Launch of book on xenophobia in 21st-century Africa

On 10 November 2022, the UJ Centre for Africa-China Studies, in partnership with the UJ Library, hosted the launch of Interrogating Xenophobia and Nativism in Twenty-First-Century Africa (Rowman &  Littlefield), edited by CACS research director Dr Emmanuel Matambo.

Dr Matambo was joined by Dr William Mpofu of the University of the Witwatersrand, Ms Sky Mkuti, a PhD candidate at UNISA and one of the contributors, and Dr Stephen Phiri, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Johannesburg Institute for Advanced Study. Prof Li Baosheng, co-director of the CACS and UJCI, delivered the closing remarks. The moderator was Ms Mmabatho Mongae, a research fellow at CACS. The audience comprised students, professionals, members of the public and the media.

Ms Mkuti spoke about the 2008 attacks on foreign nationals in South Africa. She argued that, instead of reverting to xenophobia, Africans should fan the flames of pan-Africanism, as an integrated Africa was in their best interest.

Dr Mpofu placed xenophobia in the context of South Africa’s history of apartheid and spatial discrimination. He noted that South Africans were estranged from other Africans on ethnic and linguistic grounds. Therefore, it was difficult for them to integrate with individuals from other countries.

Dr Phiri started his presentation by declaring: ‘I am a Pan-Africanist.’ He argued that state actors were responsible for promoting xenophobic sentiments in Africa, and that xenophobia was manifested via language, attitudes and violence in many parts of Africa.

A survey by the Southern African Migration Programme (SAMP) had established that white South Africans were even more hostile to foreign nationals than blaclk South Africans. However, this form of xenophobia did not attract attention because it did not flare into violence. However, in impoverished South African townships, xenophobia usually took on a violent expression, and was therefore more readily detectable.

Dr Matambo’s presentation centred on his chapter titled ‘A dangerous denial: the ANC’s erroneous characterization of attacks on foreign nationals’. He noted that the ANC had a Pan-African strand in its DNA. During its decades-long exile as an internally proscribed movement, it depended on African countries for material and ideological support and solidarity. Therefore, it was galling that, as a ruling party, the ANC was prepared to live with the reality that some South African citizens were hostile to fellow Africans. In order to shield itself against international embarrassment, the ANC had assumed a position of denying that attacks on foreign nationals resulted from xenophobia. This denial was peddled by the former South African president, Thabo Mbeki, and had since been adopted by successive administrations.

Dr Matambo debunked the ANC’s stance using several arguments. The first was that xenophobia was a global phenomenon, and denying its existence in South Africa was a needless defense. Secondly, the SAMP study had shown that xenophobia was not confined to black South Africans only. The ANC had also created a false dichotomy between ‘township thuggery’ and xenophobia, which refused to acknowledge that acts of violence against foreign could be mainifestations of both.

A lively discussion followed. One participant asked why, if the book was meant to be about 21st-century Africa, much of it was about South Africa. Responding, Dr Matambo acknowledged that seven out of the 13 chapters were about South Africa; however, this was because acts of xenophobia were so prominent in this country.

Some members of the audience questioned whether xenophobia could be ameliorated by iomproved development, notably higher rates of economic growth and job creation, thereby reducing levels of poverty and inequality. Others responded that, while this might reduce the violent expression of xenophobia, the underlying attitudes were likely to perrsist.

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