: Xenophobia, xenophobic attack, May 2008, South Africa

Introduction

Xenophobia is a social vice that is as old as social history. It is based on the politics of exclusion, which is a feeling that foreigners are different from the nationals and so should have a lower status than that of the nationals. Xenophobic atrocities and ethnic cleansing led to the collapse of the socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in the 1990s. Since the collapse of Yugoslavia, ethnic Albanians, Bosniaks and Croats have tended to develop a negative outlook on Serbs (Fetzer, 2000). No wonder why Serbs regarded Croatia under the leadership of Franjo Tudjman as similar to that of the fascist Ustase regime in World War II. The regime committed genocide against Serbs. Between 1641 and 1853 Japan?s national closure/"sakoku? policy promoted xenophobic feelings against foreigners. The policy virtually excluded and marginalized all people of foreign nationals. In 2006, the UN Special Rapporteur for Racial Discrimination Report castigated Japan?s discriminatory practices, which include difficulties in access to housing, hotel accommodation and other commercial establishments open to the public based on physical appearance and myth.

Xenophobia has also been witnessed in America. According to Fetzer (2000), Americans view foreigners with suspicion, fear and hatred, even when they needed these immigrants for cheap labour. Their illegal status makes it difficult for them to seek legal recourse in cases of labour and social disputes, lest they are arrested and deported. The alien status of the immigrants makes them more vulnerable to frequent attacks by the nationals. According to Amnesty International, the UN and The Human Rights Watch, physical attacks against Haitians by Americans have increased since 1992 and reports of lynching of Haitians surfaced as late as 2006 (Fetzer, 2000). The above author also notes that homes of suspected Haitians are sometimes destroyed and police roundups of "Haitian looking" people are conducted regularly. Americans also hated the Japanese and some Germans during World War II. Later, the Italians and Eastern Europeans came in for their share of bias directed against them. The current climate of fear and hatred by the Americans appears to be directed towards Muslim immigrants.

Xenophobic tendencies have also being observed elsewhere outside America. During the 2007 election, the populist Swiss People?s Party (SPP) gained 29% of the seats in parliament. The party was accused of increasing racism and xenophobic sentiment by publishing a controversial poster during its campaign. The poster showed a white sheep kicking a black sheep off the Swiss flag. The SPP proposed a change to the penal code to allow judges to deport foreigners convicted of serious crimes once they have served their sentence. If the criminal was under the age of 18, the proposed law allowed the entire criminal's family to be deported as soon as sentence is passed (Crush, 2000). The above histology depicts foreigners as survivors of xenophobia and nationals as perpetrators of the violence. Little is known about the real causes of xenophobic attacks.

Background to the May 2008 Xenophobic Attacks

South Africa attained political independence in 1994. The first post-apartheid leader of the country was Nelson Mandela. President Mandela was succeeded by Thabo Mbeki, and in 2009 Jacob Zuma was elected President of the country. …

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