Reconceptualising xenophobia, urban governance and inclusion: the case of Khutsong

Type Working Paper
Title Reconceptualising xenophobia, urban governance and inclusion: the case of Khutsong
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2014
In May 2008, anti-foreigner violence swept through formal and informal settlements
in the poorer parts of South Africa’s largest cities, leaving 62 people dead and over
100,000 displaced. Many people lost all they owned, including the houses and shacks
they lived in. These attacks – primarily directed toward immigrants from neighbouring
African countries – sparked unease and outrage in South Africa, a country that
since 1994 has been internationally lauded as a ‘rainbow nation’ engaged in building
a ‘non-racial’ society (Crush et al. 2008; Desai 2008).
According to some observers, xenophobia and communal violence pervaded marginalised
urban areas of the country in May 2008, with sporadic attacks and evictions
of migrants continuing in some communities. In the perception of the public, this
had become the norm. Yet, many such places were not swept up in the xenophobic
fervour, and in a number of places there was committed popular organisation against
xenophobia. Khutsong, a West Rand township near South Africa’s richest gold mining
belt, but with high poverty levels and a large immigrant presence, was largely peaceful.
The question this chapter addresses is, why? It explores the events surrounding
a community-led municipal boundary dispute, and how public engagement in this
contest with the state created openings for political identities and subjectivities that
resisted xenophobia. In doing so, it probes the role of an unoffi cial civic leadership,
which came to the fore to halt the spread of violence, while encouraging an inclusive
notion of community and citizenship. This analysis highlights the importance of
geography and, in particular, the connections between local politics and the social
signifi cance of place.
Following a review of debates on the incidence of xenophobia in post-apartheid
South Africa, an introduction to the setting and a brief discussion of methodology, this
chapter embarks on a discussion of avoidance of anti-foreigner violence in Khutsong.
A concluding section suggests the need to reframe our conceptual understanding of
xenophobia and refl ects on the implications of Khutsong’s experiences of social inclusion
for practitioners and researchers of urban governance

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