World Affairs

Xenophobia in South Africa

Xenophobia is defined as a dislike and/or fear of a person who is unknown or different from oneself. The word comes from the Greek words ‘xenos’, meaning “stranger,” or “foreigner” and ‘phobos’, meaning “fear” (Alarape, 2008). In South Africa, the locals have given foreigners a nickname ‘Amakwerekwere’, an offensive term for all the foreigners who have come to the southern African state in search of a better life, or fleeing political conflicts and economic hardships in their own countries. The topic of xenophobes’ has been given much attention especially with the recently held World Cup because there were fears of attacks to foreigners. It is crystal clear that the welcome that South Africa extends to foreigners is anything but warm. A foreigner in South Africa is termed as anyone not born there. An asylum seeker from the neighboring countries and a person from another continent are all viewed as the same.

The distinction between foreigners and locals has brought about several consequences including hatred of the foreigners. It has also brought about violent clashes between local street traders and competing foreign vendors. Foreigners have been abused on the streets by South African citizens and they have also been facing frequent ill-treatment at the hands of police and officials from the Department of Home Affairs. Both legitimate asylum seekers and illegal immigrants receive this kind of ill-treatment. Government officials go to an extent of deporting individuals who have a justifiable claim for refugee status in the country. In a South African main repatriation holding facility where illegal immigrants are detained before being deported, there have been reports of the ill-treatment that detainees experience, which in some cases leads to deaths of those being held.

In the spirit of nationalism, the locals claim that foreigners create a stiff competition for the jobs in the country although they are not doing the jobs. When a foreigner goes to South Africa to seek greener pastures, they get jobs and due to desperation, they do them pretty well. The broad causes for the violence are basic services that the locals believe are only supposed to be offered to them. These include relative scarcity, particularly intense competition for jobs, commodities and housing. The South Africans are said to have ‘exceptionalism’, which is described as a feeling of superiority in relation to other Africans and they believe that they should have special citizenship or a form of nationalism that excludes others. This is another instance where their spirit of nationalism fails them and fuels the rivalry between the two groups.

The violence mostly takes place in the big towns and the main reason for this mostly is for financial dominance since the locals feel that their financial superiority is being threatened by the locals who start businesses there and actually do well in them. Rich and highly populated towns like the capital are mostly the centers for these feuds. Xenophobia is a rare term and is hardly used in other contexts rather than to mean the fear of the strange (Alarape, 2008). In some cases even in America there have been cases of xenophobia where foreigners are discriminated against. Although it does not compare to that in South Africa, it still exists in certain states. Some say that the discrimination in America against foreigners does not qualify to be termed as xenophobic since it does not fight on economic grounds or competing between locals and foreigners. It is just the law of the land that brings this discrimination.

Human rights are curtailed by xenophobia. This holds true since in South Africa, refugees and asylum seekers, people with nowhere else to go and those who fled their homes due to both economic and political hardships, are being mistreated and unwelcomed. The beating up of detainees waiting to be deported is also inhumanity. The attitude towards foreigners has been stereotypically implanted into the minds and hearts of the citizens from their leaders. No amount of hatred for a fellow human being can just come out of the fear of being competed against, while the so called competitor is the minority group. Some individuals in South Africa are actually against the ill-treatment of foreigners but the voices of these few people are silenced by the fear of being the traitors to their fellow countrymen.

The coverage of the story does not differ with the race. The violence is against anyone who is not from South Africa which includes other Africans, Europeans, Asians and Americans. So there would not be any difference in coverage if the violence was against other African citizens. The story of ‘xenophobism’ emerges as the counter-point of the celebratory World Cup story since the highlight and focus of the world is shifted on South Africa (Conway-Smith, 2010). This has been the opportune chance to show the world what really happens there and after doing this, eyebrows will be raised and questions asked. This will eventually lead to understanding and solving of the problem since the international society shall be concerned.

The World Cup is a positive social event, which promotes social cohesion, while the place where it is happening is a country with xenophobes. The World Cup works negatively against xenophobia by promoting inter-racial interaction and social cohesion. The two are inversely related but the World Cup was and is one of the best ways to combat the social ill of ‘xenophobism’ (Conway-Smith, 2010). The people of South Africa as a whole need more of such huge social events to help promote their attitude towards foreigners and to try and promote positive interactions with them.

Xenophobia is a baseless fear and it is just an excuse for the people of a nation to become lazy claiming that they are protecting their nationality and the wealth of their country. It is a social ill and no amount of justification can be placed on it. Fighting xenophobia in South Africa would improve not only their social lives but also their economy and stature as an African nation.


Alarape, A. (2008). Xenophobia: Contemporary Issues in Psychology. African Journals Online, 16(2), 72-84.

Conway-Smith, Erin. (2010). World Cup 2010: Fears of Xenophobic Blacklash. Global Post, 1-2.


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