CONSTRUCTING OTHERNESS, STRATEGIES OF SAMENESS
Xenophobia, the Ambiguity of Strangeness and Strategies of Invisibility of African Immigrants in Alexandra, South Africa MA Thesis Ilja Hehenkamp
Constructing Otherness, Strategies of Sameness
Xenophobia, The Ambiguity of Strangeness and Strategies of Invisibility of African Immigrants in Alexandra, South Africa
B Y I LJA H EHENKAMP
MA Thesis submitted to the Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences in partial fulﬁlment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Science, Department of Cultural Anthropology and Sociology of nonWestern Societies, University of Amsterdam
May 21, 2010 Studentnumber: 0271241 Supervisor: Prof. Dr. N. Besnier
Global ﬂows of interconnectedness are widely countered within nation-states with exclusionary notions of autochthony and belonging. People who are perceived by state-authorities and their national subjects to be illegitimate competitors for stateprovided goods, a threat to national identity and/or to contaminate cultural values are increasingly constructed by them as non-belonging outsiders. Once these constructions of otherness are shaped by a dehumanizing, xenophobic state-discourse and accompanied by anxieties about who can legitimately claim scarce resources citizens sometimes resort to violent means to exclude these strangers they often perceive to be scapegoats for their social ills. Strangers, however, are frequently not able to be recognized as such and thus represent a highly ambiguous and liminal category within national imaginations. Therefore, citizens often employ stigma as a convenient device to reify their difference with strangers. Bodily attributes, such as morphological features, appearances, behaviour and languages are rendered by these stigmatizers as meaningful signiﬁers by which they identify individuals who they perceive to be inherently different. Bodies and their attributes, however, provide far from a secure map for categorical order and can be highly deceptive. Particularly because of the ambiguous and performative nature of identity, individuals carrying a particular stigma –especially when they live in spaces in which their intersubjective relations with others are radically transformed by violence and hostility– can adhere to these culturally dictated scripts of difference making in order to hide their identity. Far from being passive victims on the margins from the public realm, these excluded ‘others’ are able to employ creative agency to negotiate, manipulate or hide their ‘otherness’ or feign ‘sameness’ to avoid various forms of exclusion. By drawing on the case of the xenophobic riots in South Africa in May 2008, this thesis will identify the variety of ways African immigrants in the Alexandra township, South Africa employ creative strategies in order to render their foreignness invisible in their interactions with citizens they still experience to be highly hostile.
List of Figures . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 Introduction: Grades of Otherness Localizing the Global . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Researching Strategies of Invisibility . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
iv 1 3 9
Race, space and Alien invaders . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11 “You are eating everything that belongs to us” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13 From hegemonic discourse to hegemonic practice . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16 Aims of the Thesis . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18 Structure of the Thesis . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21 2 Research-parameters and context 24
Bourgeois Harry, Club Jazz and becoming streetwise in Alex . . . . . . . . . 25 Africa imagined at home . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 27 Greener pastures, bleaker futures . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 31 Expectations of a better life in the “ﬁelds of gold” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 33 The disillusion of illusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 35 Alexandra’s historical dynamics and discourse on identity . . . . . . . . . . 37 An emerging rural-urban formation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 38 Urbanisation and rapid populationgrowth . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 39 Politicization and radicalization . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 39 United, but politically fragmented . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 40 Impoverishment, township wars and the demise of apartheid . . . . . . . . 41
“They were KILLING, you see?”
The riot and its structured chaos . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 44 Reconstructing the “days of noise” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 46 Alexandra and its history of redeﬁning the outsider . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 51 Reading the Riots Against Earlier Community Conﬂicts . . . . . . . . . . . . 54 South Africa and the quest for Belonging . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 57 4 “You can’t judge a book by its cover”. The Ambiguities of Otherness 61
The stigma of otherness . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 63 Xenophobia and Interrogating Otherness . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 66 Zuluness and the origins of violence . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 67 “Judging” the Body . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 70 Pantsula selves, Fong Kong others . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 72 Drawing Boundaries by Spatial and Occupational Indices . . . . . . . . . . . 74 “A mistaken identity”. The Uncertainty of Otherness . . . . . . . . . . . . . 76 5 Covering the Self, Performing the Other 79
Subjectivity and Modes of Fear . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 82 Fear and the Transformation of Public Space . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 85 The Self and its Audience as Parameters for Performances . . . . . . . . . . 87 “You have to hide yourself”. Employing strategies to cover one’s Otherness 89 “You have to pretend”. Performing Identities by Misrepresentation . . . . . 94 Concluding Remarks . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 102 6 Conclusion 105
List of Figures
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
Alexandra location and division . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Map of Alexandra . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Images of the xenophobic violence . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 110 Stigmatizing reporting in newspapers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 111 The Madela Zulu-hostel . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 112 Images of Alexandra . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 112 A variety of goods and services many (foreign) street-hawkers sell . . 113 Miscellaneous . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 114
Figure 1: Alexandra location and division
Figure 2: Map of Alexandra
This thesis is ﬁrst and foremost dedicated to the inhabitants of Alexandra of whatever origin they are. Although the coming chapters may paint a picture of a hostile place towards strangers, my personal experiences have been predominantly on the opposite side. The warmth and hospitality I have received from Alexandra’s inhabitants since the ﬁrst days of my arrival can hardly be expressed in words. My ﬁve months of residence in the township have fostered countless of memories which I dearly keep. How can I forget Alexandra’s vibrant liveliness, its constant rhythm of hooting taxi-drivers, the cute little children giving me a ‘thumbs up’ and shouted mlungu or equivalent nicknames for white men to me when I was galavanting Alexandra’s dusty streets? I daily recall the warmth of people inviting me into their homes, prepared to cook me some pap and chakalaka any time. I often recollect the amusing memories of people calling friends or family-members I’ve never met to ask them to talk to the white man they’ve never met either; the experience of being invited in a shack on an early Sunday morning, only to ﬁnd the whole family very much drunk and one by one giving me a speech in an unintelligible African language. I look back with pleasure on the many days on which I socialized with the many friends I quickly made, who were always concerned of my well-being and even secretly followed me after I –far from sober– insisted on walking home alone at night. Of course it was not all uncomplicated happiness. There were those days in which I got depressed for simply being treated as ‘White’; for constantly being asked for money, beers or jobs by complete strangers; for radically being racially categorized with all its simplistic connotations and mainly perceived as a rich white man. Often, I ﬂed the township to the nearby hipster suburb Melville to enjoy some privii
vacy, sushi and beers, only to return in the evening. But these feelings would never last long and once I returned to Alexandra it would feel as to arrive home. There are many people I need to thank for their incredible help and pleasant company which has enabled this thesis to become ﬁnally a reality. First of all, my informants who have shared their often painful memories and experiences with me, but who I cannot mention by name due to the very fact that the upcoming chapters will deal with their ‘strategies of invisibility’. I dearly hope there will be a day in which they feel there will be no need for them anymore to ‘hide their identities’. It is my South African friend Harry who has enabled me in the ﬁrst place to conduct my ﬁeldwork in Alexandra and to whom I’m therefore indebted for in countless ways. His incredible dedication towards the community of Alexandra in the form of his work as an HIV and AIDS counsellor and the work he conducts for his own Alexandra Basketball Association in order to give young Alexandrians structure in life is greatly admirable. He is the perfect representation of a young and dedicated generation that makes the appealing slogan ‘It’s happening in Alex!’ certainly a reality. And how can I express my appreciations for the ways Kgakgi and Thoko Maloke have adopted me as a family-member? It is their luxurious and comfortable guesthouse/nightclub Club Jazz, their warmth and hospitality, the delicious meals Thoko cooked me on a daily basis and the many conversations we had in the evening, enjoying beers from their own bar, about issues of daily life, history, politics and personal matters that I will never forget. Hopefully there will be a day that Kgakgi, a former local Jazz-celebrity, will take up his musicianship again. When his other musician friends were paying him a visit (like the hilarious trio Mike, Mike and Mike) I could easily picture them smilingly playing the trompet, guitar, piano and drums. I thank Thapelo, Brian, Fifty, Gino, Judy, Kevin, Niels, Kitso, Giulia, Rhiana, Rianne, Wiesje, Jurgen and both Anna’s amongst others for the many hours we spend in clubs, taverns, pubs and shebeens in the company of many beers and the delicious ‘Banana Ratz’. These people are just a fraction of many other unmentioned individuals I am greatly indebted to. Of course, the process of transforming my ﬁeldwork data into a fairly structured and theorized written form could never have materialized were it not for the pleasant company of Saskia, Orsi and Anna who made these months of solitude within libraries bearable. They were crucial motivators to put me back on track to ﬁnalize
this project. Thanks to all the coffee’s, cigarettes, laughters, frustrations and the occasional beers and palinka’s we shared I can even imagine I will eventually look back on these days as fun. The meticulous and insightful comments Yasmin, Lieve and Anna have made on my early drafts and the many revisions Rhiana, Raimer, Giulia, JD and Jonas made to my English grammar, of course, have resulted in countless improvements of my chapters. I also want to thank Thomas Blom Hansen who provided me with the many useful literature-tips that have largely shaped my theory. Last but not least I am greatly indebted to my supervisor Niko Besnier for the thorough scrutinies he applied to– and intellectual comments he provided on what he phrased as which “doesn’t have to be perfect”. Although I am aware this thesis is indeed far from perfect, without professor Besnier’s motivating perfectionism and highly inspiring theoretical insights it would be rather close to the opposite.
Introduction: Grades of Otherness
“Why are we so different", a passerby asks me laughingly. I’m strolling down the streets of Alexandra and am not so sure how to reply to this question. So I just laugh back and continue my daily journey on foot, enjoying the vibrant street-life that surrounds me. The man just testiﬁed to my white skin I presumed, in contrast with the black ones that prevail in this poverty-stricken, overpopulated space of shacks, hostels, ﬂats and houses. My white skin was a visible marker of otherness throughout my stay in the township, which I made my place of residence for ﬁve months. It was a marker I could never conceal and which always made me a highly visible anomaly within Alexandra’s predominantly black public spaces. Despite my efforts to live my life as a township-resident, I always remained a white outsider and a constant source of enthusiasm, laughter, interest and amazement. I even became a public asset to be paraded around by unknown pedestrians in front of their peers in order to enhance status. I became someone who was often perceived as beneﬁcial to the community for the mere fact of being White and thus highly associated with economic prosperity and a Western lifestyle12 . In May 2008, markers of difference proved lethal for many immigrants from neighbouring African countries within the informal settlements and inner-cities of
From now on I will refer to a racial category in capitalization when it is not an adjective in order to
differentiate between the socially and politically constructed nature of racial identity and the natural, inborn perceptions of racial difference 2 It must be said that being a European White made a difference too, since South African Whites were predominantly perceived as being racist who would never come to the township
2 South Africa. While scattered xenophobic3 attacks against African immigrants have been increasingly witnessed since South Africa’s democratic transition, the scale and vigor of the May attacks have been unprecedented. Within the course of just two weeks 62 people were killed, hundreds injured and thousands displaced in a chain of riots that rapidly spread throughout the country. As the victims’ otherness couldn’t be clearly differentiated from local South Africans on the basis of skin-color as mine, South African perpetrators singled out targets of violence by using various practices in order to ‘tell’ who was a foreigner. Language, skin complexion, vaccination marks, identity documents or simply neighbours’ pointing ﬁngers served to identify those to chase out. Rioters motivated their criminal actions by stating that those makwerekweres4 were to be blamed for South Africa’s societal ills. Popularly depicted within dominant discourse as economic parasites and illegal criminals ‘ﬂooding’ by the millions into the re-imagined Rainbow nation, African immigrants are increasingly scapegoated for the perceived lack of materialisation of change for the black urban poor. The Alexandra township was where the violence was most intense. Although xenophobic notions are by no means particular to South Africa, the South African version is remarkably disturbing because of its violent manifestation. Together with a growing disillusionment, hostility against African foreigners has been on the increase within post-apartheid society5 , culminating in these violent events of 2008. The euphoric era of the democratic transition appeared to have provided a huge incentive for African immigrants to try their luck in the newly imagined “rainbow nation”. The abandonment of apartheid and the constitutional embracing of liberal values, imagined South Africa as a country “brimming with possibilities” (Morris 1998). While South Africans gradually became disillusioned, the perception of African im3
Xenophobia may be deﬁned –according to the New Oxford American Dictionary, 2nd Edition–
as the “intense or irrational dislike or fear of people from other countries” 4 The popular phrase to depict Black African immigrants, meaning: those who speak an unintelligible language 5 The ﬁrst documented violent instances said to be based on xenophobic motivations date back to the very ﬁrst year of the transition towards democracy: in 1994 and 1995 armed youth gangs in Alexandra demolished homes and properties of suspected undocumented immigrants, while in 1998 two Senegalese and a Mozambican were thrown of a train by a group of South Africans returning from a rally, organised on the perception that foreigners are to blame for societal social and economical ills (Valji 2003). Those are just a few examples out of many documented others.
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migrants said to be ‘pouring’ into the country resulted in them increasingly being scapegoated for the failed materialisation of change. Analysts have mainly rooted their explanations in one of two contexts: that of nation-building and a new formulation of citizenship or that of the nation that ‘suddenly’ has been incorporated into globalized ﬂows of interconnectedness.
Localizing the Global
Since the demise of communism and the collapse of the wall, globalization has gained enormous resonance in popular, political and scientiﬁc discourses as a process that increasingly puts (identity) boundaries into question. Globalization is said to be the driving force that transcends all borders and interconnects the world at large by ever-ﬂowing and intersecting streams of migration, technology, ideology, goods, capital and labour (Appadurai 1990). Often the impression is given that the agents on the ground can only obey globalization’s enormous power and cannot but comply with its everlasting drive towards the future of modernity. In reality, globalization as an autonomous and sweeping force disguises the agency that it is rooted in. And as those agents catapult those streams around the globe and create a complicated and ever-changing web of intersections, dissolving (identity) boundaries is not necessarily what they have in mind. A great deal of their agency is also involved in generating cultural diversity, cultural closure, boundary and meaning making, selﬁng and othering. Brands that ﬂow into their spaces are remade in culturally speciﬁc forms of meaning making, ideologies are moulded into local belief systems and the whole concept of interconnectedness leads to new possibilities of postmodern selﬁng, naturally excluding the others as non-belonging strangers However, the notion of ﬂows that circulate and are interconnected draws attention away from the “missed encounters, clashes, misﬁres, and confusions that are as much part of global linkages as simple ‘ﬂow”’ (Tsing 2000). As ﬂows ﬂow they simultaneously carve and transform the ground. Put differently, the distinction between global forces and local places obscures how these processes of force-making and place-making are both local and global. An important example of these local ways and processes, situated within globalized interconnections, is the increasing obsession with closure as opposed to ﬂow. The world as an interconnected space
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that transcends boundaries has often led to the belief that the nation state is becoming obsolete. Both state-authorities as their subjects frequently perceive dissolving boundaries, powerful transnational corporations, new forms and means of postmodern identity-making and globalized ideologies to threaten the hegemony of nationness and national identities. This changing face of nationhood seems to have led to an explosion of identity-politics, an increase in rights claims as well as an obsession with afﬁrming old and constructing new boundaries, all of which both strengthen as challenge perceptions on the rigidity of the nation-state, citizenship and national identity (Comaroff and Comaroff 2001; Nyamnjoh 2007a; Geschiere and Meyer 1998). In this post-modern world that is said to be globalizing, large-scale national identity containers, generated by modern state-level forces, are increasingly becoming unimaginable due to the people falling into these containers are ﬁnding it harder to imagine themselves as part of this cohesive national identity, many of whom residing across “large social, spatial, and political divides” (Appadurai 1998; Geschiere 2009). The radical uncertainty that arises out of these unimaginable “mega-ethnic groupings” often creates anxieties about the relationship of citizens to state-provided goods (Appadurai 1998). National subjects are therefore often obsessed with who ‘we’ are and who we are not – that is, who and what is not part of the collectivity. The ﬁgure of the Stranger ultimately represents the anxiety and ambiguity about forms of belonging and notions of entitlement. Strangers not only sit uncomfortably between the insider/outsider division within the ‘national order of things’ (Malkki 1995b), they are both strange and familiar, “no longer classiﬁed and not yet classiﬁed” (Malkki 1995a) and often occupy spaces in the midst of nationals of the country they have made their new home. Nation-states are thus often preoccupied with the policing of identity boundaries between citizens and outsiders. By promoting nationalism as a ‘religion of friendship’, the nation-state tries to enforce ethnic, religious, linguistic and/or cultural homogeneity in the form of ‘nativism’ and excludes those strangers that do not ﬁt into this ‘propaganda of shared attributes’ (Bauman 1990). This ﬁxation with who does or does not ‘belong’ is matched by the urge to distinguish between ‘locals’, ‘nationals’, ‘citizens’, ‘autochthons’ or ‘insiders’, on the one hand and ‘foreigners’, ‘immigrants’, ‘strangers’, ‘autochthons’ or ‘outsiders’, on the other (Nyamnjoh 2007b). One kind of boundary making between nationals and strangers that seems to
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have taken root since the dawn of the new globalizing era is the distinction between autochthons and allochthons: those who belong to the soil and those who do not. The notion of autochthony as “being rooted in the soil” gives it a sort of primordial quality which makes it the most authentic form of belonging (Geschiere 2009). And it is this ‘authentic’ notion of belonging that is able to draw the ultimate line of difference: autochthony constitutes the fundamental boundary with its Other – a boundary which can be utilized by citizens as a powerful mobilizing force for claiming rights to priority for state-resources as well as the right to exclude alien strangers (Geschiere 2009; Comaroff and Comaroff 2001). Despite the huge variety of possible differences within nations, ‘autochthony’ serves as an umbrella to unify people based on birth or citizenship, while making it an ideologically useful concept to exclude ‘the Other’ (Geschiere 2009). The result is that autochthony serves as an ultimate divider of difference, whereby citizen-subjects, despite other identities they may bear, are ultimately either an autochthon or an alien (Comaroff and Comaroff 2001). While all human beings through history have always had a natural propensity to distinguish difference, modern societies are particularly distinguished by the degree to which such differences are reiﬁed (Hinton 2002, p. 12). By means of modernity’s drive towards essentialized categorical order, identity boundaries within the state and popular discourses are more often than not reiﬁed in essential “differences between species-like ‘types’ or ‘peoples”’ (Malkki 1995a), and assume natural ‘traits’ and ‘appearances’ to those ‘specimens’ of the ethnic, religious, racial and other categorical orders one is said to belong to. While academic discourses stress the socially negotiated construction of identity, people who themselves are said to construct those identity boundaries often utter rather essentialized ways of who ‘is’ Us and who ‘is’ Them. In reality identity boundaries are not as ﬁxed as many people assume them to be: labels such as “Sikh,” “American” and “Tanzanian,” that appear to be inborn, ﬁxed categories over time remain oversimpliﬁcations of powerplays, historical and discursive processes, (political) agency and meaning making on the ground. Such labels as primordial and other supposedly ‘natural’ categories of identiﬁcation obscure those processes that crystallizes them into something that ‘is’. But to theorize them into something that is not real, but a discursive construction, is to blind oneself to their emotional power to guide agency, to do damage to the sub-
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jective experience and social reality of agents themselves and, more importantly, to ignore the deadly realities that can result in violent conﬂict. Although it is especially within violent conﬂict that identity boundaries acquire a polarized and essentialized quality, violent conﬂicts simultaneously lay bare the ambiguous nature of these discrete racial, ethnic, religious, linguistic, national and otherwise categorized identity classiﬁcations (Apter 1997). Genocide is the ultimate violent representation of modernity’s obsession with rational, social engineering; of its ﬁght for determination and against ambiguity, the everlasting battle against fuzziness by artiﬁcially bringing about that ‘ambivalence-free homogeneity’ that the nondiscrete and continuous nature of reality fails to produce (Bauman 1990). In order to overcome the ambiguities inherent in identity classiﬁcations, genocidal engineers had to employ methods of spatial segregation and artiﬁcial markers of identiﬁcation, such as identity cards and yellow Jewish stars in order to classify and stigmatize the members of the group that they had decided to annihilate. Where these artiﬁcial means of identiﬁcation were absent, agents of genocide were resorting to more pragmatic forms of victim selection by means of the reading of cultural, physical, behavioural and linguistic attributes that were perceived to classify individuals into a particular categorical order. Yet, reading bodies is far from a reliable method of identity classiﬁcation and victim selection, being often characterized by uncertainty and presumption. In order to overcome the ambiguous nature of the Stranger, stigma provides a convenient device to classify a particular individual in the essentialized orderly world of binary us/them, insider/outsider, here/there orders. As identity classiﬁcations are not ‘given entities’ with unambiguous rules of membership, stigma provides a way to draw a limit within the ﬂuid and socially negotiated nature of ethnic, national, racial or otherwise designated indices of identity: outward signs may be concealed, but the bond between stigma-attributes –such as morphological features, clothing styles, linguistic dialects, etcetera– and inner ‘truth’ cannot be broken (Bauman 1990; Barth et al. 1969). Nevertheless, stigmatized individuals are often able to hide their ‘true’ self that is negatively valued within society. As social life can be seen as a theatre play, where individuals are constantly giving a performance in front of their audience by employing particular sign activities in order to give way a certain impression of the self, stigmatized persons are able to perform a certain identity in
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order to avoid social discrimination, marginalization or even prosecution (Kanuha 1999; Goffman 1959). Such strategies or tactics of individuals that are concerned with hiding one‘s identity or adopting a different one are known as ‘passing’ (Goffman 1986; Einwohner 2008) Although many examples of passing are documented, such as homeless women concealing their homelessness in public spaces, homosexuals performing as ‘straight’ or African Americans passing as white (Einwohner 2008; Casey, Goudie, and Reeve 2008), this thesis is primarily concerned with those strategies of invisibility of the ﬁgure of the immigrant within a host-society in which s/he is more often than not marginalized and excluded from access to resources. Moreover, when the propensity of nation-states to exclude the stranger that threatens the orderly world of nationness is accompanied with a xenophobic-tainted anxiety of socio-economic deprived national subjects to whom belongs a legitimate claim to state-provided goods, the propensity to exclude can gain a violent dimension. The modernist nation-state in particular seems to have shifted from the ideal of an imagined community founded on the ﬁction of shared characteristics of its citizenry towards a xenophobic sense of heterogeneity (Comaroff and Comaroff 2006). Within the lived reality of large identity containers that are becoming increasingly unimaginable, violent action can become a means of satisfying one‘s categorical self, while these vivisectionist forms of bodily violence simultaneously offer temporary ways to render abstract ethnic labels of others intelligible (Appadurai 1998). The causal heterogeneity that is inherent in violent conﬂict makes explanations of violence through a single theoretical lens problematic. The theorist should rather seek to identify, analyze and explain the heterogeneous processes that underly wideranging occurrences of what is all too easily lumped together under the rubric of ‘ethnic,’ ‘political,’ ‘racial,’ or ‘xenophobic,’ violence (Brubaker and Laitin 1998). Not only do heterogeneous ‘processes and mechanisms’ of violence give more insights to violent dynamics and the varied ways of legitimizing violence, it also “makes central what is often muted”: the varying subjective experiences of agents and subjects of violent events and their aftermaths, and the ways perpetrators and victims legitimize and make sense of these violent actions (Warren 1993). To ask questions about local violent dynamics foregrounds not only the agency of perpetrators, but also the agency and subjective experience of those victims whose daily lives are so distorted
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by it. How do they deal with those uncertainties and dangers of (possibilities of) violence? How do they ﬁnd ways to represent the nature of terror and simultaneously employ strategies to resist its pressures? (Green 1999). Although the focus of this thesis is not so much the function and dynamics of violence per se, an understanding of the social, spatial, political and communal transforming power of violence is important to analyse the ways it shapes the experiences and strategies of victims of violent agency. Especially in a space where those victims and perpetrators are still living together, the lived reality of violence transforms everyday life. Family bonds and friendships are destroyed, social alliances are marked by suspicion, spaces and faces all bear memories that one has to live with, and the fear of ‘it’ happening again shapes future plans and strategies. Indeed, the danger of being singled out as an ‘other’ has profound implications for agency in social and public space. The speciﬁcity of the relations between daily face-to-face relations and the larger contexts that shape them reveals more about the nature of violence than a macro-analysis solely involving abstract theoretical forces (Warren 1993). By paying close attention to how violence operates locally and the ‘mundane aspects of everyday experience’ my aim is both to do justice to the victimhood of subjects of violence as well to consider the possibilities for creative agency that may emerge from these processes (Green 1999). When violence is largely framed in xenophobic notions of belonging and il/legitimate claims to resources, the mobilization of identity classiﬁcations by xenophobic rioters cannot be separated from existing political institutions that have legitimized and interpellated differences between who do and who do not belong (Chun 1996). Especially the concept of citizenship predominantly shapes the parameters by which national objects are able to draw boundaries between autochthones and allochthones. While xenophobia is far from particular to the African continent and can be observed in different forms around the globe, the concept of citizenship has shifted particularly in many African post-colonies from a unifying notion based on pan-Africanism during the struggle for independence towards one that is largely found on indigeneity and essentially exclusive. This post-colonial form of nationalist discourse frequently equates nationalism with access to state-provided goods by an emerging middle class in tandem with the adoption of liberal democracy and the celebration of global consumer capitalism (Neocosmos 2005; Nyamnjoh 2007b). As we will see,
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within South Africa’s post-apartheid project of nation-building, the fact that the ﬁgure of Makwerekwere has occupied centre stage within a national imagination can be largely attributed to a newly imagined self that is connected with notions of entitlement. Moreover, this stereotyped ﬁgure of the Makwerekwere is predicated on exactly the same discredited indices of races that were employed by the former apartheid regime to legitimize the oppression of the non-white population (Matsinhe 2009). As the ﬁgure of the Makwerekwere is highly racialized within the dominant discourse, it was skin color that primarily identiﬁed those to chase out during the xenophobic violence in South Africa in May 2008. But rioters employed many other techniques for exploring, marking and classifying those who might be African foreigners (Appadurai 1990). Seen from this angle, one can argue that black bodies were ultimately used as text whereby indexical markers or signiﬁers of identity became legible as ‘evidence’, or counter-‘evidence’, of imagined citizenship (Matsinhe 2009; Harris 2002).
Researching Strategies of Invisibility
Much has been said about the ‘root causes’ and the broader contexts in which the South African xenophobic violence should be contextualized. Less has been said about the local dynamics of violence, subjective perceptions of violence of perpetrators and victims and coping strategies of victims in those spaces of violence themselves. During my work as a volunteer in the Johannesburg Riﬂe Range refugeecamp, the local government’s constant threats to dismantle “temporary shelters” for victims of the violence6 caused a lot of tension and anxiety amongst the campresidents. Despite well-known cases of immigrants who were attacked again by local residents when they tried to return to their former community, the Gauteng7 provincial government stated that it was “conﬁdent that favourable conditions now exist for the reintegration of displaced foreign nationals” (Victor Khupiso and Nombembe 2008). The local governments gave displaced victims the choice to either cooperate with reintegration strategies into South African society, or to go back to their
This term was preferred by the government in its ofﬁcial rhetoric, since the denotation of “dis-
placed foreign nationals” as “refugees” and their sites of shelter as “refugee camps” would oblige them to comply with the UNHRs policies in corresponding situations 7 South African province
R ESEARCHING S TRATEGIES OF I NVISIBILITY
own country. Statements like “I’d rather die in my own country than here in South Africa” reﬂected the fear and despair of many immigrants trapped between a highly hostile host-society and countries of origin that are themselves embroiled in internal violent conﬂict and/or severe economical instability. Since the violence many foreign nationals have returned to their countries of origin, but numerous others remained behind or returned to South Africa after the situation calmed down. Those who remained somehow needed to ﬁnd their way back and indeed, reintegrate, into South African society. As the mere idea of returning to these formerly hostile places of residence became a source of extreme anxiety for many displaced immigrants in the Riﬂe Range camp, I became interested in possible strategies African immigrants could employ in order to lessen the chance of violence or intimidation against them in their daily interaction with South Africans. Immigrants who could or would not return to their country of origin eventually needed to ﬁnd ways to re-engage with South African citizens whom they had experienced to be extremely hostile. Two immigrants from Zimbabwe provided me once with a snapshot of possible strategies to avoid harassment in public places. Due to his linguistic accent, the ﬁrst man told me, he could easily be singled out as a non-South African in public taxi’s and explained to me that he side-stepped this potential vulnerability by taking the exact amount of money for his fare in order not to have to speak in public. The other man described to me that he tried to avoid being identiﬁed as a non-native speaker by using chewing gum in his daily interaction with South Africans so his distinctive accent would not be noticed. These strategies not only exemplify the fears which African immigrants are living with, but also their creative capacities to deal with these fears. Moreover, they reveal various ways in which strangeness is identiﬁed by South Africans. Markers of difference such as skin-complexion, linguistic dialect, hairstyles, clothing style and other cultural and bodily identity signiﬁers provide far from a secure way of identifying someone’s ethnic or national identity. Especially in extremely heterogeneous societies such as South Africa –which has many historical, linguistic and cultural ties with neighbouring countries– the process of identifying someone as a particular ‘national’ or a particular ‘ethnic’ reveals various ambiguities. In violent conﬂicts –where identity may become a ‘deadly knife’ (Hintjens 2001)– targets of violence can utilize
I NTRODUCTION : G RADES OF O THERNESS
this ambiguous nature of identiﬁcation in order avoid being attacked by giving way a performance in which they present themselves as what they are not (Kanuha 1999). But what does it mean when identities are socially constructed? This thesis particularly focusses on this theme by analysing how the ambiguities of identitysigniﬁers and the performative nature of identity leave open space for social agents to employ creative strategies to renegotiate difference-making. My aim is to show that the Stranger is particularly within the South African context a highly ambiguous ﬁgure, which creates considerable leeway for creativity that African immigrants in the Alexandra township are able to utilize by means of strategies of invisibility in order to render their foreignness invisible.
Race, space and Alien invaders
Although scattered attacks against foreigners had been observed around Pretoria the month before (Sowetan 2008), it was in Alexandra that the ofﬁcial ‘wave’ of violence began. On Monday-night the 12th of May, Alexandra transformed into a scene of nightly attacks, violent mobs, and burning shacks, eventually leaving two dead and 40 injured. Within days the violence spread to informal settlements and inner-cities throughout the country. Only on May 28th, two weeks later, the situation was ﬁnally said to be “calm”. Over 25.000 refugees ﬂed the violence nationwide, 62 people were killed and 670 people badly injured (Kapp 2008). The months hereafter, thousands of displaced people were transfered to what the government called “temporary shelters”, clearly a sign that the government was not planning to provide these shelters for a long time. “We do not expect the situation to go on for more than two months,” local government spokesman Masebe said. “We are currently talking to communities to try and reintegrate them into their communities” (Monama 2008). This period was marked by heated debates, lobbying and frustration amongst civil society organisations who accused the South African government of failing to deliver adequate humanitarian services, failing to address the issues underlying the xenophobic violence, but most of all of washing its hands of its responsibility to protect those who were displaced. The post-apartheid imagined ‘rainbow country’ suddenly seemed to had lost its bright colors, quickly re-imagined as a dark xenophobic nation, hostile to its African
R ACE , SPACE AND A LIEN INVADERS
immigrant population and populated by citizens willing to kill in order to get rid of ‘criminal’, ‘illegal’ and ‘parasitic’ immigrants. Newspapers worldwide featured images of furious mobs spreading terror, with the image of Mozambican Ernesto Alfabeto Nhamuave in ﬂames becoming a target for global moral outrage. Immediately the media, non-governmental organisations and politicians were keen to search for the ‘root causes’ of these events. A growing frustration about lack of service delivery, the violent nature of South African society, a widening inequality, rising fuel and food prices, corruption, inadequate education, extremely high unemployment and high poverty were all mentioned by many analysts to underscore the complicated nature of this violent rupture within South African society. Although those distinguishable root causes are signiﬁcant underlying factors of the violence, they do not explain that the African immigrant was blamed by those perpetrators who were seeking a convenient scapegoat for their disillusion in socioeconomic change. The post-apartheid process of nation-building, primarily concerned with the construction of a non-racial South African identity, seemed to have constructed the Black African immigrant as the “irreducible Other” (Cejas 2007). In order to understand why African hairstyles, skin color and vaccination marks take on a xenophobic signiﬁcance, one must look at how foreign Africans are represented within South African society (Harris 2002). And once one analyses the ways the ﬁgure of the immigrant has been depicted in popular discourse by many politicians and media-authorities, a troubling image appears: a “perverted parody of the past”, the ﬁgure of the alien has ironically become a distinctive species in the popular imagination, primarily marked by skin color and dominantly associated by (media) authorities with illegality, usurping resources and fostering crime, prostitution and diseases (Comaroff and Comaroff 2001). The foreigner, as an informant angrily expressed to me, is in the South African context not just “anybody that crosses one boundary of a nation to another”:
So, if you are from other African countries, as far as the skin-color is not black, you are as good as the person from America. You understand? And for you [refers to me], you are not a foreigner. And there to me, that is where I ﬁnd it a bit disturbing. Because the word foreigner is anybody that crosses one boundary of a nation to another. It doesn’t matter how close the countries are. You are a foreigner (Ob, Ghana 2009).
I NTRODUCTION : G RADES OF O THERNESS
In other words, the imagination of the foreigner, the immigrant or the alien in post-apartheid South Africa has become synonymous with the black African Other. “According to their classiﬁcations”, Ob continued his outrage, “the only person who is called a foreigner, is somebody from other African countries” (ibid.). And in order to understand why such classiﬁcations have gained xenophobic meaning, one must analyze the formation of the particular state-discourse that has arisen in tandem with the formation of the post-apartheid state (Neocosmos 2005).
“You are eating everything that belongs to us”
The fact that South Africans who feel economically deprived should scapegoat foreigners, while many signiﬁcant others such as Whites, the new Black middle-class or politicians could be blamed, tells us something about possible political identiﬁcations that were forged by state-discourse during and after the transition from apartheid to democracy (ibid., p. 4). South African post-apartheid democracy is largely constructed on a discourse of human-rights, non-racialism and individual equality. This institutionalized discourse of human-rights within the newly imagined nation is not incompatible with, but is the very source of post-apartheid xenophobia:
The argument here is fundamentally that xenophobia in South Africa is a direct effect of a particular kind of politics, a particular kind of state politics in fact, one which is associated with a speciﬁc discourse of citizenship which was forged in opposition to the manner in which the apartheid state interpellated its subjects. This statist notion of citizenship has been buttressed by a ‘Human Rights Discourse’ for which the politics of agency are substituted by appeals to the state for redress (ibid.).
This discourse of human-rights has led to a large emphasis on individual freedom –based on hegemonic neo-liberal notions– and a “culture of entitlement” or a “culture of rights”, which has paciﬁed the majority of the population away from tangible political participation. The post-apartheid process of forging a unifying national identity –largely based on indigeneity and necessarily exclusive– is not simply concerned with the re-imagining of a non-racial South African identity, but more importantly with a demarcation from others, based on rights and duties and socioeconomic beneﬁts for its citizens. It is therefore not only ‘imagined’, but “materially
“Y OU ARE EATING EVERYTHING THAT BELONGS TO US ”
experienced”, notably by non-civilians “who are excluded from community rights and access to resources” (Neocosmos 2005, p. 90). As a consequence, chauvinism and xenophobia grip the masses, inﬂuenced by the “politics of the powerful”, as they feel entitled to claim resources used by foreigners as their own (ibid.). In the light of those civilian notions of entitlement, especially the Black African is said to be obstructing socio-economic change by usurping jobs and resources, fostering crime, prostitution and disease (Comaroff and Comaroff 2001). Former Minister of Home Affairs Buthelezi immediately proclaimed during his ﬁrst speech in parliament that “if we as South Africans are going to compete for scarce resources with millions of aliens who are pouring into South Africa, then we can bid goodbye to our Reconstruction and Development Programme” (Buthelezi in Landau, RamjathanKeogh, and Singh (2004))8 . Despite the government’s rhetoric of an African Renaissance –in the form of the famous ‘I am an African’ speech president Mbeki delivered in 1998– a universalising ideology of Pan-Africanism seems to have failed to take hold of the population. Within state-discourse, Africa is over and over again represented as the Other, a place ‘over there’ and the place of the Other. Both South Africa’s economic dominance and its role as a bridge for Western political liberalism on the continent intensiﬁes this discourse of Africa being riddled with death, war, disease, starvation, corruption and helpless victims and a reproduced Western stereotypical image of the content as economically backwards and a political failure (Neocosmos 2005, p. 112). This quasi-colonial remnant of the past makes the slogan of an ‘African Renaissance’ simply a vehicle for South African hegemony (ibid., p. 125). Ob, insightfully reﬂected on the matter from his own experience:
Most of them don’t understand aaaall these things, when they talk about I am an African9 . They don’t look at themselves as African, that’s why they call US Africa. Me: What do they call themselves? I don’t know! That one I’ve asked them several times. They say [feigns a thick, heavy South African accent] ‘ey, my friend, this place is not Africa man, this place is not Africa man’. You know? So and then I ask them, so this place is not
RDP (Reconstruction Development Programme) is an ambitious socio-economic policy frame-
work implemented by the ANC after the 1994 democratic elections. One of their six principles is to build millions of cheap houses, eligible for government subsidies 9 The African Renaissance speech Mbeki delivered was called “I am an African”
I NTRODUCTION : G RADES OF O THERNESS
Africa so, where is here? Because we hear most of the parliamentarians saying ‘when you go to Africa’ [laughs] And I wonder where is Africa and where is South Africa (Ob, Ghana 2009).
Clearly, ordinary South Africans and politicians alike perceive South Africa not as belonging to Africa and associate the continent with ‘them’, the Black foreign Other. In the same vein Ob recalled an anecdote where he was eating chicken on the street. Two girls passing by said to him the following: “Ah, wena, you see. All in South Africa you can eat chicken. You never had any chicken to eat in your country. You came here, you are eating everything that belongs to us” (ibid.). Not only did these girls reproduce the stereotype of Africa not having what South Africa is perceived to have, their statement seemed to symbolize Black African foreigners as eating “everything that belongs to us”. And this notion of Africa being the Other that invades the country and ‘eats’ South African resources is constantly reiterated in public discourse, by politicians and newspapers alike. Once again, former Minister of Home Affairs Buthelezi stated that South Africa is “perceived as an island in a sea of poverty, making [it] a magnet for migration” (Crush 1999) and clearly implied that the burden of immigrants said to be pouring into the country are from Africa. That this “deluge of migrants” who are “mainly illegals” causes xenophobia and resentment, Buthelezi continued, “should not be surprising”. And because ‘illegal aliens’ are predominantly perceived in the statediscourse to be blamed for obstructing the reversal of economic deprivation of ‘indigenous’ South Africans, the Department of Home Affairs instructed all government departments that undocumented immigrants should be denied access to basic services like health-care, education and utilities (Peberdy 2001). To make matters worse, the then Minister of Defence remarked in 1997 that “we have one million illegal immigrants in our country who commit crimes and who are mistaken by some people for South African citizens”, and identiﬁed that as “the real problem” of South Africa’s high crime-rates (Landau, Ramjathan-Keogh, and Singh 2004). These examples are not merely incidents of irresponsible utterances by those in power, but are aspects of a structural feature of state-discourse and practice (Neocosmos 2005, p. 125) The construction of the Black African immigrant, mainly depicted as ‘illegal’ and constructed as “the real problem” is not only shaped by a hegemonic xenophobic
F ROM HEGEMONIC DISCOURSE TO HEGEMONIC PRACTICE
discourse of politicians, but by media-authorities too. The many newspapers that deﬁne South Africa’s media landscape reproduce the same stigmatizing stereotypes about immigrants in big fat capitalized headlines. A survey drawing on newspaper reporting on immigrant coverage between 1994 and 1998 concluded that the burden of press-coverage had been largely anti-immigration, unanalytical and reproduced racial stereotypes about African immigrants as illegal aliens predominantly associated with criminal activity (Danso and McDonald 2001). Although the debate on media representation is polarised around its role as shaper versus reﬂector of public opinion, the report concluded that “the print media does appear to be a signiﬁcant part of the equation” (MMP 2008). Ob, commented on the alien vocabulary within newspaper coverage with his insightful, intellectual wit:
They were calling us ALIENS. YEAH IN THE NEWSPAPERS! And I’m so surprised. That, an editor, you edit the news that have the headline ‘an alien from Africa has been killed’. I’M SO SURPRISED. And I said to them, one day I said to one of SABC boys ‘look to me, the word alien does not exist in my vocabularies. It only exist in American movies. If you want to know what an alien is, go get any other comic movies from America’. That is where you see aliens. Because for me, aliens do not exist. And I said, oh no, I just realised aliens exist. And to the BEST of my knowledge, what I understand about aliens is that: in American movies aliens are from another planet. And they LOOK different, they ACT different, they DO things DIFFERENT. And then you people in South Africa say you are SUPERIOR over us. And the way we TALK is DIFFERENT, the way we DRESS is different, the way we do our things is different. Yet, we are successul. So the question I wanna put to you people is ‘WHY DON’T YOU GO TO THESE ALIENS AND LEARN THE GOOD THINGS THEY DO, that make them SUCCESSFUL and use that to BUILD your nation and STOP accusing them of this on this on that (Ob, Ghana 2009).
Nonetheless it goes beyond xenophobic speech, writings and discourse. Utterances of politicians and media-authorities are reﬂected, both verbally as in practice, in daily life.
From hegemonic discourse to hegemonic practice
I NTRODUCTION : G RADES OF O THERNESS
While the violent events can be seen as the most dramatic form in which a hegemonic xenophobic discourse has been translated into action, documentation on South African xenophobia is replete with examples of daily xenophobic practice in all spheres of society. Asylum seekers are constantly arrested and detained, being identiﬁed based on superﬁcial physical features such as skin color, vaccination marks, accent, linguistic competence and clothing (Peberdy 2001) or simply for ﬁtting a highly racialized ‘proﬁle’ of undocumented immigrants (Landau 2006). Even when African foreigners are able to identify themselves and produce valid documents, examples of police ofﬁcers tearing them apart arguing it was a “fake ID” or that the person in question is “too black” to qualify for a South African ID are plenty (Crush 1999). Undocumented immigrants have even come to be perceived as “walking ATM’s” by some police ofﬁcers, regarding them as easy targets to extort money. Most informants told me similar stories:
Because some of them can’t BANK their money. You have no ID, you don’t go to bank. You only can keep it in the pocket. Walking ATM’s, THIS is what they call us! The policeman stops you, your ID is even good, your papers are good, he says [imitates thick and heavy South African accent] ‘my friend, bring money. If you don’t bring money, I’m gonna lock you’ [...] A POLICEMAN sees you, to CHECK your paper! To just check your paper, your your ID. You know, these things, IT PISSES ME OFF! I’m TELLING YOU! IT PISSES ME OFF! I SAW I SAW I SAW, god almighty, I saw this guys man, these guys coming from Botswana. These guys were arrested, coming from work. These guys were having papers! And then you POINT A GUN ON THEM! THEY SHOULD LIE ON THE GROUND for you to check their papers. WHY!? You TAKE their paper, you CHECK IT and still ask them for money. Why? Just because he’s a black man. You know? (Ob, Ghana 2009)
And while this authoritarian culture permeates all apparatuses of the state and is largely directed towards non-citizens of African origin (Neocosmos 2005, p. 111), examples of African foreigners being denied access to public services like hospitals or schools are abundant too. Teachers who tell their foreign students to go back to their countries or nurses who openly speak about “foreigners taking government money and having too many babies” (Landau 2006) are two well-known examples. Another famous illustration is that of an asylum seeker from the Democratic Republic
A IMS OF THE T HESIS
of Congo who was refused treatment by the hospital as she was about to give birth, after which she was forced to deliver her baby in front of the hospital (Neocosmos 2005). Xenophobia is clearly practiced within all ranks of South African society:
It is found everywhere: in government establishments, religious organisations, and even in institutions of higher learning where one expects a higher level of broadmindedness. In such places, xenophobia may not be manifested in the form of physical violence, but in more subtle forms of making the non-national feel so unwelcome and despised in an environment that is made psychologically hostile (Mogekwu 2005).
Xenophobia was particularly practiced within the micro-politics of township life at the most intense and in the most violent manner (Landau and Misago 2009). Alexandra was said to be the epicentre from which the violence spread and in which it endured the full period of unrest (Park 2009). The mobilisation of violent mobs certainly was a dangerous mix of ethnic components, nationalism, criminal opportunism and the rights to space. Previous forbidden cities have been attractive for immigrants –both from abroad and from South Africa’s rural area’s– since the end of apartheid. Most inner-city residents must now renegotiate their relationship to their place of residence and fragmentary identities have become spatially rooted in ways that rights to space have become resources for ethno-racial mobilisation (Landau and Misago 2009). Hegemonic xenophobic discourses have provided parameters for identiﬁcation and a discursive repertoire for the exclusion of the Other locally. The third chapter of this thesis deals with how those hegemonic divisions are conﬂated with the fragmented identities that have deﬁned Alexandra’s historical landscape and that the violence strikingly resembled previous material conﬂicts within the township: although they were mobilised on similar insiders/outsiders cleavages, the content of who constituted as an insider and who did not, has shifted according to Alexandra’s socio-economic and political developments within a national context.
Aims of the Thesis
Although extremely important, especially concerning policy recommendations, it is not the ‘truth’ or the root causes of the xenophobic violence in South Africa in May
I NTRODUCTION : G RADES OF O THERNESS
2008 with which this thesis is concerned. It is instead about the ways informants construct their truth(s), how their subjectivities are related to local experience of intersubjective life and what strategies they employ to deal with their truth. After all, there exists no ‘God’s-eye view’ of history. “The ‘worlds made’ through narrations of the past are always historically situated and culturally constructed, and it is these that people act upon and riddle with meaning” (Malkki 1995a). As much as this project is not concerned with a reiﬁed and essentialized truth, I stress the dialectic construction of identity. Although many social agents in Alexandra –be they South African or foreign– narrated essentialized versions of identity, assuming them to have natural, inborn qualities and clear-cut boundaries, my aim is not to reproduce them in the same vein. (Racial) identity has been –and in many regards, still is– an essentialized category, which strongly determined one‘s social, political, economical and spatial position within South African society. Using the category of the Black, the White, the South African, the Zimbabwean, the Zulu or the Immigrant in the same reiﬁed essence means reproducing an ideology of essentialism which so often has been harnessed to oppressive and even deadly political actions (ibid.). Nevertheless, bounded and polarized identity utterances and perceptions, become –especially when violence comes into play– a socio-political reality on their own, where one‘s social identity can make a crucial difference in one‘s movement in social and public space. This project seeks to interrogate the representation of refugees and/or immigrants as helpless victims whose agency is diminished by grand abstract forces of globalization, nationalism, modernity and ethnicity. My aim here is to show, ﬁrst of all, that immigrants in Alexandra are not mere passive objects on the margins of the public realm, but are instead active and creative agents within the conﬁnes of their own social space. Secondly, I hope to demonstrate that there exists no such category as ‘the African immigrant’. Rather, there are different grades of immigrant status constituted of various categories such as nationality, racial identity, (il)legality, citizenship and socio-political motivations to migrate. For reasons I will explain in the next chapter, my pool of informants was far from a representative sample of the heterogeneity that deﬁnes Alexandra. Nevertheless, as much as the narratives of my informants displayed many similarities given their shared experiences, by giving voice to deviant utterances and particularities of different subjectivities, this ethnog-
A IMS OF THE T HESIS
raphy is concerned with the ways in which a myriad of identities are (de)constructed by various actors and with the socio-political realities these identities have acquired in intersubjective life. My informants were highly critical and often made derogatory remarks about South African society and South Africans in particular. While reverse stereotyping ‘the South African’ as ‘bloodthirsty’, ‘ignorant’, ‘lazy’ and so on, they morally constructed themselves and their native society as the romanticized opposite. The story that I will tell in the following chapters is informed by these polarized ideologies. This implies a danger of simply reproducing and conﬁrming the negative perceptions immigrants have of South Africa and its citizens being downright morally inferior or their society as having “a criminal record” (Tendai, Zimbabwe 2009). While this ethnography of violence and its socio-political aftermath mainly focuses on South African perpetrators of violence, many ordinary South Africans strongly condemned what happened. Although it was South Africans who perpetrated the violence, many other South Africans gave shelter, fed, and helped the victims in numerous ways. Africa is too often imagined as a space of darkness, disorder, poverty, violence and disease within Western society. While this dominant Western discourse mainly perceives ‘the West’ as civilized, orderly, advanced, democratic, peaceful and so on, it stigmatizes Africa as the opposite, “as an object apart from the world, or as a failed or incomplete example of something else” (Mbembe and Nuttall 2008). As much as xenophobic and violent aspects of South African society are troubling, we should try to avoid the pessimism or ‘Zimbabweanism’ –the widespread view that South Africa seems to follow a similar trajectory as Zimbabwe, from a ‘successful’ post-colony to a ‘failed state’– that seems to preoccupy many analysts, immigrants and South African citizens themselves. In many regards a highly fragmented society, South Africa is still a nation ‘in progress’ (this being said, without assuming the term ‘progress’ a normative quality). “You can’t expect everything to go ‘right’ in South Africa just 15 years after the democratic transition, while it has been oppressed for hundreds of years before”, my South African friend Harry once said to me. Post-apartheid South Africa is a ‘better’ society than its predecessor. Formal equality amongst various racial, social and political cleavages have been institutionalized and opportunities have markedly improved for the formerly oppressed population.
I NTRODUCTION : G RADES OF O THERNESS
While xenophobia is strongly embedded in South African society, it isn’t alien to ‘our’ societies. Obsessions with who belongs where and who constitutes as autochthonous constructing those who are not as allochthonous ‘strangers’– those who do not belong– are a worldwide trend (Geschiere 2009). One needs only look at the populism and neo-nationalism that increasingly marks European party-politics. This story should not be read as a conﬁrmation of post-apartheid South Africa gradually but irreversibly sliding into a disorderly post-colonial nation. Rather, it should be understood in the context of a society in transition, a transition from decades of racial oppression and a transition whereby the South African citizen is still in the process of being imagined. Societies in transition, whereby enormous socio-economic inequalities need to be reversed, often generate a violent tension between marginalised people that have to struggle for their survival.
Structure of the Thesis
This chapter has been primarily concerned with a theoretical macro analysis of global conjunctures of belonging, the ambiguous ﬁgure of the Stranger, the uncertainty of difference and the convenient weapon of stigma in order to overcome this ambiguity and uncertainty of self and other, sometimes by violent means. I gave this abstract analytical exploration some more substance by zooming in on the South African national level. While analyzing the ways how the racialized ﬁgure of the Makwerekwere has been constructed in stereotypical on a South African level, it is the micro level of township-life with which the next four chapters are concerned. In chapter two, the usual ingredients of conducting ﬁeldwork will be outlined. Before I proceed to the methods of qualitative research, its related encountered problems and questions of representativeness, I will give a short introduction to my research setting, its inhabitants, my close friend Harry who has been of tremendous help with all aspects of my research and the family Maloke, who made my stay as pleasant and as comfortable as it was. Since both Westerners and South Africans often imagine Alexandra –and township spaces in general– as spaces solely to be deﬁned in terms of misery, deprivation and dangerousness, I will brieﬂy touch upon how these perceptions shaped the responses on my decision to conduct my research in Alexandra. While for many (foreign) inhabitants of the township violence and
S TRUCTURE OF THE T HESIS
deprivation is indeed a daily reality, Alexandra is simultaneously a place of warmth, hospitality and a vibrant and buzzing nightlife epitomized by it’s popular trademark “It’s happening in Alexandra!”. Before I conclude with a short historical narrative of Alexandra, my research population will be introduced brieﬂy dealing with their motivations to move to South African and their experiences within their host-society. Chapter three will reproduce the complicated dynamics of the xenophobic violence from my informants point of view. By analyzing their perceptions of the origin of the violence, the identiﬁcation of its perpetrators and their motivations to conduct violence I hope to generate some insights into the complicated nature of what is often shunned by the predominant coinage of the violence as ‘xenophobic’. I will not only argue that the violence should be understood within the context of Alexandra’s material conﬂicts and the identity-formations that have always deﬁned its socio-political landscape, but additionally that conﬂicting (historical) notions on belonging have complicated the already ambiguous nature of the Stranger in ways that also South Africans were told to go home. It is in chapter four that I start to analyze the various stigma attributes which are regarded by my (predominantly) foreign informants to deﬁne foreignness that enable immigrants to reﬂect and act upon the ways they are perceived and identiﬁed within South African society. I will show that for many immigrants their otherness was often perceived to be identiﬁed by ways of language, style, morphological features, behaviour and occupation, while it was Zuluness that was predominantly perceived to be employed as a crucial marker of difference between selves and others. Eventually I will argue that the ambiguous nature of identity markers not only creates space for creativity, but that their uncertainty to signify identity were symbolized by ‘mistaken identities’ of South Africans. Not only because they were tragically perceived as foreign, but more importantly that, due to South African’s ethnoracial and linguistic heterogeneity and conﬂicting notions of belonging, many South African ‘ethnics’ are consciously constructed as not belonging by fellow nationals in ways that closely resemble the liminal position of the Stranger. Finally, chapter ﬁve brings creative agency to the foreground. I aim to present an alternative view to the one of victims of violence as solely passive agents on the margins of society by analyzing the ways African immigrants manage their undisclosed stigma-attributes in ways that can be deﬁned as strategies of invisibility and some-
I NTRODUCTION : G RADES OF O THERNESS
times give way performances of South African identities. Ultimately these possible strategies of invisibility will show that identity labels are far from unambiguous, natural and discrete categories of classiﬁcation, but that their ambiguous boundaries and associated identity markers can be socially negotiated by ways of performances and stigma-management. Many immigrants are able to actively renegotiate their stigmatized identity within their daily interactions with South Africans in Alexandra’s public spaces by reﬂecting upon the ways foreignness is constructed within dominant and demotic discourse and practice within South African society.
Research-parameters and context
My decision to conduct ﬁeldwork in a space mainly imagined as Black, dangerous and violent gave way to various insights on the ways Africa in general is perceived in dominant Western discourse. Friends, relatives and strangers alike often reproduced stereotypical perceptions on Africa in response to my research plans. But, of course, the same applies for ways South Africans –in this case Black Alexandrians in particular– imagine the (European) White man and how this shaped my intersubjective relations of daily life in this South African township. Although many African immigrants living in Alexandra frequently experience hostile perceptions towards them in their daily interaction with South Africans, my experience while living in Alexandra was predominantly on the positive side. In order to counteract the dominant imaginations of Alexandra as solely being a dangerous space and to describe the ways Alexandrians’ perceptions towards me informed the course of my ﬁeldwork I will give a short description about living my life as a white man in a black community. The main focus of this chapter, however, is describing and contextualizing the setting and my informants. Before I proceed to the usual ethnographic ingredients like methods of qualitative research, ﬁeldwork difﬁculties and questions of representativeness, I will introduce Harry –my good friend and liaison– and my host-family, Kgakgi and Thoko Maloke. Finally I’ll proceed to the subjects this research mainly focusses on: African immigrants living and/or working in Alexandra. I will discuss their motivations for leaving their country of origin to come to South Africa, followed by their experiences in the community of Alexandra. Finally, I will introduce a short historical narrative of Alexandra. 24
C HAPTER 2. R ESEARCH - PARAMETERS AND CONTEXT
Bourgeois Harry, Club Jazz and becoming streetwise in Alex
Much of my research would not have been possible were it not for Harry. He was my key informant and most of all, a man who became a very close friend. I met Harry, a dreadlocked self-declared Rastafarian, during my work as a volunteer in the Riﬂe Range Refugee camp. We both were involved with social relief work for displaced children and were mostly busy playing soccer, distributing toys, and trying to educate them with the limited resources we had. We were basically trying to provide them with some distraction from the horrors they had endured, the current stress they had to deal with and tried to give them some structure in the chaotic daily events that deﬁned the temporarily spaces of refuge. Soon, Harry invited me to visit his home in Alexandra. This visit immediately made me decide to conduct my ﬁeldwork research in this vibrant and dynamic space of both warmth and deprivation. Harry appeared to be a well-known and extremely popular ﬁgure. Many pedestrians shouted his nickname ‘Rasta’ enthusiastically at him as we walked the many gridlocked avenues and main roads of Alex. ‘Fire!’ Harry would constantly responded, while throwing his ﬁst ‘Mandela-like’ in the air, a gesture reciprocated with ‘Mo’ Fire!’. Harry spent a lot of time on shaking complicated handshakes and chatting informally with the many that wanted to. “Everyday it takes me two hours to get home”, Harry told me smilingly and this surely was not an exaggeration. It appeared I had met the perfect man to start off successful research and I went back to the Netherlands with a feeling that all would be well. Upon my return to do my ﬁeldwork in December, I met Harry again at the Alexandra Health clinic. He told me he had found a nice place for me to stay. I wasn‘t sure what to expect of ‘nice’ in an overcrowded township, inhabited by many shack-dwellers and known for its dominant impoverished living-conditions. But as soon as we entered the gate of ‘Club Jazz’, the place of residence that he had found for me, I realized that ‘nice’ was a highly understated predicative. Situated in the heart of the ‘old’ Alexandra, on the corner of 7th avenue and main road Selborne street1 , Club Jazz appeared to be a full-blown guest-house that would be considered
In order to explain Alexandrians your geographical living location in the township, you would
name the street-name in combination with the nearest-by road that corners it. My geographical place
B OURGEOIS H ARRY, C LUB J AZZ AND BECOMING STREETWISE IN A LEX
a mid-range place to spend your night in any proper tourist guide. Even residents of Alexandra, not formerly aware of the place, expressed their surprise of such a nice place being located in Alexandra. Club Jazz is situated in the midst of the old part of Alexandra. Right on 7th street, not far from the house in which Nelson Mandela brieﬂy lived. The experience of walking through its gates, right from the dusty, lively streets with its many shacks and hooting taxi-cars, is a somewhat surreal one. A big yard, surrounded with a veranda, a hatched roofed terrace, two apartments and the family-house are all segregated by its walls from the surrounding township-life. Once inside, the silence, cleanliness and white plastered buildings make you almost forget you’re right inside a township. Only the pumping house-music and hooting taxi’s that always deﬁne Alexandra’s daily rhythm in muted form remind you of where you are. In the course of my stay my relationship with the family Maloke grew towards one in which I was treated as a family member. Kgakgi referred to me as a ‘brother’, but treated me like a son, while Thoko smilingly told everyone she was my mother and took care of me as such. And I was taken care of indeed. Thoko cooked me delicious pap and chakalaka, dumplings2 and chicken-wings on a daily basis, while Kgakgi, always busy ‘doing business’, chatted with business partners, listened to jazz or just simply enjoyed a drink and his daily cigarette of daga. In the course of my research Harry introduced me to many people, customs, local food and places. He introduced me to the township-style of greeting and pretty soon I was walking around on my own, using basic tsotsitaal3 slangwords like heita hola, sharp sharp, sho and eish4 and the proper hand-signals that accompanied them, to whomever. Harry showed me the many shortcuts to go wherever you needed to be going, so I moved around the township in little alleys and between shacks and yards like a ‘proper’ local. He took me out to the many shebeens5 and clubs
would be from now on ‘7th Selborne’, meaning I lived on 7th avenue, nearby its corner with Selborne street 2 Pap is a porridge made from mielie-meal that is often combined with chakalaka a spicy vegetable dish and dumplings, cooked bread-like sliced pieces of dough 3 Tsotsitaal is a township language that is constructed out of the grammar of various languages 4 Respectively expressing: a greeting, a conﬁrmation that all is well, an afﬁrmation and an expression of disbelief 5 Originally illicit bars where beverages were sold without a licence. Nowadays many shebeens are legalized
C HAPTER 2. R ESEARCH - PARAMETERS AND CONTEXT
that Alexandra hosts and I found myself delving into the energetic beer- and bassinfested party-scene that would deﬁne Alex-nights from Friday till Monday. Each night had its own hotspots. Fridays would be a day to jive6 at Mkaya on 1st street, on Saturdays you could choose between Chicks and Banjello’s in Tsutsumani. On Sundays Joe‘s Butcher provided meat, beers and pumping house-rhythms, ﬁlling the streets of ‘12th Roosevelt’7 with a huge and energetic dancing crowd, followed by an after-party at Mielies, while Mondays Chicks again was the place to be. In each club pumping, bass vibrating local house and kwaito8 rhythms deﬁned the nights, on which people would make their amazing and unique robotesque Pantsula9 moves, whistling and shouting to the beats while dumpies10 or ‘proper’ 750ml beer-bottles would be consumed. Often, local hot-shots were joyriding with their fancy sportscars and expensive motorbikes and roared the engines to the beats, while bystanders cheered and whistled at the scene. Each weekend the cycle would repeat itself– same, but different and always enjoyable. “It is happening in Alex” was a popular phrase for local Alexandrians to celebrate the vibrancy of their township. It surely was. But this positive celebration of township life stands in stark contrast with the negative imaginaries township spaces receive in Western and South African society.
Africa imagined at home
“Do you want to die!?” A close relative of mine expressed her horror in somewhat grotesque terms of my plans to conduct my research in Alexandra. Although her statement reﬂected mainly her sincere concern for my safety, it also testiﬁed to the image of “Africa” in general, “South Africa” in particular and the black poor, urban spaces within the latter as spaces of violence, danger, disorder and insecurity. Of course, South Africa’s crime statistics place it at the top of the worldwide crime league. This is a nation where murder, rape, hijacking and burglary have created a huge market for 24-hour armed security companies and panic-buttons,
Township slang for dancing Meaning the corner of 12th avenue with Roosevelt street 8 A music genre that is combination of housemusic, ‘African’ sounds, hiphop and rap that originated in township spaces 9 A township style comprising musical preference, clothing style and particular dance-moves 10 33 cl bottles of beer or cider
A FRICA IMAGINED AT HOME
where fences, barking dogs, bars and barb-wired walls dominate suburban streets, where the tourism industry seems to be obsessed with safety and not to forget, where countless victims of those crimes are living with their trauma‘s, memories and losses. Again, all this should obviously be placed in a context of apartheid, which has created one of the most unequal societies in the world and where education, prosperity and health are still unevenly distributed on racial divides. I recall one day when I was walking around with a Dutch girl in Alexandra, hoping to give her a sense of daily township life. What struck her most was that “people look[ed] so happy”, testifying to an image she had in mind of township places as ones of suffering. Clearly she expected those people to be unhappy, strongly informed by stereotypical images that Western society likes to reproduce. These Western perceptions of Africa that morally and ultimately draw the line between “us” and “them”, “modern” and “traditional”, “civilised” and “uncivilised”, “developed” and “backwards” seem to forget that due to colonialism and globalization ‘the West’ forms a signiﬁcant part of South Africa. Sandton, a highly Westernstyle suburb of shopping malls and ofﬁce buildings, can be seen from the slopes of Alexandra. Johannesburg in particular –as many other South African urban spaces– is a “truly global city” with a “multiplicity of registers in which it is African; European, or even American” (Mbembe and Nuttall 2008). The city is even said to be the “premier African metropolis” par excellence, symbolizing the “African modern”, strongly connected to various forms of circulation of people, capital, ﬁnance and images (ibid.). But Alexandra itself too is not only a space of poverty, but also a space where new cultures of commodiﬁcation are emerging: cultures that “underlie new aesthetic forms, of which cell phones, cars, and various registers of fashion are but examples” (ibid.). Though not evenly developed spatially, the African modern permeates South African daily life in many ways. Township spaces are often imagined as homogeneous places of shacks and deteriorated living-conditions. The spatial reality in Alexandra is far from as simplistic as those images would lead one to believe. ‘Old Alexandra’, the center of the township, mainly consists of yards of (double story) shacks, spaza-shops11 , brick-houses and ﬂats. Yards –small plots of land, occupied by several families– often shared toilet facilities, but electricity and running water is widely available. Old Alexandra not
An informal shop, usually run from home within township spaces
C HAPTER 2. R ESEARCH - PARAMETERS AND CONTEXT
only forms the centre in terms of spatial location, but is clearly the economic and social heart of the township that ﬁlls its streets with vibrant life. Shouting and talking people, hooting taxi-cars, roaming children and street-sellers screaming their slogans to attract their customers are ﬁlling its streets during the day. While at night life is as busy, but mostly with youngsters who drink beer, gamble or dance to pumping house- and kwaito-rhythms, while the many rats that form a signiﬁcant underground part of Alexandra‘s urban-formation constantly run away from the footsteps that approach them. And even this old part is comprised of different areas, some infamous for being dangerous, others known to be relatively safe. In the West, at 1st avenue, is Pan-Africa, the shopping area with a small shoppingmall12 , surrounded by many street-hawkers selling their goods. The area of ﬁrst until fourth avenue, is known as Beirut, and for many perceived to be a ‘Zulu-area’ or ‘KZN’13 . In the midst of Beirut, on the corner of fourth and London Road, the Madela hostel looms up, a huge grim structure, which is mostly (over)populated by male migrant workers from Kwazulu Natal and therefore locally perceived to be a Zulu-enclave. During its 100 years of existence, Alexandra has grown rapidly. Right across the Jukskei river lies East-Bank, a suburban neighbourhood with fairly large luxury houses and surrounded by gardens and fenced off with walls. Obviously, this area is inhabited by the relatively well-off. Next to that is the Tsutsumani location, a former sports-community that was build for the African games and which is now transformed into a residential area. To the North of old Alexandra, bordering the neighbouring suburb Marlboro, is a deserted industrial area, its empty buildings rapidly populated by residents desperate for a proper roof over their head. South of Marlboro lies an area called ‘Transit Camp’, a temporary space with simple ‘matchbox’ houses, which are populated by people waiting for a permanent space of residence. On the Northern banks of the Jukskei river is a highly impoverished area called Setswetla, popularly known as “the graveyard”. This area lacks running water and electricity and the spatial environment mainly consists of shacks made of any piece of material usable that construct a chaotic maze of winding, dirty paths. Due to the fact that Setswetla is situated in the ﬂood-line, its shacks are regularly ﬂooded
At my time of residence a large shoppingmall was in the process of being constructed, as well as
a triple-storied taxi-rank 13 KwaZulu Natal, the Zulu province of South Africa
A FRICA IMAGINED AT HOME
during rainy days. More to the North of Setswetla is a little fenced-off enclave called ‘Silvertown’ that earns its name from the blinking curved aluminium plates of which its houses are built of. It is inhabited by a small community of people displaced due to a dismantled building that had to make way for the new shopping mall. Next to Silvertown is Extension 7, a newly build RDP-area that many Alexandrians regard as a desired place of residence for its relative new houses and therefore the source of a lot of tensions. All these areas have their own socio-economic dynamics, grades of available facilities, spatial structures and demographic particularities, while obviously embedded and connected within the larger social and spatial township structure. Although Alex is highly imagined within South African society to be unsafe for and by Whites, I have never felt so. My only negative experience was a young and obviously drunken guy shouting at me while walking on the streets: “You are fucking with our temptation! You are FUCKING with our temptation! This is Alexandra you!”. Luckily his temptation wasn‘t put into any action. But while my experience has notably been on the safer side, for many Alexandrians this has not been the case. They often live in a world where violence and/or the threat of violence is always present (Ashforth 1998). Due to the township’s high crime-rates and senses of insecurity of its inhabitants, Alexandra has become in many ways a very sociallycontrolled community. This is illustrated by reassertions of local control in the form of vigilantism to more brutal forms of corporal punishment –popularly known as ‘people’s justice’ or ‘mob justice’– whereby the community takes matters into their own hands by beating up or even killing perceived criminals. These forms of communal justice have –especially in township-spaces– exposed the limits of the South Africa’s capacity to secure justice for all and the limited reach of the new values of human rights and non-violence (Buur and Jensen 2004). For many Alexandrians, mob-justice and vigilantism is considered as a morally rightful and necessary aspect of township life, riddled as it is with crime and danger. The xenophobic violence of May 2008 can be seen as a dramatic form of the community taking the law into their own hands: “by using violent means to take control of the township, the native people of Alexandra both asserted their township’s autonomy and demonstrated that their willing partnership with the government had ended with their patience” (Park 2009). But instead of the government, African immigrants were on the receiving end
C HAPTER 2. R ESEARCH - PARAMETERS AND CONTEXT of the violence.
Greener pastures, bleaker futures
While there are no ofﬁcial statistics, roughly 15% (approximately 60 000) of Alexandra’s residents are estimated to be of foreign origin (Alexandra Renewal Project 2008). Although it is very plausible this number has dropped due to the violence, it has been noted that roughly 75% of the approximately 1000 displaced people have returned to Alexandra (ibid.). Countries of origin vary from Nigeria, Malawi, the DRC, Ethiopia, Sudan, Zimbabwe and Mozambique amongst others. Citizens of the latter two countries form the majority of Alexandra’s migrant population. The majority of these in turn were of male Zimbabwean nationality due to their demographic overrepresentation and the inability of many Mozambicans to speak the English language. The migration stories they tell are thus often informed by the economic situation of their country of origin and can by no means be generalized to all migrants living in Alexandra. That being said, the experiences of many immigrants of various origins in South Africa remains strikingly similar as many studies have shown (Sharp 2008; Neocosmos 2005; Nyamnjoh 2007b; Landau, Ramjathan-Keogh, and Singh 2004, amongst others). Finding immigrants in order to conduct interviews for my research appeared to be not an easy task. A major difﬁculty was inherently implicated in my research question. As people tried to deconstruct their foreignness and forged an identity that would relatively free them from the fear of being a target of violence, how could I ﬁnd them? How should I approach them? And, more importantly, how would they react? My chosen strategy could determine whether potential informants were willing to provide me with sensitive information, since disclosing one’s foreignness would put them in a more vulnerable position. One anecdote exemplifying this dilemma, was when I blatantly – and irresponsibly – approached a street-vendor and asked him if he knew foreign immigrants I could speak with. “I know some Zimbabweans selling further down the road”, he replied, “just walk with me”. Once we were out of reach of his customers he told me he was a Zimbabwean himself, but didn‘t want his customers to know that and was happy to talk to me. This was my ﬁrst encounter with an example of the strategies I was looking for, but also made
G REENER PASTURES , BLEAKER FUTURES
me realize I would have to be much more careful with my strategies of approaching possible informants, both for the sake of ﬁnding informants for my research, but more importantly, for not putting them in danger in front of their South African neighbours. Gradually I realized that many street-hawkers around the shopping area of PanAfrica were of foreign origin. Due to their difﬁculties of ﬁnding entry within the formal employment market and the fact that most of them have to rely on themselves in the absence of their families, many immigrants sell goods on the streets. Consequently, my ﬁeldwork was mainly conducted around Pan-Africa, a place brimming with street-stalls, shouting market-salesmen, shopping consumers and mini-taxi’s. Gaining their trust proved a difﬁcult task. Often I found out that people suspected me to be a policeman or a representative from the government at ﬁrst, which they laughingly conﬁded to me once I had gained their conﬁdence. But as I spent my time in Pan-Africa on a daily basis, sitting and chatting and trying to casually speak to street-sellers about the subject I was doing research on, I became a familiar face. Informants whom I managed to interview reassured their sceptical friends that I could be trusted. But as South African customers were always within ear-reach, most interviews were conducted in a private environment or from a safe distance whereby our conversations could not be heard. My informants were, except for one woman, all young males ranging from their twenties to mid-thirties for several possible reasons. First of all, within Alexandra, a predominant perception exist that men have the authority. Not only did this result in men taking this authority to speak to me as such, but women often simply shied away and replied with “aah, I don‘t know” once I tried to ask them questions. This is a problem that others have observed as well in places where men are assumed to have authority and women appear “less accustomed, and to feel less of an entitlement, to assume authorship or narrative expression” (Malkki 1995a). Another problem of conducting interviews with women was my being a male. Platonic relationships between men and women in Alexandra are perceived to be impossible, exempliﬁed by local expressions like “women are here to fuck” or other sexual related statements that typify the dominant perception amongst men on male-female relationships. A very educated and outspoken Zimbabwean women once told me she couldn‘t speak to me, since it would lead to presumptions amongst her friends
C HAPTER 2. R ESEARCH - PARAMETERS AND CONTEXT
of her fooling around. Because I was a highly visible outsider within the community, discrete appointments were almost impossible.
Expectations of a better life in the “ﬁelds of gold”
Many informants explained their motivation to leave their country of origin in terms of looking for “greener pastures”:
And I came in the same year I ﬁnished, I came this side. To look for greener pastures. Because, back home it’s difﬁcult, back home. You can’t work at home, there’s no work, food, clothing. So I decided to come this side (Sibusizo, Zimbabwe 2009a).
Without exception, all my non-South African informants motivated their decision to come “this side” in similar terms. While this may be because the majority of them were from bankrupt Zimbabwe, where there “are no jobs”, “no food”, “no money”, “people are suffering” and pastures are far from green, South Africa is imagined as the ‘United States’ of Africa where business opportunities are plenty. These imaginations could simply be aroused by seeing adverts in a pamphlet: “Ah, I expect, like, work, everything, like, since I see some other pamphlet, you know, some magazines. Check the groceries, clothes, you know?” (Mozes, Zimbabwe 2009), or just by rumours of mythical proportions:
You see, when I grow up, there was a rumour which say, it’s called gold-ﬁelds, which means here in this area. Some of the people wishes to come to cross over to visit the gold-ﬁelds, to look for greener pastures (Robert, Zimbabwe 2009).
Due to the high density of people living in Alexandra, many perceive it as a proﬁtable business area, as Sibusizo –a Zimbabwean youngster who lived in the relatively small neighbouring township Thembisa, but conducted his business on a daily basis in Alexandra– explained to me: “In Alexandra there is exposure, there are many customers this side” (Sibusizo, Zimbabwe 2009a). Many youngsters like him come to South Africa to support their family back home and often work seven days a week for many hours to do so. Johannesburg is often the ﬁrst place of arrival, being the economic centre epitomized by its well-known nickname “the city of gold”.
E XPECTATIONS OF A BETTER LIFE IN THE “ FIELDS OF GOLD ”
While some stay in South Africa permanently –and often undocumented– and rarely go back to their home-country, many others enter the country to work for as long as their entry-visa permits (three months) and return back to their family with money and shopping-goods, and then re-enter South Africa a few weeks later. By going “in and out in and out in and out” (Innocent, Zimbabwe 2009) between South Africa and their country of origin, often Zimbabwe, immigrants tried to live up to the responsibilities and expectations of their families. The little money that remains from what they earn (often around 100 to 300 Rands per day, 9 to 28 euro a day) they often used to stock their street-stalls, send remittances across the border and buy groceries and luxury goods to bring home:
Mozes: Yeah. I send money every month. Every month I must try and give them something, yeah. They even charge us for sending money that side Me: So you are saving groceries as well, ne? Mozes: Yeah, I’m saving groceries. Here, I’ve got some soja-beans and some mielie-rice. [...] Yeah, every week I buy something, every week I buy something. When I go to Zimbabwe it will be a big bag. They even deliver it (Mozes, Zimbabwe 2009).
As I was in South Africa on a tourist visa I –as many migrants– had to go “in and out” of the country to be able to extend it. When I was about to depart from Joburg Park Station, I was amidst a busload of Zimbabweans who were destined to their Zimbabwean families and dressed up in stylish clothing and cool-looking sunglasses. They would for sure give the impression to their familiars of having made it in their new homeland, I imagined. The loads of goods they were taking were impressive: trollies, packed with fridges, other electrical goods, bags and boxes stuffed meters high and pulled by a readily available employee. The bus couldn’t carry the entire load in its luggage room, so we all ended up being packed in between the remaining boxes and bags in the bus itself. It gave me a tiny insight into the complex dynamics of migration and the experience of bribing myself across the border. In order to avoid the bus being stripped searched everybody folded 20 Rands in his or her identity-document, which was all being handed over to the border police. Nonetheless, we still had to wait for three hours due to the high amount of trafﬁc that tried to cross at that particular time. As we arrived at night, the chaos – fully loaded buses with migrants and their goods, border-policemen conducting
C HAPTER 2. R ESEARCH - PARAMETERS AND CONTEXT
their informal business, and the other politics of border-crossing – was a fascinating opportunity to observe. The electriﬁed fences that marked the national boundary could be seen from the border-post, in the midst of darkness. At one point I heard a woman screaming and saw some silhouettes just a couple of 100 meters away from us. It gave me an eerie feeling and I asked my Zimbabwean neighbour what happened. “She was trying to cross the border, but was probably mugged by a tsotsi14 ”, he shrugged as if nothing happened. Bribing, illegal trafﬁcking, jumping borders, tsotsi’s trying to take advantage of one‘s vulnerable position suddenly seemed a perfectly normal aspect of our journey. Aside from the business opportunities, many immigrants decide to live their life in Alexandra because friends or family from ‘back home’ are living there already (Sibusizo, Zimbabwe 2009b; Patrick, Zimbabwe 2009; Prince, Zimbabwe 2009; Mozes, Zimbabwe 2009). It is also simply because many people of the same national origin are providing them with a social network, business and/or housing opportunities and a sense of familiarity:
at least this side I work with my brothers, the ones from home. These guys, they are from Zimbabwe. And I enjoy that, you know, being in the company of other guys from home. You know, it’s much easier that way, it’s much easier that way (Sibusizo, Zimbabwe 2009a).
Imagine living as a youngster in a place where the environment is hostile to you, far away from your friends and family, having to rely solely on yourself to provide for your daily needs and at the same time feeling the immense pressure of succeeding to take care of your family back home. Being accompanied by familiar faces of similar cultural and socio-economic backgrounds makes life indeed a little bit easier. When you have to deal with memories of terror and the daily experience of spaces and faces that remind you of violence for many immigrants this forms a crucial part of bearing those difﬁculties.
The disillusion of illusion
South African township-gangster
T HE DISILLUSION OF ILLUSION
However, life in South Africa has rarely lived up to the high expectations my informants had of the country. First of all, many expressed the hardship they had to endure by starting a whole new life in the midst of a culturally and socially alien environment and often having nothing but some clothing. Mozes considered the feeling of being “lost”, while he had to live up to the expectations back home to be very “hard”:
Me: So is South Africa the way you expected it to be? Mozes: No, because it’s hard. Because ﬁrst time coming over this side, it was like, fuck. You know, starting life from scratch. Not knowing no-one, no friends, new people, new language. So, you will be like, lost, ﬁrst few months come here, lost lost lost, like end up missing back home again. But now, check, I don’t like going back home, without carrying something you know? They expect if you go to another country, if I’m coming back, you have to show I’ve been there, I was working, I’ve got myself one, two, three. Yah (Mozes, Zimbabwe 2009)
While many are able to set up a relatively proﬁtable business after a while –and get one, two, three as Mozes calls it–, even expectations of a ‘good life’ remain an illusion for many immigrants. Nevertheless Josef regarded life here still as better than in Zimbabwe and until the country recovers from its economic destruction, a hard life is still preferred by him above one in which ‘things aren’t valuable’:
Josef: You know, when I came to South Africa I expected a lot. But. EVEN NOW, I haven’t even achieved ONE of the things that I expected from South Africa. I was expecting good life. Because, by that time neh? Things were slowly slowly changing, there by our country. You see? So we thought, maybe South Africa is what? It’s a better place for us. BUT. As for now, maybe by that time it was better, but as for now it’s not. You can even see there are too many people, no jobs. You see? It’s difﬁcult. It’s difﬁcult. Me: But is life better here than in Zimbabwe? Josef: Yeah, life is better, just because, things are valuable. Shops, food and stuff, you see? There’s much more hunger there in Zimbabwe. But if things are valuable in Zimbabwe, I think the lifestyle there is better then here. You see? (Josef, Zimbabwe 2009)
Ob, who sold pirated Nigerian movies at Pan-Africa, was a very outspoken, energetic and articulate man. I would often hang out with him and philosophized
C HAPTER 2. R ESEARCH - PARAMETERS AND CONTEXT
with him about township life as a foreigner, politics and daily business while observing him charming his customers into buying his Nigerian movies, movies in which witchcraft or love ﬁgured predominantly. His outspokenness and intellectual wit provided me with a lot of in-depth information, which he managed to place in a wider context of politics and experience. His experience in South Africa made him very angry and he passionately stressed the words he was upset about. He seemed to be particular disappointed with the discourse of human rights, equality and opportunities that South Africa promises the “people who live in it”:
That anthem can MAKE you wanna come. But you get there and you ﬁnd things are VERY different. The discrimination is just too much. You know, what they call ethnicity ne? These people they play it in a very different role. Unlike in other African countries, so you can see clearly that, that this is, when you go to Rwanda, you see that this is a Tutsi, you know. But here, they play it in a way that you you think that, ehm, everybody is trying to promote something. But it’s a lie! It’s the SAME thing they are doing here. They can easily make you to feel that you are not ONE of their own. Do you understand me? (Ob, Ghana 2009)
Ethnicity is ‘played’, according to Ob, as if everybody is equal no matter what background, while in reality he experienced this institutionalized promise as far from true. While the constitution promotes universal values and a nation for all, Ob clearly feels discriminated. Indeed, during the violence ethnicity was played out in various –especially violently excluding– ways. Before I proceed to those memories of terror of May 2008, let me ﬁrst outline a small history of Alexandra and the ways identity has been played out in the township since its early years of existence.
Alexandra’s historical dynamics and discourse on identity
Alexandra’s history is one in which struggle, political uprisings, insider/outsider cleavages, and the enduring danger of demolition and forced removals have imbued the community with a strong political consciousness. While Alexandra rapidly politicized in the 1940s a kaleidoscope of political and cultural activities has created political and cultural pluralism, which has been a “persisting and distinctive feature
A N EMERGING RURAL - URBAN FORMATION
of the township’s history” (Bonner and Nieftagodien 2008, p. 125). Many political activists began their activism during Alexandra’s many times of turmoil. Nelson Mandela, living brieﬂy in Alexandra, recalled that during the bus-boycott of 1943, he “departed from [his] role as an observer and [became] a participant” (ibid., p. 72). Or, to quote Jika Twala, “As long as you were born in Alexandra, you were a politician” (ibid., p. 125). As much as Soweto is historically imagined within South African society as the centrifugal political centre in which the Soweto student uprising of 1976 catalyzed the national apartheid struggle, Alexandra is known for the important role it played in Black political mobilisation since the early apartheid years. Although its history is strongly embedded within a national historical narrative, there are many particular localities that have deﬁned Alexandra’s distinctive character, a character in which both struggle, deprivation and poverty as resistance, the crystallization of an urbanized identity, a strong sense of independence and a rich social and cultural life have played important parts.
An emerging rural-urban formation
If it was up to Herbert Papenfus, who bought the piece of land in 1905, Alexandra would have been a farming area for White Afrikaners. However, because of lack of White interest, he was forced to change it to a freehold township for Africans and Coloureds in 1912. Not coincidentally, this occurred just a year before the Native Land Bill was passed, which prohibited non-Whites from buying plots of land; the result was a desperate scramble for land by Africans and Coloureds. It brought many rural immigrants to the township, and as land-owners they were ﬁlled with a great sense of independence and took pride in their rural background (ibid., pp. 1821): “property meant independence, self-worth and respectability, and it clearly demarcated residents of Alexandra from the rest of Black society” (ibid.). Many lifetrajectories of Alexandrians were deﬁned in terms of ‘sharecropper turned urban businessman and entrepreneur’ (ibid., p. 5). These emerging land-owner identities largely suppressed ethnic rivalries of past decades, which was even described as detribalization, but could in reality be more accurately described as surpassing a “loose, diffuse, non-traditional ethnic consciousness” that always loomed under the political and social surface (ibid., pp. 53-4).
C HAPTER 2. R ESEARCH - PARAMETERS AND CONTEXT
Urbanisation and rapid populationgrowth
During the rapid urbanisation of the 1940s, apartheid became highly dependent on cheap Black labour, which led to a massive inﬂux of migrants from the rural areas looking for opportunities in the urbanized industrial areas. While an enigma within White suburbia, Alexandra nonetheless became incorporated within the ofﬁcial boundaries of the city. Simultaneously, this led to growing demands for demolition, which paradoxically coincided with the increasing demand for cheap labour. The population of Alexandra therefore grew rapidly, feared by the state as spiralling out of control. The state attempted to manage this dilemma by transforming the area into a massive migrant labour compound, ﬂattening people’s homes and erecting “grim ediﬁces of migrant hostels” on its ruins. In 1952 the Mentz Committee was appointed by the Minister of Native Affairs and charged with giving “substance to the 1950 Group Areas Act”, implemented for racial and business segregation. The committee recommended “that [Alexandra’s] population should be reduced [from 90.000 to 30.000] so that it ultimately was comprised of residents working in the northern suburbs” (ibid., pp. 172-3). These desperate state attempts to control the inﬂux of Black workers led to the ﬁrst signs of Black urban resistance, in which the youth played a decisive role. Tertiary institutions and secondary schools turned gradually into political arenas for Black mobilisation (ibid., pp. 10-11).
Politicization and radicalization
The late 1940s and 1950s marked a period of many political protests, which gradually turned many inhabitants into radicalized and militant political activists and out of which a generation of young and educated intellectuals arose. Inward-looking political consciousness quickly gained a more mass-based, uniﬁed outward character as the people of Alexandra began reaching out to wider political organisations on broader political issues (ibid., pp. 53-5, 59). Both in 1944 and 1957 mass political mobilisation led to bus boycotts within Alexandra, in protest against the rising prices of public transport. Both boycotts “fundamentally shifted the direction and [...] the tempo of political struggle countrywide”, out of which apartheid architect and president H. F. Verwoerd noted that “the really successful boycotts occurred in uncon-
U NITED , BUT POLITICALLY FRAGMENTED
trolled townships”. Because of its radicalized nature and rapid population growth, Alexandra in particular was targeted with repressive inﬂux controls and continuous threats of demolition and forced removals of the Black population to racially segregated Bantu areas in order to bring the township “under very strict control” (Bonner and Nieftagodien 2008, pp. 8-10, 148). But, concurrently, its issues were widely debated in the national press and for the ﬁrst time seemed to impress themselves on the minds of a section of the White public. Alexandra started to symbolize the exploitation and oppression of urban Africans more generally. More importantly, the success of the bus-boycotts, made painfully clear that the only language the oppressor seemed to understand was mass organised action (ibid., pp. 72,80). The mid 1960s to the early 1970s marked an era of heavy state-repression and relative political quiescence. But the lulling political consciousness was strongly awakened in the 70s, of which the student uprising in 1976 was the ﬁrst major township revolt, propelling the nationwide struggle against apartheid to unprecedented heights. As a Black Consciousness (BC) inspired protest against the inferior Bantu-education and the introduction of Afrikaans in Black schools as the main language, it marked a decisive turning point in national resistance politics. Both periods of resistance were characterised by its diverse political character, grass-roots mobilisation, a strong representation of socialist politics and the heavy inﬂuence of a “layer of organic intellectuals and working-class activists” (ibid., pp. 10-11). But it was mainly young students that inspired the movement, forming local organizations co-ordinating “their activities beyond individual townships” and consciously reaching out to parents to support their demands (ibid., p. 11).
United, but politically fragmented
Labour disputes were of important signiﬁcance in the mobilisation of independent trade unions and the reawakening of the urban workers class. Both student and workers movements would coalesce around solidarity actions, providing the catalyst for a much broader resistance movement. Marxist ideologies and literature inﬂuenced the township-based intellectuals and emphasised the importance of worker solidarity and activism. A diverse movement of different and often competing political youth groups and trade unions would emerge from these heterogeneity of
C HAPTER 2. R ESEARCH - PARAMETERS AND CONTEXT
grass-roots organisations and would radically deﬁne Alexandra’s diverse political climate, a climate which exists to this day. None of the popular organisations, like the Congress of South African Students (COSAS), the United Democratic Front (UDF) and the Alexandra Youth Congress (AYCO), could impose their political dominance in the township. The so called People’s Power organs, civic yard and street committees, further propelled the struggle, which eventually brought apartheid to its knees. Yards and streets were both local spaces of participatory democracy and spaces of contestation between property owners and tenants, based on a long tradition of selfhelp and Alexandra’s strong sense of community (ibid., pp. 12-14).
Impoverishment, township wars and the demise of apartheid
The continuous struggle against removal deﬁned a strong sense of belonging and ownership in Alexandra, in which remaining residents deﬁned themselves as ‘authentic’ bona ﬁdes. Eventually the government announced the reprieve of Alexandra’s removal in 1979, leading to enormous hopes that Alexandra would ﬁnally enjoy the fruits of redevelopment. However, in 1980 the Alexandra Master Plan for development, desperately failed to materialise due to the crisis of apartheid in the 1980s and the government’s privatised policy of housing delivery in order to foster a black middle class. Only a small minority could afford the relatively expensive houses that would be built as a result of this. Secondly, the massive urbanisation of the 80s again led to tens of thousands impoverished migrants moving to the township areas. Lack of proper housing led to a huge increase of peripheral informal settlements within Alexandra, and the township gradually transformed into a huge squatter camp. Alexandra became widely regarded as the most overcrowded place in the country, as former working-class areas were converted into “reservoirs of the unemployed” (ibid., pp. 14-15). These events did not only further impoverish the township spaces dramatically. They simultaneously triggered further resistance and an upsurge in labour disputes as well as the growth of perceived insiders/outsiders cleavages. Intertwined with political and material struggle and ethnic afﬁliation, these eventually culminated in the township wars of the 1990s, in which thousands of people were killed in a bloody conﬂict between Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) aligned hostel dwellers and
I MPOVERISHMENT, TOWNSHIP WARS AND THE DEMISE OF APARTHEID
ANC-supporting township residents. These events marked a bloody end to an era in which decades of struggle against oppression and deprivation had caused the white oppressive regime to ﬁnally dismantle its oppressive apartheid system. The democratic change of 1994 resulted in major hopes for change for the Black majority. However, delays in service delivery caused more overcrowding and the former unity of the struggle against apartheid began to crumble, resulting in a deepening of existing social cleavages and a struggle over limited resources. It is in the context of these historical localities and legacies, embedded in broader national and global developments, that the xenophobic violence that ‘swept’ through the township in May 2008 should be placed into and in which I will come back to the next chapter.
“They were KILLING, you see?”
“They were KILLING, you see?”, Ndundu said to me bluntly with his typical deep grunted voice and twinkling eyes. I was sitting together with him and his family next to their shack in the impoverished area of Setswetla, drinking beer and talking about those days of violence. As Ndundu had serious problems lowering his voice while cracking jokes about the perceived laziness and stupidity of South Africans, his family was very concerned about the possibilities of neighbours hearing them. “We have to go inside”, his wife whispered, after which Ndundu lowered his voice and responded: “but do you think they will understand?” and made us all burst out in laughter. Their perceptions of South Africans as unable to speak proper English, being lazy, stupid, ignorant and jealous were a constant source of entertainment for Ndundu and his family. Eventually we moved inside, since Ndundu was unable to lower his voice for more than a minute while he kept constantly ridiculing South Africans with his infectious humor, which made the others obviously uncomfortable. Although many respondents told me stories of fear and horror and were as wary as Ndundu’s family of their neighbours, most of them either expressed their genuine anger and contempt for South Africans or expressed their perceptions in similar ways to Ndundu. By placing themselves morally above their South African neighbours and using humour or anger as ways to express this contempt seemed to be a way to deal with their experience of suffering. As we have seen in the ﬁrst chapter, a hegemonic xenophobic state-discourse and practice has provided for a stereotypical and racialized image of the foreigner in South African public discourse. To what extent reﬂected the days “they were 43
T HE RIOT AND ITS STRUCTURED CHAOS
KILLING” the same stereotypical perceptions towards those that were killed, injured and/or chased away as those stereotypes of the makwerekwere within South Africa’s hegemonic xenophobic state-discourse? What kind of stakes claimed those perpetrators of violence and what was the basis of their motivation? How did the violence originate and what dynamics came into play? What were the localized contexts in which the violence has to be placed? As xenophobic perceptions are shaped by a hegemonic political discourse that has provided a set of ideological parameters by which socio-economic grievances of South Africans can be articulated (Neocosmos 2008), to what extent do these discourses about insiders and outsiders reﬂect localized dynamics of the violence that was said to be xenophobic? And, relatedly, how did those cleavages express former cleavages that have informed Alexandra’s socio-historical landscape? Clearly, ethnic or national identities are often politically constructed as South African history has so painfully made clear and as we will see, the political construction of insiders and outsiders has always been a notable aspect of Alexandra’s particular history. Moreover, given that foreigners are predominantly considered by various elements within South African society to be a threat to South African resources and public services, how have these perceptions informed the origin of the violence? This chapter is concerned with a reconstruction of perceptions on the dynamics of the riots, which is ﬁrmly placed in Alexandra’s local and historical context. As the story unfolds we will see that while South Africa’s hegemonic xenophobic discourse is clearly reﬂected in the dynamics of the violence, it cannot be fully understood without placing it in the local socio-economic and historical landscape of Alexandra.
The riot and its structured chaos
Codifying violence in analytical terms –be they nationalistic, ethnic, xenophobic, political or racial and the like– is always a political choice. Violence, in other words, is not a social fact or a cultural experience until it is given signiﬁcance by analyzing subjects (Warren 1993). To complicate matters even further, violence itself is already an ambiguous concept that shades over from the direct use of force to cause bodily harm (Brubaker and Laitin 1998) to the “deeply-ingrained, disguised, and habitual forms of ‘structural violence’ that systematically negate the will and deny
C HAPTER 3. “T HEY WERE KILLING, YOU SEE ?”
agency to vast numbers of people in modern societies simply because they are poor, ‘coloured’, inﬁrm, elderly, vagrant, or migrant” (Jackson 2002). By analysing conﬂict using grand analytical concepts like globalization and modernity anthropologists often study these complex phenomena from a distance, thereby silencing the harsh realities of those victims themselves and create a profound silence about suffering (Green 1999). The story of immigrants in Alexandra needs to be told not only to do justice to their victimization. Reproducing a micro-analysis from their point of view will also help to capture a glimpse of the complex dynamics of the xenophobic violence. The vocabulairy and images that were employed within newspapers coverage of the violence often gave the impression of a homogeneous crowd acting with a collective subjective mind. Subject positions are not ﬁxed in advance, but constructed and construed by violent performance and this mutation of agency renders formal ideological rationale and prior contextual motivation unstable and even secondary (Feldman 1991). This has dramatic consequences for analysts trying to accurately answer questions about the nature of violent conﬂict, to the point where one ultimately realizes that what happened “is built on spirals of information, misinformation, and disinformation”, obscuring the divisions between “what is seen and what is heard, what is known and what is suspected, what is feared and what is fantasized, what is fact and what is ﬁction” (Comaroff and Comaroff 2006). But while the internal dynamics of riots can be described as highly disorderly and subjectively fragmented, there is deﬁnitely a structured pattern to be found within ethnic rioting, a structure that is deﬁned by rules of provocation, choice of targets, intensity of violence and termination (Horowitz 2001, p. 4). As the violence was dominantly labelled as xenophobic, one can discern many theoretical similarities with riots coined as ‘ethnic’. An ethnic riot can be deﬁned as “an intense, sudden, though not necessarily wholly unplanned, lethal attack by civilian members of one ethnic group on civilian members of another ethnic group, the victims chosen because of their group membership” (ibid., p. 1). And, the author argues, ethnic riots are thus synonymous with what are variously called “communal,” “racial,” “religious,” “linguistic,” or “tribal” disturbances. In the case of South Africa, while the victims were dominantly chosen because of their out-group membership –being non-South African–, we will see that ethnic, communal, racial, linguistic and even
R ECONSTRUCTING THE “ DAYS OF NOISE ”
tribal disturbances complicate the coinage of ‘xenophobic’. What will follow now is a reconstruction of the days of violence from the victims’ point of view, corroborated by theory, analysis and statements of South African informants. In this reconstruction I will try to answer the important questions of what happened, who did it and why it happened (at that particular time) eventually situating these events within the socio-historical landscape of Alexandra. Reading a riot is a difﬁcult task, but can provide clues, not only to the character of the violence, but also to the substance of group relations and the socio-economic context within which it occurs (Horowitz 2001, p. 8).
Reconstructing the “days of noise”
“It was Sunday that day”, Raphael started telling me, “I was staying with my wife. We looking at tv. I heard the people, just crying. Just the shacks [makes thumping sounds]. Hey, my friend, it was terrible. Eish, eish, eish. I see the people coming left and right, carrying the bags, carrying the TV’s” (Raphael Mozambique 2009). Raphael had been staying for several years in a small shack nearby the Zulu-hostel and while his car was lit alight a year ago by somebody he was “clashing” with, his cheerful nature was appreciated by his neighbours. He owned a small spaza-shop nearby his house where he sold the regular items of bottles of beers, cold-drinks, cigarettes, cookies, toiletries, bread and the like. While many victims were ‘pinpointed’ by their close neighbours as foreigners during the violence (Ellen, South Africa and Themba, Zimbabwe 2009; Mozes, Zimbabwe 2009), Raphael got tremendous help from his neighbours when the rioters came. As the crowd passed by and asked people “where are the Shangaan?1 ”, his neighbours told the crowd day in day out they did not know any Shangaans. After which the crowd continued their ethnic investigations at the other shacks (Raphael Mozambique 2009). When Raphael decided to go back to Mozambique for a month until the violence calmed down, his former neighbours even begged him to come back: “And people said, hey come my friend hey. The people are suffering, no cold drinks, no beers. Come, to open the business, we’ll help. Come back, just come back. Then we go there. They helped a
While Shangaan is an ethnic afﬁliation both to be found in South Africa and Mozambique, in
many stories it seemed that the label Shangaan was conﬂated with the Mozambican nationality
C HAPTER 3. “T HEY WERE KILLING, YOU SEE ?” lot” (ibid.).
While Raphael perceived the majority of his neighbours as “like brothers”, for many other victims, neighbours constituted a highly ambiguous category. For it was often the neighbours that told the rioters where to ﬁnd the foreigners and took the opportunity to loot when they were chased away. “The people who took things, must be guys who know us, who are around”, said Mozes to me and identiﬁed this as the very reason he was “scared of his neighbours” (Mozes, Zimbabwe 2009). Nevertheless, another South African neighbour helped Mozes by stocking his precious belongings inside her house and Mozes stressed that “not every South African was like those guys who was chasing us away” (ibid.). An old Zimbabwean man I accidently interviewed aptly described the violent event as “those days of noise” (Robert, Zimbabwe 2009) and this was a term that many coined to refer to those days. As the attacks predominantly happened at night, when most were sleeping, the ﬁrst memory many had when waking up was hearing... noise:
Hm, the day of the attack, it was like, by that day, it was on Sunday, yeah it was Sunday. And I think I was sleeping, it was about 9 O’clock. And by that time I was sleeping and I heard a lot of noise from outside. So when I woke up I tried to see what is going on. So I thought it was just people gathering, church services or something. But I heard that no, it’s not church services, it is a ﬁght and people are being beaten and by the time I came out of where I did stay, I found out that there is already someone that is killed (Collen, Zimbabwe and Friends 2009).
While people were sleeping, mobs of furious and often intoxicated people, armed with guns, iron sticks and all sorts of tools capable of (lethal) injuries were chanting and singing and banging the doors of perceived foreigners to force them to identify themselves. Having the ‘wrong’ identiﬁcation, being identiﬁed wrongly, being unable to identify yourself, having the ‘wrong’ bodily markers or just being in the wrong place at the wrong time could mean targets would have to leave everything behind, be burned, or even killed. ‘Noise’ seemed for many victims to symbolize these hours of chaos, terror and uncertainty. Part of this noise was a traditional Zulu song: Umshini Wami.2 As the song was chillingly used during those riots by rioters, the song is highly associated with memories of those days in 2008:
Umshini Wami, translated as ‘Bring me my machine gun’, is a popular Zulu song, formerly used
during the apartheid struggle by members of Umkhonto we Sizwe, the military wing of the African
R ECONSTRUCTING THE “ DAYS OF NOISE ”
Because when they sing that song [..] When they were singing [sings part of the song] They were coming! You see? [sings again] Otherwise, that song. It’s a mob. I tried to stay here, myself. But it was difﬁcult, because, you heard your neighbours being KICKED. In his room or her room. Being RAPED! (Ndundu and family, Zimbabwe 2009)
Hearing the song being sung during those days was for many foreigners a sign that they were in grave danger. While Ndundu was brave enough to stay in his house the ﬁrst day while he could hear his neighbours being kicked and raped, others decided not to try their luck and used various places to hide themselves. The roof was one of the common hiding places. As soon as some informants woke up and realized the ‘noise’ they heard wasn’t a church-gathering of some sort, they quickly climbed on top of their roof while the rioters broke into their house and looted their property as they were lying there, not able to do anything but watch (Robert and Roommates, Zimbabwe 2009; Benneth, Mozambique 2009; Patrick, Zimbabwe 2009). Others ran away and went to the riverbank or even the graveyard to spend the night (Benneth, Mozambique 2009; Benneth, Mozambique 2009; Ndundu and family, Zimbabwe 2009; Aunt Sibusizo, Zimbabwe 2009). The ones who were not so lucky to escape before the crowd knocked on their doors had to face them and try to convince them within minutes they were ‘Zulu’. If they would not be able to do this, they were chased away, beaten or even killed while their assets were taken:
Eh, somewhere like in May when the xenophobia started. Yeah. It started about 2 AM. At night. Yeah. A group of people, more than 200 people were singing, running, along the streets. Carrying sticks, iron bars, hummers, some have got guns, by that time. Yeah. They just come to your house to room ne. They knock, they say [speaks Zulu], meaning to say, open the door. If you are a Zulu speaking person, show that you are a Zulu. If you’re do not respond in a period of two minutes, they just break the door, get inside, they beat you. They take your assets, they go. Some were killed, but myself and my friends we managed to escape (Tendai, Zimbabwe 2009).
South African newspapers documented many angry attackers during the xenophobic violence who predominantly legitimized their actions with perceptions that
National Congress (ANC). Nowadays, the song is often used by president Zuma, stirring up controversies as being inappropriate in the context of rise of violent crime since the democratic transition
C HAPTER 3. “T HEY WERE KILLING, YOU SEE ?”
foreigners are “taking people’s jobs and reaping the beneﬁts of our freedom” (Tshabalala and Dibetle 2008). Not surprisingly, in Alexandra –one of the most densely populated and impoverished area’s in South Africa– informants shared similar experiences of Alexandrians blaming them for their socio-economic hardship and high crime-rates. “Why they were chasing?”, Prince asked himself, “they said foreigners were causing crime here in South Africa. They were taking their wives, they were taking their houses, taking jobs” (Prince, Zimbabwe 2009). These notions that foreigners are stealing jobs and houses are partly a result of various governmental policies that exclude foreigners from access to the formal employment and housing markets and make them a very real competitor with South Africans for jobs and housing within the informal sector (CORMSA 2008). “It is the AUTHORITY that needs to CHECK those things” as Ob said, clearly identifying the root of these problems as lying with government policy too. Because many immigrants are unable to ﬁnd formal employment and mostly have no families to rely on, they are often forced to work for below-average wages in order to survive and are therefore preferred by employers as cheap labour within the informal sector. Jeffrey’s South African wife explained that she wouldn’t work for the wages that her Malawian husband would work for in order to survive:
You see, you can say yeah or no about maybe they are taking their jobs. You see, when Malawians, like he’s Malawian ne? Indians, they are looking for somebody to work. Then they say, you are looking for somebody. I’m a South African, he’s an outsider. Then they say, ok, I’m going to give you 150 a week. Myself I’m going to say no, I don’t want that fee. Because what can I do with that 150? Then he [her Malawian husband] said, because he came here because he wanted work, then he say: ‘eish, if I lose this job, maybe I’ll stay more months without getting a job’. Then he say: ‘ne, I’ll take it’. you see? (Jeffrey, Malawi and his wife, South Africa 2009)
Within the housing market as well, foreigners are easy targets for exploitation by private landlords and corrupt ofﬁcials due to their exclusion from governmental housing plans. “It‘s the South Africans that should be blamed”, said Kumalo. After all, he argued, it’s the South Africans themselves that are the ones that make it possible that foreigners are jumping housing queues and make sure they are forced to do the “hard labour jobs”:
R ECONSTRUCTING THE “ DAYS OF NOISE ”
We came here, they allowed us. They gave us accommodation, they gave us work. So then now, eh, they say we are taking their houses. How can we take their houses, their land? Whilst they are the ones who are selling us shacks, shacks are too much in Alexandra, mkuku3 . Yeah, they are the ones who sold us or sell us, they are the ones makes us renting their houses. So now they are saying we are taking their accommodation and jobs, did you see, I haven’t seen any foreigner in the bank. I haven’t seen any foreigner, soldier, who’s a foreigner. I haven’t seen a minister who’s a foreigner. But, in this ehm, hard labour, you see, hard labour jobs. They don’t want to do it. So, we just do it as we are from somewhere else (Kumalo, Zimbabwe 2009).
The widely analysed xenophobic mindset of South Africans amongst all segments of their post-apartheid society (Cejas 2007; Comaroff and Comaroff 2001; Harris 2002; Landau, Ramjathan-Keogh, and Singh 2004, amongst many others)4 is clearly reﬂected within the daily experiences of immigrants in Alexandra and identiﬁed by them as how perpetrators of violence legitimized their violent actions. As we will see Alexandrians have historically always constructed localized forms of belonging and notions of entitlement by deﬁning who is a legitimate Alexandrian and who is not. This empty form of local authentic belonging was malleable to ﬂuid interpretation so that its Other could be constantly redeﬁned (Geschiere 2009). By legally formalizing the rights to employment and urban residence within categories of (il)legality, both the apartheid regime and its post-apartheid democratic successor have politically interpellated categories that provided impoverished Alexandrians with a vocabulary in order to claim what ‘belongs’ to them. Although the content of these categories has shifted over time, the vocabularies, discourses and forms of conﬂict in which they are mobilized for scarce resources are strikingly similar.
Township slang for a shack According to a survey conducted in 1997 and 1998 by the Southern African Migration Project
(SAMP), South African attitudes towards foreigners strongly resemble the Oxford deﬁnition of xenophobia as “[the] intense or irrational dislike or fear of people from other countries”. Particularly immigrants from African countries were thought by 37 percent to be “a threat to jobs and the economy”, while 48 percent perceived them as “a criminal threat” and 29 percent associated them with bringing deseases. Not surprisingly, 25 percent wanted a total ban on immigration, while approximately half of the population demanded “strict limits on the number of foreigners allowed into the country”. Only 6 percent (which dropped to 2 percent a year later) said that the government “should let anyone in who wants to enter” the country (Danso and McDonald 2001)
C HAPTER 3. “T HEY WERE KILLING, YOU SEE ?”
Alexandra and its history of redeﬁning the outsider
Since its early years of community formation Alexandra’s inhabitants have always been preoccupied with the deﬁnition who ‘truly’ is an Alexandrian and who is not. Rapid population growth, economic deprivation, overcrowded and impoverished conditions have resulted in a constant struggle within Alexandra’s community for scarce resources and the rights to space. The shortage on housing in particular has been an enduring source of conﬂict within the township, one that has created faultlines between ‘native’ Alexandrians (identifying themselves as bona ﬁdes in order to afﬁrm their historical beloning) on the one hand and rural-urban migrants and shack dwellers on the other. Insider/outsider notions have therefore been a fundamental aspect of the community’s discourse on identity. Although Alexandra’s spatial composition strongly resembled ethnic clustering since its early years, this gradually broke down under the tidal wave of sub-tenants who were desperately looking for accommodation that could be provided for by bona ﬁde property owners. Towards the 1950s, out of these unequal power relations that crystallized into a semipermanent struggle over resources and space, arose a class of landlords (Bonner and Nieftagodien 2008, pp. 86-9). Shortage of space and housing and a rapid population growth –catapulted by the search for labour in the informal sector of urbanizing Johannesburg– increased this tension between stand-holders and tenants and forced many rural migrants to erect shacks on the outskirts of the township (ibid., pp. 934,108-9,302). Alexandra became a hub for many rural-urban migrants to access Johannesburgs employment market and its population increased rapidly during the 1950s5 . In order to control this ‘inﬂux of natives’ into South Africa’s urban conﬁnes the apartheid regime introduced the “Inﬂux Control Act”, a permit system that formally determined the rights to urban space and employment of ‘natives’ perceived to be “streaming” into Johannesburg’s labour market. This system legally classiﬁed the black population within urban areas in categories of ‘legals’ and ‘illegals’ which determined their rights to space and employment in the cities. Although many ‘illegals’ were removed to homelands6 in the early 70s, overcrowding and lack of housing remained a
In 1955 the Alexandra’s population grew allegedly to somewhere in the region of 135.000 The Group Areas Act, passed in 1950, geographically deﬁned ethno-racial segregated ‘native’
homelands designated for the various ethnic and racial groupings within South Africa
A LEXANDRA AND ITS HISTORY OF REDEFINING THE OUTSIDER
signiﬁcant parameter of Alexandra’s spatial life. The continuous inﬂux of new immigrants who mainly occupied the migrant hostels or the erected ‘illegal’ settlements within Alexandra constantly reshaped the character of its population (Bonner and Nieftagodien 2008, pp. 232-3). The state’s classiﬁcations of ‘legals’ and ‘illegals’ were increasingly politically appropriated by bona ﬁde residents in order to claim scarce resources. ‘Legal’ residents often complained that ‘illegals’ were undermining their access to housing. These notions exposed an important fault-line between those apartheid-created categories of ‘legal’ permit holders and ‘illegal’ outsiders/nonpermit holders. This malleable way of deﬁning who’s ‘in’ and who’s ‘out’ made it possible for newcomers to eventually become bona ﬁdes themselves, while the enduring inﬂux of newcomers made sure there would always be a group of ‘others’, ‘aliens’ or amagoduka’s who could be blamed for the shortage of housing and other social ills (ibid., pp. 312-3). When the restrictive inﬂux control system was abolished in 1986, a mass exodus of South Africans from impoverished areas moved to urban townships. The state failed miserably in the provision of adequate housing and during the late 80s and early 90s the number of shacks rapidly outstripped formal dwellings7 (ibid., p. 329). These socio-economic changes resulted in a series of interlocking problems of overcrowding, unemployment, poverty, crime and shifting political rivalries that threatened to tear the community apart (ibid., p. 329). Promises of service delivery largely remained just that: a promise and conditions in the township deteriorated rapidly8 . These developments were embedded in rapid political changes, of which the release of Nelson Mandela and the negotiations to end apartheid created new fault lines between several interest groups.
Political contestations were hardly new and were an integral part of Alexandra’s history, but new political fault lines were emerging in the early 1990s as several interest groups, representing different sectors of the township’s population began to articulate and mobilise around particular socio-economic interests that had tended to be obscured under apartheid (ibid., p. 345).
By January 1991 a staggering 17.000 shacks were counted, compared with only 7.372 formal units. In mid-1991, 80 per cent of the residents were still living without water, sewerage or electricity, 75
per cent of the households were living of a monthly income of below R1000 and employment levels rarely exceeded 50 per cent (Bonner and Nieftagodien 2008, pp. 332-3)
C HAPTER 3. “T HEY WERE KILLING, YOU SEE ?”
And as the democratic transition opened up previously forbidden cities to the former oppressed population, Johannesburg’s popular imagination as “the city of gold” attracted many South African rural migrants and foreign border-crossers to move to its urban spaces. The population of the Gauteng province, the Johannesburg inner-city and Alexandra expanded signiﬁcantly within a time-span of just ﬁve years9 . The result was an ever-increasing proliferation of shacks within Alexandra along the benches of the Jukskei-river. Councillors from Alexandra soon formulated plans to drastically reduce the population by removing 150.000 people and identiﬁed targets for removal as “illegal immigrants, people living in hazardous areas such as the banks of the Jukskei River and those living on land zoned for use other than residential” (ibid., p. 342). The echoes of apartheid-plans for de-densiﬁcation by classifying authorised and unauthorised residents as bona ﬁdes and newcomers were striking. By categorizing Alexandra’s population in terms of who qualiﬁes for housing and who doesn’t, the perennial division between insider and outsider was again brought into sharp relief. The shortage of housing continued to be a main source of conﬂict. As servicedelivery was perceived to be slow by Alexandra’s inhabitants, struggles amongst them began to intensify over the allocation of resources. The deﬁnition of who was entitled for service-delivery became a central point of friction in the township and sharpened the enduring divisions between insiders and outsiders, the bona ﬁdes and the newcomers. Who counted as newcomer now became more ﬂuid than ever before, which led to a fracturing of the community in the form of the proliferation of organisations who represented the interests of the various segments of the township. Alexandrians increasingly perceived newcomers to be jumping housing queues to the detriments of ‘legal’ residents as in May 1991 when rooidoeke10 attacked the shack area within Beirut as a way of “getting rid of squatters”, perceived to be jumping the housing-queues with the help of corrupt ofﬁcials (ibid., pp. 352,413). Less than a year after the ANC took power armed gangs collected and evicted foreign immigrants perceived to be ‘illegal’ for a period of weeks between December
Between 1996 and 2001 Gauteng’s population grew from 7.843.820 to 9.390.680, Johannesburg’s
population expanded by nearly 600.000 and Alexandra’s population stood at an ofﬁcial 350.000, ﬁve times the number it was designed to accomodate (ibid., p. 390) 10 Hostel dwellers wore red bands around their heads in order to distinguish themselves
R EADING THE R IOTS A GAINST E ARLIER C OMMUNITY C ONFLICTS
1994 and January 1995 (Park 2009). Although similarities with the events in 2008 could be observed, the striking difference was that the crowd handed the migrants over to the police with the message that they were “simply doing the job of the police by handing them [undocumented immigrants] over and asking them to be deported back to their own countries” (ibid., p. 18). While reading the events of 2008, a radically different picture emerges. Although perceptions of foreigners being ‘illegal’ and to be blamed for transitional ills were similar, the community took the law in their own hands in ways that indicated a fundamental lack of trust of the local police-force and the national government at large (ibid., p. 19). It is against this historical background of community conﬂicts around housing-provision that the recent upsurge of violence has to be understood too argued Salani, a South African by birth.
Reading the Riots Against Earlier Community Conﬂicts
Four structural reasons for rioting can be distinguished: First an ‘ethnic’ or ‘national’ antagonism; second a ‘reasonable’ justiﬁcation for violence; third a response to a certain event; and fourth, aggression in a situation where the mob does not face any, or only a small, risk of punishment (Horowitz 2001). Salani, a close friend of my landlord Kgakgi, managed to reconstruct a plausible and complicated detail-rich story, in which he identiﬁed these distinguishable structural reasons from a historical perspective. Salani observed a “gross unhappiness” within Alexandra the week before the violence broke out. Unhappiness because it was announced that week that shackdwellers who erected their shacks within the dangerous area of the ﬂood-line of the Jukskei-river –popularly known as ‘the Graveyard’– would be given fast preference for housing in Extension 711 over those who were already had been waiting for years. Salani identiﬁed this as the “the main spark”:
No, it was deﬁnitely the main spark. Because if you look at those attacks, it was not the ﬁrst time in Alex. You see. When the ﬂats that were build next to Joe12 where you were. You see, when you are next to Joe, there are actually huge ﬂats around there. One day, the people got so tired of it and said like now, we
Extension 7 is a newly build area of RDP-houses north of the Jukskei river Joe’s Butchers, a legendary meat ‘n braai place, transformed into a club-scene in weekends
C HAPTER 3. “T HEY WERE KILLING, YOU SEE ?”
are going to take those people out of the ﬂats now. And they took them! They took them out! They went there one day and actually took out their furniture, everything. Everything and said like, you get out now. So the people went there and do the same thing. To said like, people who are corrupt to put in people who don’t even qualify. We’ll show you, we are taking them out of the place (Salani, South Africa 2009)
Most of the residents within the Graveyard were Mozambicans”, argued Salani, who as ‘unauthorised’ residents don’t ofﬁcially qualify for RDP-housing. “Now then, how do you spread that programme to foreigners, before you have addressed the needs for South Africans”, Salani asked after which Kgakgi acclaimed: “Yeah for sure! That was a spark!”. When I asked why it was mainly foreigners that bribed themselves into RDP-housing, Kgakgi angrily interrupted: “I’m registered! Why should I pay you?” Kgakgi referred to the registration by C-form, a document that legally entitles ‘eligible’ citizens to be on the waiting-list for RDP-housing. The already lingering frustration on housing-delivery that existed within Alexandra thus seemed to be exacerbated by the announcement of the authorities and Salani recalled he clearly felt there was something “brooming”: “You started hearing it, at each and every corner”, Salani continued, “I was around Saturday here, whenever I was in ﬁfth avenue, I could hear it, I went home, went to 18th avenue, it was actually the same talk” (ibid.). Salani and Kgakgi clearly identiﬁed the decision to move the ﬂood-liners to Extension 7 as having “sparked the anger which people had already” and created an atmosphere in which the violence could break out. The actual trigger that made the rioters decide to riot was by many informants identiﬁed as a perceived conﬂict between a foreigner and a South African. Salani also mentioned there were two cases of rape the day before the riots broke out in which the rapists “unfortunately happened to be foreigners”. Those foreigners, he explained, could not be found to be arrested due their illegal status after which the community decided “to do it ourselves”. From then on people were moving “from the side of the hostel” in order to take “the Shangaans out of the area” and incited people on their way to destruction by saying “they take our houses, they take our jobs” by using the mood of people that were “already very angry at that time”. As many Alexandrians decided that “these people are right, let’s join them”, the rioters were able to mobilize many oth-
R EADING THE R IOTS A GAINST E ARLIER C OMMUNITY C ONFLICTS
ers (Salani, South Africa 2009). Although mainly African foreigners were targeted during the violence, it was the corrupt ofﬁcials who made it possible for people to “jump housing queues” which Salani identiﬁed as the root cause of the problem. “The people were actually standing against corruption”, he said, “rather than actually xenophobia as people thought about it”. When I asked why it was the foreigners and not those corrupt ofﬁcials who bore the brunt of the attacks , he replied:
Who are they? It is actually difﬁcult to identify them. So it’s another way of putting pressure to that individual that is corrupt. It was not only, because the xenophobia people are taking it wrongly: that it was only foreigners. There were a lot of people that were taken out of those houses who were legitimate Alexandrians. Who weren’t qualiﬁed to have been put by those people. That is why when you talk to someone about xenophobia in Alex, he says but what xenophobia. Because, like, if I bought my way through and I go into that house, I would have been taken out. Even if you are an Alexandrian (ibid.).
Salani’s observation, that growing frustrations over housing-delivery and corrupt ofﬁcials can indeed be seen as a “main spark” and a ‘reasonable’ justiﬁcation for violence, cannot account for why it was “those deemed to be non-South Africans who bore the brunt of the vicious attacks” (Neocosmos 2008). A post-apartheid hegemonic xenophobic discourse has provided for politically interpellated post-apartheid categories of the insider and the outsider. Whereas those fault-lines historically have been constructed within Alexandra between newcomers –often South African rural migrants– and bona ﬁdes the violence in 2008 was predominantly targeted towards foreign African newcomers. Nevertheless, old insider/outsider fault lines seemed to be conﬂated with those between ‘South-African’ and ‘foreigner’ within the course of the events. Although the riots left 62 dead and was largely coined as xenophobic, amongst them were 21 South African victims. Listen to Ndima’s story, a South African by birth who was chased out of her house during the xenophobic violence because her neighbours said she was a foreigner:
Ndima: They said to me: you are a Shangaan from Gyani, took your things and go back. I said, what things I have to took, there’s nothing inside in the shack. They said, ok ﬁne, if you need to sacriﬁce your life. Just GO! You are foreigner.
C HAPTER 3. “T HEY WERE KILLING, YOU SEE ?”
Me: But you are a Shangaan? Ndima: Yes I’m a Shangaan from Gyani from Limpopo Me: And they know that? Ndima: Yes! They know that! Me: So why do they call you foreigner? Ndima: They didn’t chase me only. Even Sotho’s, even Tswana’s and even Venda’s. Who left there, it was only Xhosa and Zulu. Me: So why do they consider you as a foreigner? Ndima: They said just because of, we know how to buy some things and put it back and take those things at home. Which means they need us to buy some things and put it in the shack and so they can take it. Simple, as they take it, everything, simple (Ndima, South Africa 2009).
After the xenophobic riots Ndima was transfered by the local government to the transit camp together with roughly 80 other people displaced due to the violence. The hostel she stayed in was in embarrassing and deteriorated conditions: all windows were broken, the tiny separate rooms had no roof, there was no running water and no working toilets. She lost her shack in the Beirut area and was promised a new house at that time by the local government. Six months after the violence, she was still left in the dark about her future. “Maybe it could be better when I was a foreigner. Because now we’re just dumped like rubbish” she told me in tears. And while, technically speaking, she ‘is’ no foreigner, but a South African citizen, her experience during the violence and the lack of help she received from the government afterwards clearly makes her feel as one.
South Africa and the quest for Belonging
Although the hegemonic stereotypical xenophobic perceptions of the African migrant within South African society were appropriated by South African perpetrators to legitimate claims to resources that they felt entitled to, the riots cannot be understood without contextualizing it within older community conﬂicts that were mobilized around insider/outsider cleavages. Deprivation and scarcity of housing and jobs have always been a daily reality of Alexandra’s socio-economic conditions and the source of conﬂicts between authentic bona ﬁde residents and those perceived to be
S OUTH A FRICA AND THE QUEST FOR B ELONGING
outsiders. The Apartheid-regime created vocabularies of ‘legals’ and ‘illegals’ that were used by bona ﬁdes in order to exclude the newcomers, often originating from South Africa’s rural areas. The economic attraction of post-apartheid South Africa for many foreign border-crossers has provided for the emergence of a hegemonic xenophobic discourse which mainly stigmatizes African immigrants to be competitors for jobs and housing. These political interpellations of insiders and outsiders were appropriated by Alexandrians to express their frustrations of enduring struggles for space and housing by chasing away African immigrants who they perceived to be jumping housing queues. Although Alexandrians predominantly perceived foreigners to bribe themselves into RDP-houses with the help from corrupt ofﬁcials, old insider/outsider community fault lines seem to have complicated the coinage of the violence as xenophobic. Of the 62 people killed during the xenophobic violence little has been said of the 21 of those victims who were classiﬁed as South African. During my ﬁeldwork I met several South Africans who were also affected during those “days of noise”. They, like many African immigrants I spoke to, came to Johannesburg to seek for “greener pastures” (Witness, South Africa 2009) and their experience in their daily interaction with Alexandrians was closely related to those border-crossers from across the Limpopo-province. Judging from Ndima’s experience, one could argue that in the newly imagined South Africa the question of who belongs and who does not –and ultimately who is the stranger and who is not– remains unresolved– or at least spatially fragmented. Because what is ‘home’ if you are a South African who is chased away from your residential area because you are said to be a foreigner by your very fellow-nationals? Ndima’s perception on where she belongs closely resembles that of a Stranger being “no longer classiﬁed and not yet classiﬁed” (Malkki 1995a):
I’m a South African, I’m supposed to go where? At Zimbabwe? I don’t know what Zimbabwe looks like. I can’t go and live there. Without knowing somebody else. But now, since like all of us we are foreigners except for Zulu’s... (Ndima, South Africa 2009)
Witness, a South African identifying himself as a Venda from Limpopo who was chased away from his house by South Africans too, expressed similar feelings of uprooting: “There I’m a foreigner and here I’m a foreigner, I don’t know where
C HAPTER 3. “T HEY WERE KILLING, YOU SEE ?”
I belong” (Witness, South Africa 2009). As the front of the apartheid struggle has been mainly fought within urban cities in ways that Blacks embraced urbanism as resistance, “the migrant worker embodied the oppressed peasant life the freedom ﬁghters had ﬂed from”. Especially the imagination of the makwerekwere has become to represent for many black post-apartheid citizens the peasant life which they have historically tried to escape by moving into the cities (Matsinhe 2009). Whereas the apartheid state ruralized blacks and urbanised whites, this dichotomy has shifted towards one in which Africa is imagined to be backwards and South Africa to be modern (ibid.). These conﬂicting historical and post-apartheid notions of belonging and strangeness have only exacerbated the already ambiguous nature of the Stranger. In post-apartheid South Africa, a society in transition whereby its nation building project is primarily concerned with the construction of the self and a demarcation from others, the boundaries between the insider and the outsider or the national and the foreigner seem to be highly ambiguous. It seems there is more at stake than these well-known perceptions of foreigners as economic parasites and criminal ‘illegals’ (Blom Hansen, Jeannerat, and Sadouni 2009). Although there’s no doubt many ordinary South African citizens –“still trapped in shacks, shanty towns, joblessness, poverty, uncertainty and the illusion of citizenship” (Nyamnjoh 2007b) – feel highly disillusioned with the promised changes of the ‘new’ South Africa, there’s a more fundamental and troubling question lingering underneath. In a society that “is so deeply segmented that people [were] always strangers to another” (Blom Hansen, Jeannerat, and Sadouni 2009), one can ask whether ‘the South African’ really exists and how one should deﬁne South African society in a nation that “does not cohere”(Chipkin 2007; Blom Hansen, Jeannerat, and Sadouni 2009). In urban spaces where economic competition is high, the Stranger is not necessarily one of another ‘National Order’. Rather than just a national/nonnational construction, the boundary between fellow nationals and strangers seems to be blurred by rural/urban divides, complicated by ethnic afﬁliation, physical characteristics and linguistic dialect. It is stigma that “seems to be a convenient weapon in the defence against the unwelcome ambiguity of the stranger”, essentializing difference by means of bodily or cultural attributes. But even stigma attributes cannot ﬁx identity with certainty and provide far from a secure classiﬁcatory system for signifying otherness. The
S OUTH A FRICA AND THE QUEST FOR B ELONGING
next chapter is concerned with the ways how during the violence and its aftermath stigmata were used by South Africans in order to overcome the ambiguity of the Stranger.
“You can’t judge a book by its cover”. The Ambiguities of Otherness
During the xenophobic violence in South Africa in May 2008 rioters employed many techniques for exploring, marking and classifying those who might be African foreigners. As the ﬁgure of the Makwerekwere is highly racialized within dominant discourse, it was primarily skin color that identiﬁed those to chase out. But many other markers of difference were perceived by rioters to be able to differentiate between South Africans and Strangers. This chapter will foreground the ways how stigma is (perceived to be) used by South Africans to classify others within social, ethnic and national categorical orders. Historically, criteria such as language, (bodily) appearances, behaviour and names, have always been used in order to differentiate ‘types’ or ‘species’ of people (Pohl 1998). The ancient old bible, for example, provides a telling example on how language was utilized by Gileadites during their war with Ephraimites in order to identify those that should be killed:
The Gileadites captured the fords of the Jordan leading to Ephraim, and whenever a survivor of Ephraim said, “Let me cross over,” the men of Gilead asked him, “Are you an Ephraimite?” If he replied, “No,” they said, “All right, say ‘Shibboleth.”’ He said, “Sibboleth,” because he could not pronounce the word correctly, they seized him and killed him at the fords of the Jordan. Forty-two thousand Ephraimites were killed at that time1 .
Judges 12:5-6, New Jerusalem Bible
62 Shibboleth, originally a Hebrew word that literally means the part of a plant containing grains, since then deﬁnes any distinguishing practice which indicates one’s social or regional origin and usually refers to features of language and pronunciation that identiﬁes speakers within particular identity categories2 . Within daily social life, interactions between groups are often organized on the basis of stereotypes that classify individuals in terms of their basic, most general social identity (Barth et al. 1969; Larsen 1982). Such stereotypes can be used to guide behaviour by means of processes of identiﬁcation that are highly routinized and utilized by members of one group as ‘models’ to predict behaviour of perceived others (Larsen 1982). The features of those cultural distinctions are not the sum of ‘objective differences’, but are dependent on what actors themselves regard as signiﬁcant for the particular context: “some cultural features are used by the actors as signals and emblems of differences, others are ignored, and in some relationships radical differences are played down and denied” (Barth et al. 1969). Seen from this angle, it is not the ‘cultural stuff’, but the social interaction maintained and persisting boundaries that deﬁne the group, since markers of difference are obviously subjectively fragmented, context-dependent and extremely subjective to change over time (ibid.). Identity then –be it social, national, ethnic or otherwise categorized– is no natural, inborn, delineated and immutable fact, but is only given signiﬁcance by individuals within daily interaction with particular others by which boundaries between insiders and outsiders are maintained. Put differently: they are thus no more than (discursive) acts of identiﬁcation by which members can imagine their sameness or otherness with others. These imaginations of difference are not diminished by social interaction, but, on the contrary, daily encounters between members of society are often the very foundation on which processes of inclusion and exclusion are based upon (ibid.). Especially due to modernity that is predicated upon the scientiﬁc search for regularity, Otherness is often perceived to be an unchanging reality which has a nature that can be apprehended, classiﬁed and theorized. National identiﬁcations, which are predicated upon fuzzy and changing categories such as race, nation, religion, language etc., are therefore notoriously susceptible to ideological manipulation: “Almost everyone can ﬁnd an imagined origin for ‘their’ group if they look hard enough” (Hinton 2002, pp. 13,15).
C HAPTER 4. “Y OU CAN ’ T JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER ”. T HE A MBIGUITIES OF O THERNESS 63
The stigma of otherness
Violence can fabricate a horriﬁc form of certainty and can become a ruthless, vivisectionist technique about the Other and, therefore, about the Self (Appadurai 1998). And, in a similar fashion one can argue that the xenophobic violence in South Africa was a horriﬁc method of social engineering and a means of ensuring social homogeneity by distinguishing between those who were perceived to be ‘legitimate’ South Africans and those who were said to be strangers that don’t belong. But how, then, does one recognize the Stranger? How does one ‘read’ bodies in order to classify them in particular categories? How can it be possible to identify an individual with certainty enough to kill? It is the concept of stigma that has become “a convenient weapon in the defence against the unwelcome ambiguity of the stranger” (Bauman 1990). The essence of stigma is to reify difference which is by nature irreparable and thus warrants a permanent exclusion (ibid.) And of course, individuals often perceive stigmatized people to be not quite human (Goffman 1986). Within violent conﬂict stigma provides a way of stereotyping others which allows perpetrators to move from the didactical to the practical, feeding on intolerance by “making race, ethnicity, religion, language, class, doctrine, nationality, etc., decisive in ‘reordering”’ (Mehta 2002; Apter 1997). When a stranger comes into our midst, social agents are likely to gauge his personal and structural attributes. Personal attributes –such as ‘(dis)honesty’– and structural distinctions like ‘occupation’ can quickly become negative indices that distinguish the Stranger from others in the readily available categories of persons in daily life. In the extreme, the Stranger will then be perceived by others as a person of a less desirable kind, “a person who is quite thoroughly bad, or dangerous, or weak” (Goffman 1986). Stigma then, is “an attribute that is deeply discrediting”. Once a stigma is known about by the person’s immediate surroundings, the stigmatized agent is discredited. If the individual’s stigmatized attributes are still concealed in one way or another to others s/he is discreditable (ibid.). Durable ways of standing, speaking and walking of individuals in the lived world –one’s body hexis (Bourdieu 1990)– can be used as attributes by social agents to deﬁne an Other as a stigmatized, discredited person. By reading those signums, many agents assume, you can ‘tell’ who’s the stranger and who is not. Often by ways of ‘telling’, the rendering of the
T HE STIGMA OF OTHERNESS
body as an ideological text, social agents classify individuals within particular categories:
“Telling” constructs a conjuncture of clothing, linguistic dialect, facial appearance, corporal comportment, political religious insignia, generalized spatial movements, and inferred residential linkages. These signs cohere into an iconography of the ethnic Other that regulates informal encounters with particular others (Feldman 1991).
In contrast to the careful designation and visible marking of victims within acts of genocide, riots are often distinguished by a more spontaneous and disorderly nature in which rioters have to make instant decisions on the spot about whom to victimize. And as victim identity is characterized by ambiguity and presumption, it is useful to analyse which features served as signiﬁers of foreignness in order to understand how these culturally dictated scripts could be utilized by immigrants in order to employ strategies of invisibility (Matsinhe 2009; Einwohner 2008). For, while during the violence such strategies could make the difference between life and death, techniques of reading and inspecting bodies are everyday practices of exclusion that many immigrants still have to deal with in daily life. It must be stressed that those practices of telling are not mainly informal ways of boundary making by South African citizens, but are simultaneously institutionalized in ways that undocumented immigrants are often identiﬁed by government authorities on the basis of similarly unreliable means. Many documented cases reveal instances of persons who claimed to be arrested for being “too black,”, “having a foreign name,” or even because the individual was perceived to “walk like a Mozambican” (Matsinhe 2009). As I walked the urban paths of Johannesburg or the dusty streets of Alexandra, desperately looking for informants, I not could help but wonder: how does one recognize who is South African and who is not? Of course, there are those immigrants from Western Africa that have a distinctive darker skin complexion and are easily stigmatized as an Other. “Easy! They will know straight away” as Ob (Ob, Ghana 2009) emphasized to me, easily discreditable as from Western Africa by his distinctive facially appearance, dark skin complexion and thick accent. Most of my informants mentioned a whole variety of social signums that could be used in order to ‘tell’ who is South African and who isn’t. Often, the question “can you tell the difference between a South African and a foreigner”, seemed to be taken as one of which
C HAPTER 4. “Y OU CAN ’ T JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER ”. T HE A MBIGUITIES OF O THERNESS 65 the answer was obvious: “I mean, if you are from outside, you know when walking, anybody can identify this person”, said Themba. “But what’s the difference?”, I replied after which he answered with conﬁdence: “You can tell, for sure, even myself I can tell, I can see, this one is a foreigner, this one is not a foreigner” (Ellen, South Africa and Themba, Zimbabwe 2009). Reading bodies in order to ‘tell’ the categorical order the particular individual belongs to was for many perceived to be an activity that could hardly go wrong. Many African immigrants themselves often employed a readily set of ideological signiﬁers that presumably classiﬁed signiﬁcant Others in a variety of national or ethnic categories:
Yeah, foreigners, sometimes, they are not similar to South Africans. So, the guys from outside countries, like your friend, the Nigerian, have you realized that he is not straight. He is like this, can you see this? [Kumalo places his legs more apart from each other] Yeah! So, they can identify you like that. And, by your eyes. If you go to Congo, to Rwanda, Ghana. You can see, even though they are black, but they are not, I can say, Western Africa, Eastern Africa, Central Africa, they are not the same. That’s why you can see the Negro’s, the black Americans. They were taken from Gambia, Mali, you see? Tunesia, Nigeria, you see? You can see that these people how they cut their hairs, you see? Especially those who are in North America. Then, South America, this side. Cuba whatwhat. You can see that these people are from Angola, South Africa, they are just like these Southern African people. So, the people from outside, they are just seen here. A guy from Malawi can judge him. By his or her movement or the way that he or she wears (Kumalo, Zimbabwe 2009).
Although it seemed Kumalo regarded those signiﬁers as a fairly accurate way of classifying individuals in national orders, he simultaneously and unknowingly touched upon the ambiguous nature of such classiﬁcatory systems: my friend, whom Kumalo assumed to be Nigerian due to the placement of his legs, was as a matter of fact originally from Ghana. And although some informants, such as Kumalo perceived difference to be an essential fact, others expressed the exact opposite and stressed the ambiguous nature of identiﬁcation:
Me: But when you walk on the streets, people can tell you are not from here? Jerry: No no, we are just the same. Ah, you can’t judge a book by it’s cover. Even a person from Zimbabwe, it’s just the same
Me: Not by way of dressing?
X ENOPHOBIA AND I NTERROGATING O THERNESS
Jerry: No, not by way of dressing. Everybody dress different style (Sibusizo and Jerry, Zimbabwe 2009).
These ambiguities of identiﬁcation by the use of telling can prove fatal, but can also save lives of possible targets within violent conﬂict. Depending on the circumstances of violent riots various insignia like skin color, names, dress, bearing, facial hair and circumcision can be employed to distinguish victims from attackers. As none of these attributes for differentiation, especially within ethno-cultural and linguistic heterogeneous societies, are entirely fool-proof potential targets can assimilate temporarily, while nonmembers of the target group may be accidentally perceived to be included in it (Brass 2001, pp. 125-129). Although South African rioters employed many different ways of telling in order to select their targets of the violence, perpetrators frequently utilized the Zulu-language as a shibboleth in order to identify someone as foreign.
Xenophobia and Interrogating Otherness
In the Alexandrian context, neighbours often provided clues during the xenophobic violence on where to ﬁnd foreigners. But where doubt and uncertainty was at play, (physical) interrogations were used as methods of identiﬁcation. An often quoted example is that rioters asked their targets trivial Zulu-questions3 : “These people can’t even pronounce easy words like indololwane [the Zulu-term for ‘elbow’]. We have a list of other words that we tell them to say and they fumble and bite their tongues”, explained a South African rioter in May 2008 (Tshabalala and Dibetle 2008). The following conversation exempliﬁes the ways the Zulu-language was used as a shibboleth for target-selection by the rioters during the xenophobic violence:
“Yini le?” (What is this?) demanded Sipho, a teenager, pointing to his elbow, of a man wearing a red cap and whose skin Sipho believed was too dark for a South African. “Indololwane mfana,” (It’s an elbow, boy) replied the man, a Xhosa, who was asked the question because few foreigners know the Zulu word for elbow.
Zulu’s belong together with the Xhosa’s to the largest ethnic afﬁliations in South Africa
C HAPTER 4. “Y OU CAN ’ T JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER ”. T HE A MBIGUITIES OF O THERNESS 67
Unconvinced, Sipho demanded: “Uma umuntu ekhala kuphumani emehlweni?” (When you cry, what comes out of your eyes?). “Izinyembezi” (tears) responded the man (ibid.).
Although perceived to be “too dark for a South African”, the man was able to ‘prove’ his South African identity by giving the correct answers. Failing to respond on the rioters’ ethnic investigations in the proper way could mean the difference between life and death for possible targets. Raphael explained to me how the use of the Zulu-language during the violence was not only used to differentiate foreigners from South Africans, but also made it difﬁcult to ‘tell’ which ethnic background South Africans rioters themselves appeared to be:
Me: But the people who attacked, where were they coming from? Rahael: I don’t know, because it was lot of people, it was crowd, yeah, it was crowd and doesn’t know where it come from. It was mixed, of course. Everyone was talking Zulu that time. Anyone was talking Zulu, everyone. Doesn’t know this is Zulu, or a Pedi or a Shangaan, you know Me: Why? Raphael: I think it was simple language, haha, maybe if I’m Shangaan, I’m talking Zulu, you’ll think I’m a Zulu. You know, it’s like that (Raphael Mozambique 2009).
Obviously the composition of the rioters was far from a homogeneous crowd. But as the majority of my informants identiﬁed the origins of violence with Zuluness and the Zulu language served as a major differentiator during those days to “tell” who is South African or who is not, those widespread perceptions of Zuluness being connected with the origin of the violence deserves closer attention. For many foreign immigrants within Alexandra it was the Zulu-language that served both as an ultimate potential stigma-differentiation on the one hand and as a possible assimilating signum on the other.
Zuluness and the origins of violence
Right on the corner of 4th London road towers the impressive structure of the Madela hostel above the surrounding shacks. It’s a building that you can practically see
Z ULUNESS AND THE ORIGINS OF VIOLENCE
from wherever you are in Alexandra and as an enclave inhabited by mainly male Zulu’s known to be a Zulu hostel. The Zulu hostel is infamous by Alexandrians into almost mythical proportions, well connected to the popular perceptions of Zulu’s being aggressive and warlike, but also due to the hostel’s history of playing a central role in the township wars in the beginning of the 90’s. During the negotiations of South Africa’s democratic transition a bloody wave of violence swept across township spaces and culminated in the deaths of thousands of people. While the violence mainly manifested itself between ANC aligned township residents and IFP4 -aligned hostel dwellers, the underlying dynamics were obviously more complicated. Causes of the conﬂict could not be simpliﬁed to political antagonisms, but were rooted in the legacy of apartheid, a continuous struggle for resources and the politicisation of ethnic divisions. The Madela hostel, ﬁrmly under IFP control, became the epicentre of the conﬂict in Alexandra and non-Zulu speakers were evicted from the hostels, which closely resembled a form of ethnic cleansing. Gradually the whole area of Beirut became an IFP-stronghold and a “no-go zone for members of the ANC” (Bonner and Nieftagodien 2008, pp. 359-383). This history has led Beirut5 to be imagined by Alexandrians as a ‘Zulu neighbourhood’ epitomized by its popular nickname ‘KZN’6 . Although some argued this imagination was largely due to the fact that the Zulu-hostel was located in the area (Zulu and Two Zimbabweans 2009), the township wars seems to have shaped the Alexandrian collective imagination of the Beirut area as ‘dangerous’ and its inhabitants as predominantly Zulu7 . Many South Africans, Alexandrians and foreign immigrants alike perceived Zulu’s as inherently violent, “stubborn”, “stupid minded”, “full of tribalism”, as who “didn’t go to school too much” and wanting to “claim ownership of South Africa”. They are predominantly regarded as the ones to have incited the violence.:
They [Zulu’s] are black beasts man [...] You know, when we, you know when
The Zulu-aligned Inkatha Freedom Party The area popularly known as Beirut is cornered roughly between 2nd and 6th avenue and the
main Roads London road and Selborne street. 6 KZN is the abbreviation for KwaZulu Natal, the Zulu province 7 During the elections of 2009 one could infer this ‘ethnic segmentations’ from the political pamphlets hanging around the area. In contrast with other areas, within the area of Beirut IFP-posters were overwhelmingly in the majority
C HAPTER 4. “Y OU CAN ’ T JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER ”. T HE A MBIGUITIES OF O THERNESS 69
we talk of, you know, South Africans. Ne? South Africans, we talk of Zulu’s. Mainly. Because, they are the ones who start everything. Tormenting others (Sibusizo and Jerry, Zimbabwe 2009).
This discourse of the Zulu’s perceived notoriousness and warriorhood is constantly foregrounded by respondents within perceptions about the violence. And as immigrants predominantly perceived the instigators to be Zulu, they ﬁrmly situated the spatial rooting of the start of the riots within the area of Beirut. While perceptions on the origin of the violence often differed, not one of my informants did not connect the start of it with perceptions on Zuluness and/or the Beirut area. Many simply identiﬁed the origin by mentioning the notoriousness of Zulu’s, claiming Zulu’s wanted to take ownership of Beirut and even South Africa or being “jealous about people who might have one or two things” (Robert and Roommates, Zimbabwe 2009). Others mentioned the violence sparked in that area when there was a conﬂict between a Zulu and a foreigner while, while, when macro-political causes were provided, they were constantly connected to the upcoming presidency of Jacob Zuma (a Zulu) and his political rivalry with Thabo Mbeki (a Xhosa), the current president at that time. Not surprisingly the perceived notoriousness of Zuluness and its associated spatial locations shaped in many respects the ways my informants were talking about the violence and the strategies they could employ in order to avoid being identiﬁed as foreign. Before I proceed to those strategies of invisibility in order to deal with possible harassment, let’s consider the ways stigmata were used by South Africans during and after the violence in order to differentiate between South Africans and foreigners. The various identity-markers that my informants distinguished can be roughly categorized within three different types: (semi-)permanent bodily signiﬁers such as morphological and linguistic features, style signiﬁers such as clothing and hairstyles and ﬁnally those what can be called ‘contextual signiﬁers’ such as patterns of residence and occupational background. Informants often coined the process of ‘telling’ someone’s ethnic or national category as “judging”. Of course, the visibility and (im)permanency of those attributes that can disclose information of one’s categorical order implies the ease to with which someone can be stigmatized as an Other (Goffman 1986).
“J UDGING ” THE B ODY
“Judging” the Body
The dominant imagination of the ﬁgure of the Makwerekwere constitutes not only a highly racialized ﬁgure. The very name implies that individuals who are identiﬁed as such are talking an unintelligible language. Not surprisingly, both language and skin color were for the majority of my informants mentioned as “the two major differentiators” (Salani, South Africa 2009). The ﬁrst being, according to Salani, “is the skin color”. “Once you have seen the color then what could be the conﬁrmation is actually the pronunciation of words”, he added (ibid.). The darker the skin, the bigger the chance someone was stigmatized as a foreigner explained Sibusizo: “In fact all Zimbabweans are dark in complexion, rather than here in South Africa, they are lighter” (Sibusizo, Zimbabwe 2009b). Nevertheless, agreement on what constitutes as the ‘ﬁrst’ or the ‘second’ differentiator to judge someone as foreign was a matter of perspective. “The language is the key” commented another, identifying himself as Zulu (Zulu and Two Zimbabweans 2009). As did Ellen, when I asked her how I could recognize Themba as foreign:
Except when he talks, then you can realize that this person is a foreigner. Just like Themba, he doesn’t talk now. Can you realize he’s from Zimbabwe? You can’t. The accent explains everything (Ellen, South Africa and Themba, Zimbabwe 2009).
But in a country with eleven ofﬁcial languages, the question immediately arises which words that cannot be “pronounced properly” indicate one’s foreignness. It is the Zulu-language that once again provides a major differentiator according to Jeffrey’s South African wife: “they can hear when you’re talking. Because [foreigners] and the Zulu-nation, they are not pronouncing the same Zulu”. Both differentiators were predominantly mentioned by immigrants and South Africans as the most obvious signs that fairly accurately provided clues to categorize a particular individual within a national or ethnic categorical order. But of course, colours and sounds were not all there is to it. Very much like ‘the peasant’ –who “always walked with their legs bowed, as if they were knock-kneed, with their arms bent”– is stereotyped as ‘backwards’ and ‘clumsy’ due to his body hexis in urban areas (Bourdieu 2004), foreigners are stigmatized by their “ways of walking” too:
C HAPTER 4. “Y OU CAN ’ T JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER ”. T HE A MBIGUITIES OF O THERNESS 71
If you just walk slowly, or just walk... they can judge you that you are from... you must have a South African step, like, pantsula’s. Walking like this, walking like this [walks in a cool, gangsterish way] (Kumalo, Zimbabwe 2009)
In the same vein as when one’s pace and style of walking often symbolizes one’s “economic and social standing” (Bourdieu 2004), one can be “judged” as foreign just by walking slowly or be perceived as South African by one’s gangsterish “South African step”. Linguistic and racial features are well-known differentiators for target selection within ethnic riots (Brass 2001, p. 129). A less obvious one in the context of South Africa is the use of inoculation marks as a discreditable symbol. Similar to the stigma sign of the needle mark which policemen utilize to identify junkies (Goffman 1986), African foreigners have equivalent experiences. Most Southern Africans have been vaccined by birth, which has left a little ‘ﬁngerprint’ behind where the needle has been stuck into. Salani explained it has become a possible signiﬁer to categorize someone into the ‘National Order of Things’, because the vaccination techniques differ per country:
You know what’s the most differentiator also is like what they call the BCGinjection. There’s a vaccination where they actually use a lot of needles together [leaving a distinctive pattern of a circle of needle marks on the left upper-arm] You can call any South African and then look at the BCG injection. So, that’s where we have it. Whereas Zimbabweans have it at the other side and have one big dot. And also, it’s like for the Swazi’s, they did the BCG here [underarm] and for the Mozambicans it’s here [on the left shoulder]. So when you come with a South African passport and you have your BCG here [not on the South African side], you’re gonna be locked up anyway (Salani, South Africa 2009).
Instances of South African police ofﬁcers using these needle marks as a way to identify (illegal) immigrants have been documented widely (Cejas 2007). Patrick explained to me that the needle mark could also prove dangerous for possible targets during the xenophobic violence: “They are going to see [I’m a foreigner], because of what? Because of this thing [slaps on his arm], this thing is dangerous. They are going to get you and then, they can kill me” (Patrick, Zimbabwe 2009). Linguistic dialect, skin complexion, body hexis and needle marks are to different extents (semi-)permanent signs (Goffman 1986), which relatively easily signify difference
PANTSULA SELVES , F ONG K ONG OTHERS
and point out foreignness in a way that is immediately visible (Matsinhe 2009). The South African citizenry and state-institutions have assigned these physical attributes to foreign nationals as evidence of their otherness, strangeness and undesirability in ways that this established fantasy has acquired a reality for immigrants in daily life. Many informants mentioned other stigmata, such as style, patterns of residence and occupational background, that could be seen as impermanent signums to be observed.
Pantsula selves, Fong Kong others
Hmmm, eh, they they like, eh, casual things, stylished things, you see. Like Dickies, this is an old fashion. From... even the people who lived in 1930’s, it was there. Even the Dickies, you know it, from America. From 1920, it is written from 1920. So, the South Africans, they don’t wear this... they call it Fong Kongs. Like to wear trousers for forty rands from the Chinese. The police will stop you. They know that you are budgeting, you are from another country. Yeah (Kumalo, Zimbabwe 2009)
Kumalo explained –and this was often mentioned by other immigrants and South Africans too– that especially South African township residents dress pantsula style, a localized cultural expression for township-youngsters which can be described as a combination of (clothing-)style and musical preference. The typical pantsula-look, as many explained, consists of a Levi’s 501 or Dickies jeans, classic All-star shoes, a t-shirt or blouse –combined with a striped or otherwise patterned spencer– and a ﬁsherman’s hat that is placed on a bold shaven head. Immigrants predominantly perceived South africans to “wear expensive”, to “want the real stuff” and not to “mind to pay a thousand bucks for a teki or a shoe or a t-shirt” (Ellen, South Africa and Themba, Zimbabwe 2009). Foreigners on the contrary, as most informants explained, wear Fong Kongs, “these fake brands from the Chinese guys” (ibid.), because they “can’t afford to pay for the genuine thing” (Mozes, Zimbabwe 2009). Dress-code is a non-congenital way of differentiating a foreigner from a “a kasi-boy8 , a tsotsi from
Kasi is a township slang-word derived from the Afrikaner word lokasi, translated as location. A
kasi-boy thus means, a local, someone how lives in the location
C HAPTER 4. “Y OU CAN ’ T JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER ”. T HE A MBIGUITIES OF O THERNESS 73 the location” (Sibusizo, Zimbabwe 2009b). Of course, this is a masculine way of differentiation. Tendai argued South African that women “expose most part of their bodies” whereas he perceived Zimbabwean ladies to “wear normally”, morally implying South Africans do not:
Ehm, in Zimbabwe we dress like casual. Here, you can see the majority of women, they wear trousers whatwhat, you know? Mini-skirts, what, they smoke, they drink. But in Zimbabwe, there’s is nothing like that. We wear normally, long shirts, long skirts, trousers, big trousers you know. Something that is normal, something in line with Christianity. (Tendai, Zimbabwe 2009)
Also hair could be used as an ethnic differentiator according to Kumalo, who had been living in South Africa for approximately 15 years, making his living by styling hair on the streets of Alexandra. Right down at pan-Africa he owned his own stall: a simple structure of an iron frame with a roof made of a red piece of plastic. Sitting on his white plastic chair alongside his equipment consisting of a little mirror, some scissors and a rusty trimming machine –ﬁrmly connected to his noisy, little electricity generator– he observed the following:
Yeah, some.... ladies, especially ladies. Their hairstyles, their hairstyles. Here in South Africa, South African ladies, they don’t do perm curls, they don’t do it. But the outside ladies, they do it. And then they, do, they push back. The South African ladies, they do it nicely, like Americans. Because, they know it from a long ago, their style. Yeah, but then a lady from outside, ah, she’ll need a perm only, only what she knows from back to the country (Kumalo, Zimbabwe 2009).
Perceptions were abounded that it was especially those that were not familiar with these cultural and symbolic indices of same– and otherness could be easily identiﬁed as foreign. Of course, clothing styles and haircuts can be changed at will and are therefore highly unreliable markers of difference. Identiﬁers that are perceived to convey information about an individual’s identity always vary according to whether or not they are congenital (Goffman 1986). But permanent and impermanent symbols are not simply two opposite states, but rather a continuum within which an attribute can be indexed: while skin color can be deﬁned as a highly congenital stigma symbol which isn’t easy to conceal, linguistic incompetence can be mastered in time, while styles can be changed at will. Identity-signiﬁers which are
D RAWING B OUNDARIES BY S PATIAL AND O CCUPATIONAL I NDICES
easy to conceal are thus simultaneously relatively easy to appropriate as attributes to pass as South African. It is therefore, these differentiators in particular that produce possibilities for African immigrants to employ strategies of invisibility.
Drawing Boundaries by Spatial and Occupational Indices
Another signiﬁer of foreignness has already been brieﬂy touched upon by describing how I was able to ﬁnd possible informants during the course of my ﬁeldwork. Occupational background provided me with a fairly accurate clue where to ﬁnd possible immigrants to interview. Since many immigrants have hardly any social network to rely on, feel highly responsible to provide for families back home and are simultaneously excluded from the formal employment market, selling goods on the street is indeed for many one of the few opportunities to make for a living. People who work every day, Sibusizo inferred, surely “must be from another country:”
The things you do, like, you work everyday. And mostly South African boys, some do work, but not every day. Cause they’ve got greater privileges than us, foreigners. So, one man, one person, can tell that this guy is after something, you see? He must be from another country, he’s here for work (Sibusizo, Zimbabwe 2009b)
Because I tried to socialize with street-hawkers on a daily basis I was able to observe how policemen often used this signiﬁer in order to identify possible undocumented immigrants. While policemen were patrolling amongst the many stalls in Pan-Africa they frequently ordered street-sellers to identify themselves. If unable to, the individual was often given the choice: either to be arrested in order to be locked up in the Lindela deportation centre, or bribe themselves out of it. “You just pay 20 rand and then they go”, Robert told me and added with a wink of an eye: “I think to accept bribes is much better than to be taken and deported home” (Robert and Roommates, Zimbabwe 2009). Sometimes, just a simple cold-drink could be enough to satisfy the particular police ofﬁcer:
Then me, they ask me, for sure I have to identify myself, because I’m not a South African. And when I do, then he wants a cold drink. If I don’t have, then it’s trouble, I have to sleep in the cell (Sibusizo and Jerry, Zimbabwe 2009).
C HAPTER 4. “Y OU CAN ’ T JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER ”. T HE A MBIGUITIES OF O THERNESS 75 Immigrants often appropriated these occupational indices of foreignness to draw moral boundaries between themselves and South Africans, in which foreigners are depicted as hardworking entrepreneurs, while South Africans were simultaneously portrayed as passive citizens waiting for something to happen. Ob, provided me with an example of a Stimorol advert that he perceived to symbolize the difference between “the foreign Africa” and “the South African”. “There is this Stimorol advert on the TV, that says that”, he started telling me and imitates the advert speech:
There are people who wake up in the morning and they have dreams. But they do nothing about those dreams. They only sit by the roadside and watch people pass by, just like the day passes by. And the cars are going up and down. And then when you greet them, they respond: heitah! Sharp sharp! And they’re still sitting down there. You wake up in the morning, you are going to work and they are sitting down there. There are others who also have dreams and they go out there and make sure the dream they have come to pass. They put it into reality. They go beyond what they saw in the dream, they go beyond what they are talking about. They don’t just talk, they go beyond talk. They don’t just dream, they go beyond dream. To make sure what they see, what they talk about is put into reality (Ob, Ghana 2009)
After this stereotypical image, he concludes: “And these are the two different, this is how different, the foreign Africa, the African foreigners here, is how different we are with the South African.” The fact of immigrants institutionally being excluded from formal governmental services has shaped occupation as an index of foreignness, which in turn has rendered foreign bodies highly visibible in daily life. A Zimbabwean man, who sold boxes on the street which he personally handcrafted out of metal plates, observed the following: “And you know this job, it’s a sign you can get recognized from this job. Without saying what kind of person are you or where you are coming from. The most of the people who do this stuff, they come from outside, you see?” (Friend Ndima, Zimbabwe 2009). “So”, adds Kumalo, “it is about, against, about what you work, where you work”. And even for whom you work, he continues: “If you work for the Indians, you’ll be judged that you are from another country. And if you are in Shoprite, Spar [South African shopping-malls] or even if you are a security guard. You are always... in trouble of being a foreigner” (Kumalo, Zimbabwe 2009). Yet, although such signiﬁers sometimes become fairly
MISTAKEN IDENTITY ”.
T HE U NCERTAINTY OF O THERNESS
accurate classiﬁcatory devices due to formalized processes of exclusion, encoding one as an ethnic Other is risky business, especially when violence comes into play. The ambiguity of stigma symbols also made South Africans sometimes “in trouble of being a foreigner”.
“A mistaken identity”. The Uncertainty of Otherness
We have seen that South Africans use various stigma signums in order to differentiate between South Africans and foreigners. A major differentiator during the xenophobic violence was said to be the Zulu-language and therefore perceptions on the origin of violence were by most informants well-connected to Zuluness and its imagined spatial location Beirut. But many other indices of Otherness, such as skin complexion, ways of walking, clothing– and hairstyles, inoculation marks and occupational backgrounds were used during and after the violence to ‘tell’ who was a foreigner. While some informants perceived the above mentioned (non-)congenital differentiators to be fairly stable according to national and ethnic divides, they were clearly far from a reliable source of classiﬁcation. The ambiguous nature of (non)congenital stigma signums is reinforced by the fact that what is perceived as a reliable signiﬁer of foreignness varies amongst stigmatizers. As Kumalo explained, foreigners could be distinguished by their slow ways of walking, a South African taxi marshall mentioned the opposite: “Ah foreigners, many of them, they walk like they are scared. They are always in hurry, they rush, like eish, maybe something bad can happen. They don’t see anyone, you see, they already go” (Taximarshall and Friends, South Africa 2009). In a similar vein, whereas Themba explained Zimbabwean women wear “formal”, a South African man acclaimed: “A Zimbabwean woman, you can see about those animals clothing. There’s an impala, there’s an whatwhat. Something like elephant, like traditional kind of clothing” (Lucky, Zimbabwe and Zulu-friend 2009). A stigma attribute is obviously not a discreditable sign on it’s own (Goffman 1986). Within ethnic riots it happens often that mistakes are made by rioters in the process of target-selection (Brass 2001, p. 128). Especially in (ethnically) heterogeneous societies,such as South Africa, there are an abundant array of possibilities in the selection of victims for violence (ibid., p. 128). In cases of doubt, the crowd often takes
C HAPTER 4. “Y OU CAN ’ T JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER ”. T HE A MBIGUITIES OF O THERNESS 77 extraordinary opportunities to interrogate or physically inspect the identifying cues from potential victims. Many informants explained to me that during the xenophobic violence the rioters took far less effort in order to be certain about their choice of victims: “At ﬁrst”, Ellen said, “there was something that went wrong for sure between the South Africans and the foreigners”, but after that “people were just taking advantage”. Themba added that at that point people “never even asked, where do you come from or whatever. They just went in straight away, take whatever they want and just go” (Ellen, South Africa and Themba, Zimbabwe 2009). He then mentions another stigma signum that seemed to deﬁne foreignness during the xenophobic violence: “As long as you’re in the shack they just attack you. They just think everybody in the shack is a foreigner” (ibid.). Although incriminations of violence are a well-known aspect of ethnic rioting, a mistaken identity was not always due to people taking advantage of the violence in order to loot or to settle old scores. Also the Zulu language proved to be a poor indicator of ethnicity. Not all Venda’s, Sotho’s and other South African ‘ethnics’ will speak Zulu ﬂuently or will even understand each other’s language. South Africa’s racial, linguistic and ethnic heterogeneity, its historical ethnic and linguistic ties with neighbouring countries by ways of mutual migration, its socially segmented legacy of apartheid and the diversity within bordering countries themselves make classifying an individual in a categorical order far from foolproof. Sibusizo and Jerry mentioned the historical ethnic and linguistic ties between Zimbabwe and South Africa that complicated the linguistic stigmata to differentiate between Zimbabweans and South Africans: “Then others from Venda9 were said to be Shona10 . Because Venda and Shona can understand each other. And in zimbabwe there is also Venda. So that kind of a person, gets to be affected as well” (Sibusizo and Jerry, Zimbabwe 2009). In a similar fashion, the predominant perceptions amongst South Africans that they are light-colored people in ways that individuals can be qualiﬁed as “too dark to be South African” (Crush 1999), is problematized due to the fact that “there are some Zimbabweans who are also light and also some South Africans who are also dark” (Jeffrey, Malawi and his wife, South Africa 2009). A young South African man, who identiﬁed himself as Venda from Limpopo, was chased out of his house in the Beirut area. Because
a South African ethnic group a Zimbabwean ethnic group
MISTAKEN IDENTITY ”.
T HE U NCERTAINTY OF O THERNESS
his Zulu was “not perfect” and his skin-complexion was fairly dark his attackers perceived him to be Mozambican:
Like, if you get there. And when you are talking Zulu language, you understand? You are not perfect, it’s not a language, eh mother language, you understand? They say ‘hey man you are not perfect about Zulu, you are a Shangaan, from Mozambique,’ you understand? You are a foreigner, something like that, you understand. Yeah (Witness, South Africa 2009).
Many South Africans themselves do not measure up to the proﬁle of the imagined citizen as ‘light skinned bodies’ and are therefore often arrested due to a mistaken identity. One in ﬁve detainees at the Lindela repatriation centre appeared to be South African citizens that were not able to identify themselves, while about 30 percent of people being arrested due to their presumed illegality are in fact legal citizens who are mistaken to be foreign due to their skin complexion, according to a Human Rights Watch report (Matsinhe 2009). South Africans, be they ordinary citizens or ofﬁcial authorities, often proﬁle the non-citizen on the basis of unreliable markers of identity, such as skin-tone, language, manner of dress and hairstyles, which they grade and code in order to determine one’s citizenship. But as useful as those attributes appear to stigmatizers in their obsession with categorical orders and thus form a possible dangerous sign for those stigma-bearers within hostile societies, the ambiguous nature of these signiﬁers simultaneously create leeway for African immigrants in order to employ creative strategies of invisibility to renegotiate their foreignness within public space. It is these strategies with which the ﬁnal chapter is concerned.
Covering the Self, Performing the Other
As this chapter will foreground creative strategies1 immigrants were able to employ in order to renegotiate their foreignness in their daily interactions with South Africans in Alexandra’s public spaces, it is necessary to consider the parameters that delineate the possibilities for creative action. The concept of habitus, which refers to a general disposition that operates at a level below consciousness and allows for intelligent and strategic action within the context it is practiced, is a useful concept in order to explore the limits of human agency. For, although “creativity is an essential element of all activity that deserves to be placed at the center of theorizing about human agency” (Dalton 2004), creative actions are always restricted sets of strategies embedded both within the agent’s bodily hexis and the logics of his or hers habitus. In other words, although individuals are able to make their own choices, both the (im)permanency of their identity-signiﬁers and the speciﬁc cultural and social settings in which social agents operate shape the principles of their choices and restrict what types of innovation can occur. Such dispositions that suggest practical actions for social agents are inherited from the active construction of differences among social groups out of which individuals can choose from a variety of possibilities for strategic action (ibid.). Simultaneously individuals are distinguished in their various choices of action by the their very own subjective “modes of perception, affect, thought, desire, fear, and so forth” that animates the ways they act (Ortner 2005).
The reason that I am using the term strategy as opposed to tactics or practices is that my infor-
mants were consciously acting with a speciﬁc goal in mind: to render themselves invisible within Alexandra’s public spaces in order to avoid possible harassment
80 While many of my informants employed particular strategies to deal with their hostile environment, the decision to employ them or not and in which form, were always shaped by their own subjectivities. With these shapers of creativity in mind this chapter will analyse and describe the ways immigrants were employing strategies of invisibility in order to deal with their exclusion within daily life by means of the disclosure or appropriation of the particular signiﬁers South Africans considered meaningful within Alexandra in order to identify foreign bodies. Two types of “strategies of invisibility” can be distinguished out of the variety of repertoires my informants employed in order to conceal their foreignness or to “pass” as South African. The ﬁrst type can be deﬁned in terms of what is coined as “stigma management”, the second type as “performances of misrepresentation” (Goffman 1986; Goffman 1959). The main difference between the two is that stigma management is merely concerned with the managing of one’s discreditable stigma signums in order to conceal one’s personal identity, while performances of misrepresentation are additionally concerned with the appropriation of attributes that are associated with the identity category one is trying to “pass” into (Goffman 1986; Goffman 1959). When individuals are actively pretending what one is not, these strategies of misrepresentation can be understood as a form of theatre play in which they (un)intentionally convey and/or conceal information in order to give way a certain impression of the self towards their audiences (Goffman 1959). A ‘person’, from this point of view, is in its ﬁrst meaning a mask, recognized by the fact that “everyone is always and everywhere, more or less consciously, playing a role” (ibid.)2 . When individuals intentionally convey misinformation their expressive equipment can be classiﬁed within to different kinds of sign activity:
The expressiveness of the individual appears to involve two radically different kind of sign activity: the expression that he gives, and the expression that he gives off. The ﬁrst involves verbal symbols or their substitutes which he uses admittedly and solely to convey the information that he and the others are known to attach to these symbols [...] The second involves a wide range of action that
Although the theory seems to be primarily concerned with daily personal and professional rou-
tines employed in a society that seems to function in its ‘normal’ harmonious mode –in opposition to a setting where intersubjective routines, relationships, and are disrupted by violence (Green 1999)– it is stressed that it seems to apply everywhere in social life (Goffman 1959)
C HAPTER 5. C OVERING THE S ELF, P ERFORMING THE O THER
others can treat as symptomatic to the actor [...] The individual does of course intentionally convey misinformation by means of both these types of communication, the ﬁrst involving deceit, the second feigning (ibid.)
In other words, in order to deceive their audience individuals need to manage stigma-attributes that may disclose their discreditable identity, while performance of otherness is highly dependent on the appropriation of identity signiﬁers that enable them to feign another identity. Some items of expressive equipment for conveying signs in order to perform a particular appearance, such as racial characteristics, sex and age, are relatively ﬁxed, whereas vehicles for conveying signs as clothing, facial expressions, bodily gestures and the likes can vary during a performance from one moment to the next (ibid.). While physical characteristics are not easily hidden or appropriated, impermanent signums, like clothing-style, can relatively easily be changed in order to ‘pass’ as same. Both strategies are comparable to the “juggling with identities” to “unmark” oneself as a stranger that Rwandan town refugees in Tanzania employed in order to deal with the possible consequences of being identiﬁed as a refugee in their daily interactions with Rwandan citizens and ofﬁcials (Malkki 1995a). But in a similar vein, homeless women in England often employ strategies of invisibility by ‘looking like everyone else’ and disguising inappropriate activities, such as sleeping, in public places (Casey, Goudie, and Reeve 2008). Being conscious of the ways South Africans read personal attributes in order to distinguish between fellow nationals and strangers, African immigrants actively manage “undisclosed discrediting information about self” (Goffman 1986). In order to employ strategies of invisibility they particularly need to draw on the wide variety of culturally and contextually speciﬁc signiﬁers of foreignness in order to mask their difference. The tendency of audiences to accept signs of performances as (dis)creditable attributes of identity, this sign-accepting tendency simultaneously puts the audience in a postion to be deceived by the performer, “for there are few signs that cannot be used to attest to the presence of something that is not really there” (Goffman 1959). Their habitus, in other words, provides culturally dictated scripts which immigrants can utilize in order to negate their difference and simultaneously establish their sameness to successfully pass as South Africans (Einwohner 2008). In this way, their strivings to become invisible and the ways immigrants try to do so, seems to be a direct response to the South African construction of the Mak-
S UBJECTIVITY AND M ODES OF F EAR
werekwere which mobilizes exclusionary praxis in Alexandra’s public spaces. As the previous chapter already analysed these various identity signiﬁers that deﬁne foreignness within the context of Alexandra, this chapter will draw on these classiﬁcatory signums in order to delineate the possibilities of strategies my informants could employ. Of course, the question of “to display or not to display; to tell or not to tell, to let on or not to let on; to lie or not to lie; and in each case, tho whom, how, when and where” (Goffman 1986), depends on the congeniality and visibility of the particular stigmata and the extent to which creditable attributes can be appropriated. Moreover, the strategies they employ are simultaneously shaped by the settings in which they occur and the audiences immigrants were performing identity to. Before I will analyze the ways the violence has transformed their movement in public spaces and their interactions with particular others, I will ﬁrst consider how the subjective (fear of) hostility that immigrants receive within South African society animates the need for them to employ these strategies in the ﬁrst place.
Subjectivity and Modes of Fear
The subjective feelings of my immigrants form a necessary part in the understanding how they tried to deal with their daily realities of hostility within Alexandra. The strategies they employe do not originate from “some natural or originally will”, since agency “takes shape as speciﬁc desires and intentions within a matrix of subjectivity – of (culturally constituted) feelings, thoughts, and meanings” (Ortner 2005, p. 34). Immigrants clearly expressed the need to render themselves invisible due to an omniscient presence of fear of the violence happening again “because that thing just died away too quickly”. Moreover, many explained they were still dealing with public harassment by South Africans on a daily basis who, according to my informants, repeatedly warn that “they want to start it again” (Mozes, Zimbabwe 2009; Robert and Roommates, Zimbabwe 2009). Particularly the end of the 2010 soccer World Cup –which is organised for the ﬁrst time in (South) Africa– is said by immigrants to be identiﬁed by South Africans as a period of renewed violence:
We are scared for after 2010, you see, people they still promise again to after 2010. They are just waiting for after world cup and then after world cup. You see, the violence stopped because of 2010. It was people, they come outside, they
C HAPTER 5. C OVERING THE S ELF, P ERFORMING THE O THER
was talking about... that problem you see. You see. And then, ok, they tried to shoot those people to stop it. They say, after 2010, maybe after world cup. They say that and then they want to start again (Patrick, Zimbabwe 2009).
Immigrants who still live in or eventually returned to Alexandra, are living in a space which evokes memories of violence, burning houses, angry mobs and other images of terror. Nevertheless, many chose to return or to stay after the xenophobic violence, often because South Africa still provides them with more economic opportunities in comparisation to their home-country. But living in a social space that was –and still is– very hostile to them, imbues immigrants within Alexandra with great cautiousness, anxiety, or fear:
You see? So for people to go around to beat individuals, look at the way today foreigners are living. Most of them are living with FEAR, great fear within them. You are in the taxi, this is one of my fear which I didn’t mention to you. When I PAY, eh, I mean a taxi, that EVERYBODY in the taxi is speaking a language, another South African language. And then, I don’t understand, if I pay my fee, let’s say to Jozi, it’s nine rand. If I give ten rand and within a period of time he’s not given me the change of one rand, I don’t ask! And we have a lot of guys like that who don’t ask. Because immediately you ask he’s telling you [feigns thick heavy South African accent] ‘my friend, you didn’t give me anything. Why you didn’t ask me long time ago?’ You understand? So people, are living with fear today in South Africa. A lot of the foreign guys. A LOT of them. I say foreign, they said Africans are the foreigners here. These are people who live in fear (Ob, Ghana 2009).
Ob, who was easily discreditable as a non-South African by his distinguishing facial features and thick accent, therefore interacted very cautiously with South Africans in public space in order to avoid harassment. Another immigrant provided a telling example how she was ridiculed within a bus when she was discredited as a foreigner due to her inability to speak Zulu:
I was going to visit my friend. When I got into the bus everybody knew I was a foreigner. The bus driver talked to me in Zulu. I didn’t know how to respond. So they shouted Kwerekwere! And everybody went crazy laughing at me. I was ashamed asking myself what I have done. I just got into the bus like everybody else but they treated me like that. I was ashamed (Matsinhe 2009).
S UBJECTIVITY AND M ODES OF F EAR The fear many informants expressed in their interaction with South African citi-
zens since the xenophobic violence has dramatically transformed their “patterns of intersubjective connectedness and trust” with South Africans within Alexandra and has created self-consciousness on the ways they navigate social and public space. Jeffrey, for instance, said to me his life since the violence had changed because he cannot trust anybody anymore and identiﬁed this as the reason he could not feel free to do anything that he wants. Before the violence, he elaborated, it was “simple” to reveal his nationality, but he now regarded it too dangerous to disclose in public he’s from Malawi (Jeffrey, Malawi and his wife, South Africa 2009). Kumalo made a similar observation:
By those days we were hiding ourselves from the police, not from the community. We could even drink, get drunk and sing, I’m from Zimbabwe! whatwhat! You see. No one would say, go out South Africa. But now, it’s too hard to say I’m from Zim... (Kumalo, Zimbabwe 2009).
Discreditable persons are always insecure within their interactions with other people, an anxiety that arises from their inner ‘true’ self they know they cannot ﬁx (Goffman 1986). Due to possibilities of violent harassment when their personal identity would be disclosed, immigrants are living in a constant state of fear in ways that they are very careful to conceal their ‘real’ identity. Of course, the contingencies for the management of social and personal identity are restricted by the individuals’ habitus and the particular social setting and its audience in which they perform (ibid.). In private–, or back places, immigrants can feel relatively safe since their direct social surroundings are more or less acquainted with his or hers personal identity. Public spaces, on the contrary –where communication is heavily appearance dependent– are highly informal places of social interaction in which it is difﬁcult to counteract stereotypes (Gardner 1995). While immigrants “just moved alone, without talking” (Tendai, Zimbabwe 2009) within Alexandra’s public spaces during the xenophobic violence, their experiences with violence and hostility has infused Alexandra’s many spaces over which violence and harassment occurred with speciﬁc value (Mehta 2002). Although spatial navigations of social agents are often embedded in the casual routines of daily life and therefore not easy to observe, their cautiousness within public space was clearly visible in cases of rumours of upcoming
C HAPTER 5. C OVERING THE S ELF, P ERFORMING THE O THER
protests against socio-political issues which for many immigrants within Alexandra were sources of considerable concern for renewed violence.
Fear and the Transformation of Public Space
During my last month of ﬁeldwork in Alexandra a taxi-strike was announced as a protest against the pending introduction of a ticket system. The South African taxi-branch, which is highly associated with Zuluness, is a fairly unregulated trade and consists of a number of rival associations “based on existing networks of ethnic bonds or political afﬁliation” (Blom Hansen 2006). It has a violent history of recurrent shoot-outs between rival associations, popularly known as taxi-wars and “fueled by rivalry in business, politics, and underworld activities” (ibid.). When the strike was announced my informants often reminded me that it would result in renewed violence against foreigners. “Tomorrow you’ll be able to observe xenophobia if you watch from the roofs”, Lucky told me laughingly the day before. The day of the strike I woke up with the sound of hovering helicopters as Harry called me to inform me that groups of people were marching through the township, armed with sticks and clubs and singing warsongs. While I was following the helicopters in order to locate the protesters, I walked through the winding paths between shacks and houses. Occasionally I ran into little groups of men, often clearly drunk, who were armed with iron sticks and wooden clubs. Many of them wore a red band around their head as a mark of Zuluness. When I was unable to locate the main group of protesters I headed to Pan-Africa in order to meet some informants. Once I arrived, the place –normally brimming with life of hooting taxis, shopping consumers and stalls of street-sellers, often foreigners– was as good as empty. The silence and tension that I clearly felt was occasionally disturbed by patrolling cars with drinking young men. Although the day was relatively calm in Alexandra, the day after it appeared the strike was marked by many violent incidents in the city-centre of Johannesburg. And many other days, rumours of new protests against housing-policies or other socio-political issues were sources of great anxiety for many immigrants, which resulted in heated discussions whether to come to the township for business or to stay at home. It are especially public spaces, such as public taxis, the Beirut area and Pan-Africa,
F EAR AND THE T RANSFORMATION OF P UBLIC S PACE
because they are “open for all” (Gardner 1995), where the interaction with familiairs, but particularly strangers occurs. For many immigrants various spatial locations within Alexandra were perceived to be far from “open for all”, but deemed to be “forbidden or out-of-bounds places” where the possibility of being identiﬁed as foreign could possibly lead to public harassment of even (violent) expulsion (Goffman 1986). My informants therefore graded their various settings of public performance within Alexandra into different types of dangerousness, which established “the going price for revealing or concealing and the signiﬁcance of being known about or not known about, whatever [their] choice of information strategies” (ibid.). Of course, especially what was regarded by immigrants as the Zulu area was regarded to be a dangerous out-of-bounds place, which they perceived to be impregnated with “the entire symbology of purity and impurity” (Feldman 1991). Collen mentioned there had already been “a separation” in Alexandra and stressed his point by explaining most foreigners were chased out of the area of Beirut (Collen, Zimbabwe and Friends 2009). Informants frequently described the violence as a sort of ethnic cleansing by which the Zulu’s were said to have ensured the ethnic homogeneity of ‘their’ area, which reiﬁed the substantiation of ethnicity in the “inside/outside division of space” (Feldman 1991). Certain places in Alexandra were so much infused with Zuluness that the sheer idea of walking around there was regarded as unthinkable. Mozes explained to me how he remapped his “personal geography” (Gardner 1995) on his way back from work since the violence:
Yeah, places I don’t go anymore now, by that side, London road [nearby the Zulu-hostel]. I don’t move around anymore that side. I’m scared that side. Yeah, only ﬁrstly in the morning and when I come from work, I changed the way, coming through Pan-Africa Yeah, from Pan, because it’s almost the same way. That side it’s easy cutting through (Mozes, Zimbabwe 2009).
Although most of the displaced victims eventually returned back to Alexandra, targets who were chased away by the rioters from the Beirut-area did not return, but rather found themselves another place to stay in Alexandra (Alexandra Renewal Project 2008). Beirut is an area which is populated by many shack-dwellers and for most of my informants their former space of residence. However, almost all of them were chased out of their houses and to return to Beirut to reclaim their belongings is something many informants would not even dare to think of:
C HAPTER 5. C OVERING THE S ELF, P ERFORMING THE O THER
I will never try to go there [the Beirut-area]. I will never go there, just because of: one of us, he tried to go there. He came back with a big injury. So they shows us that they could kill us. If they know you. They can’t let you stay, never. They want to be, they said it’s called KZN that place (Ndima, South Africa 2009)
Although those strategies and spatial mappings of personal geographies are shaped according to individual subjectivities and the particular setting they are operating in, the possible choice of actions are simultaneously shaped by their very own body hexis and visibility of potential discreditable stigmata. Those who were easily discreditable as foreigners often were very careful by navigating the township, while others perceived themselves to be relatively safe due to their physical, and linguistic similarities with what is perceived to be a stereotypical South African. It were especially the Zimbabweans, explained Mozes, who “look like South Africans in their faces” (Mozes, Zimbabwe 2009). And because of their physical and linguistic similarities with the stereotypical South African, many of them were able to employ strategies of invisibility. Simultaneously, the nature of their association with their audiences shapes their decision to perform a South African identity or hide their personal one.
The Self and its Audience as Parameters for Performances
The strategies of invisibility that will be outlined in this chapter can thus not be generalized to all African immigrants in general living in Alexandra, but are mainly shaped by the predominance of Zimbabweans amongst my informants. The strategies Zimbabwean informants employed however, were also highly dependent on their own body hexis and ethnic afﬁliations. Within Zimbabwe’s two dominant ethnic afﬁliations –the Shona and the Ndebele– the Ndebele are historically closely aligned with Zulu ‘ethnics’. Josef –who identiﬁed himself as Ndebele– exempliﬁed this by an origin myth on the emergence of the Ndebele tribe, an illuminating illustration on the social, political and historical constructed nature of ethnicity:
The Zulu’s, they are more or less like the Ndebele’s. Because of, Shaka Zulu ne? Was the king, there by that time. Mzelekasi was his assistent. So, they had a ﬁght. So, you know what Mzelekasi did ne? He took some of the people, some of
T HE S ELF AND ITS A UDIENCE AS PARAMETERS FOR P ERFORMANCES
his followers. So what did he did? He went to, to Zimbabwe. You see? So, that’s where, the Ndebele’s what? Started to... because the Zimbabweans, they were Shona’s ne? So, the Ndebele’s they came here from South Africa to Zimbabwe. So that’s why the Zulu’s and the Ndebele’s are more or less the same. Even their language, doesn’t differ that lot. They like violence, even the Ndebele’s as well. Because, even at home there’s tribalism between the Ndebele’s and the Shona’s (Josef, Zimbabwe 2009).
As the Ndebele were said to be “more or less the same” with Zulu ‘ethnics’ and their language “doesn’t differ that lot”, it seemed that performances of misrepresentation were predominantly employed by those identifying themselves as Ndebele. Many Shona said they were unable to speak Zulu ﬂuently and thus predominantly relied on the coverage of their identity signiﬁers that could discredit them as foreign. Moreover, the choice of strategy to be employed was simultaneously highly dependent on the particular audience immigrants were interacting with. Particular to strangers immigrants were very careful with the management of their undisclosed stigma attributes. Sibusizo expressed he was afraid to disclose his Zimbabwean identity towards South Africans who he mainly doesn’t trust, because he “just freak[s] out when it comes to this conversation of Zimbabweans and South Africans” (Sibusizo, Zimbabwe 2009b). As immigrants clearly expressed considerable distrust to South African strangers an appropriate strategy of invisibility depended on the knowledge of their audiences about the particular individual’s identity as Jeffrey explained: “sometimes you have to hide, because that face is the ﬁrst time to see. Sometimes you don’t need to hide, because they know us” (Jeffrey, Malawi and his wife, South Africa 2009). Although many interacted very cautiously with South Africans in general, they graded their possible audiences in various levels of dangerousness. Immigrants perceived Zulu’s frequently to be the most dangerous category when one’s personal identity would be discovered: “Actually, I don’t talk to Zulu’s, I react as if I’m a South African”, explained Prince (Prince, Zimbabwe 2009). Similarly, a Zimbabwean barber expressed too, that it are particularly Zulu ‘ethnics’ he conceals his identity to: “Ah, some people they know, some people they don’t. So few people know I’m from Zimbabwe, but almost the Zulu’s, they don’t know” (Barber, Zimbabwe 2009). While other informants especially considered policemen to be signiﬁcant others in
C HAPTER 5. C OVERING THE S ELF, P ERFORMING THE O THER front of whom they had to conceal there identity:
It’s the fear is too much. Because, a Zimbabwean man, saw the policeman coming. He’s already running, you see the policeman coming closer, he’s on topspeed, running running away. [laughs] Even though, he hasn’t done anything wrong (Ob, Ghana 2009)
As I have considered the various parameters of performance and strategic action, subjectivity, body hexis, setting and audience, that shape the contingencies for performances of otherness or strategies of sameness I will now describe the various ways informants were covering their identity before I proceed to performances of misrepresentation.
“You have to hide yourself”. Employing strategies to cover one’s Otherness
Obviously, the ability of the coverage of one’s identity is dependent on both the visibility and the (im)permanency of its contextually meaningful signiﬁers. In the context of the second world war, for instance, Jews were able to conceal their Jewishness by simply removing the star from their attire that artiﬁcially rendered them visible (Einwohner 2008). Rendering one’s identity invisible, however, doesn’t require the literal hiding of the physical form. Homeless women, for instance, are able to render their homelessness invisible in the midst of hundreds of people by concealing attributes, such as disguising inappropriate activities and hiding the luggage they often carried with that could signify their personal identity (Casey, Goudie, and Reeve 2008). In a similar vein, African immigrants were often navigating within Alexandra’s densely populated spaces, such as Pan-Africa where foreign street-hawkers were selling their goods in the midst of thousands shopping consumers. Although occupational background provided me with a fairly accurate way to identify possible foreigners, foreignness remained highly invisible for me when I walked across the many street-hawkers who might have been foreign. Ambiguous indexes of identity, such as physical characteristics and clothing-styles, became for me too classiﬁcatory devices by which I tried to identify informants. Obviously this led to many situations in which the particular individual I approached and of whom I eventually
“Y OU HAVE TO HIDE YOURSELF ”. E MPLOYING STRATEGIES TO COVER ONE ’ S O THERNESS
tried to infer his or hers nationality appeared to be South African. Nevertheless, I was never sure whether the person was simply conveying the truth or was also concealing their nationality in front of me. The touchy subject that I was conducting my research on made the latter highly plausible. Ob, who was a well-known and respected ﬁgure at Pan-Africa, frequently helped me with the identiﬁcation of immigrants to interview. One particular man, a taxi marshall who was working right next to Ob’s stall, was a Zimbabwean according to Ob. “But he will never tell you”, Ob added and laughed. When I asked Ob how he was so sure that the particular man was Zimbabwean, he stated the obvious: “I just can tell by observing him”. Conﬁdent that Ob was telling the truth I decided to approach the man. When I introduced myself and my research subject, I started to ask him questions that could indirectly disclose his nationality. However, the man clearly implied he was South African. Although I couldn’t help to feel slightly disappointed, we made an agreement with an interview. During the interview I carefully tried to catch him on any inconsistencies when I was interviewing him, but the man never disclosed any information by which Ob could be proven true that the interviewee actually was Zimbabwean. The man, whether it was his ‘real’ or ‘performed’ identity, presented himself convincingly as South African. But I still wasn’t fully convinced since the man was accompanied by three South African friends for the full duration of our conversation. I reckoned he was possibly concealing his Zimbabwean identity in front of me because his friends were unaware of his nationality. After the interview ended we walked to his mothers house and I decided to ask him if I could ask him some more personal questions. “Nooo, I don’t have time anymore”, he replied. As I had become very obsessed with possible signs that could disclose people’s possible foreignness I thought I could see a slight glint of panic in his eyes, which could conﬁrm my suspicion that he simply was pretending to be South African. Nevertheless, I didn’t dare to confront him with what could be regarded as an offensive question, seen the hostile perceptions towards foreigners he expressed during the course of the interview (Taximarshall and Friends, South Africa 2009). “I told you, he is too scared to tell he is Zimbabwean” Ob said, when I told this story to him the next day and his clear conﬁdence made me even more confused and uncertain. During my very last day within Alexandra I accidentally met the taxi marshall again. When we exchanged some formalities about the fact
C HAPTER 5. C OVERING THE S ELF, P ERFORMING THE O THER
that I was leaving I couldn’t help to ﬁnally try to fulﬁll my curiosity. After carefully I restated my research subject and particularly stressed my interest stemmed from my sympathy with the difﬁculties immigrants were dealing with, I ﬁnally came to the point: “I actually thought at ﬁrst you were a Zimbabwean too”. Probably because I was once more afraid to offend the man, I reﬂexively patted him on the shoulder and laughed simultaneously. The man started laughing too and replied: “aah nooo, I am South African. I am born and bred in Alexandra”. Up to this day I still wonder: was I simply too obsessed with reading bodies in order to signify foreignness, or was I confronted with those very strategies I tried to research and did he manage to conceal his personal identity up to the very end because I might had given the impression that I was joking? I too belonged to an audience in particular settings and, likewise, I too could have been misled numerous times by immigrants that were very cautious to convey information that could render them vulnerable. Especially because of this uncertainty and the very essence that strategies of invisibility are primarily concerned with duping the performers’ audiences, my information is mainly extrapolated from interview-material of my informants. The only strategy of ‘covering’ that I was able to observe has been brieﬂy exempliﬁed in chapter two when Prince, able to cover his nationality due to his physical characteristics and linguistic competence, only disclosed his Zimbabwean identity to me when we were out of ear-reach of his South African customers. Without practically lying to me in front of his customers, but simply telling me “that he knew some Zimbabweans down the road”, he used common communication techniques such as innuendo, strategic ambiguity, and crucial omissions that can be used to misinform audiences without practically lying (Goffman 1959). Covering, also known as dissociation or camouﬂage, is probably the easiest way of concealing stigmatized identities. Instead of actively trying to convince audiences to identify the discreditable person as what one is not, the performer solely needs to behave as if s/he is not part of the stigmatized group to which s/he actually belongs. Techniques that allow them to do so include the engagement in performances such as “modifying one’s physical appearance, avoiding contact with others like yourself, or remaining silent when one’s group is being publicly disparaged” (Kanuha 1999). All three types were predominantly mentioned by my informants too. Most foreign interviewees were especially very cautious with the management of social re-
“Y OU HAVE TO HIDE YOURSELF ”. E MPLOYING STRATEGIES TO COVER ONE ’ S O THERNESS
lationships. While some informants explained they only disclosed their nationality to those whom they perceived to be trustworthy (Mozes, Zimbabwe 2009; Sibusizo, Zimbabwe 2009b; Josef, Zimbabwe 2009; Kumalo, Zimbabwe 2009), others even limited their social network to those who were not South African (Jeffrey, Malawi and his wife, South Africa 2009). By maintaining this distance with particular others, they were able to restrict the possibilities of South Africans from constructing a personal identiﬁcation of them (Goffman 1986). Mozes, for instance, explained to me he not only limited his spatial navigation and social lifestyle, but also restricted his social network to those friends he deemed to be trusted:
I’m no longer moving around anymore. I liked to move around, to drink outside, because I did have some friends over that side. But I’m no longer going and see them now. I’m not there anymore, I already changed my life. I’m trying to minimize friends. I don’t wanna have too much friends, you know. Only the ones you can trust, with you are close, you know? (Mozes, Zimbabwe 2009).
And even when informants categorized particular others as friends, this not necessarily meant they would expose their personal identity to them. Josef explained he has South African friends, of whom “some do” but “others they don’t” know where he is originally from, which forced him to live a double life containing those familiairs who think they know his identity and those who ‘really’ do (Josef, Zimbabwe 2009; Goffman 1986). Discreditable persons who successfully ‘pass’ into a new social category often experience considerable feelings of disloyalty and self-contempt when members of the category s/he is passing into make “offensive” remarks against the category the person is passing out of – especially when the individual can face exposure when s/he refrains from joining in this viliﬁcation (Goffman 1986). Josef explained that when his South African friends “talk bad things about Zimbabweans”, he cannot do anything but “just keep quiet” (Josef, Zimbabwe 2009). Sibusizo employs a different strategy in this case:
All I do is, just, you know, compliment on what they say, you know. Just say, yeah, just compliment on what they say. But, if they start talking bad about foreigners, I tell them. No, those people they are people you know, all they want is to survive. Cause, I know, on my side that I’m a foreigner. But as for my
C HAPTER 5. C OVERING THE S ELF, P ERFORMING THE O THER
friends, they don’t know. So I always try to, you know, to advise them, no to cause violence, to do any harm, to other foreigners. Whilst they don’t know that they speaking to one of the foreigners, you see? (Sibusizo, Zimbabwe 2009b).
Immigrants who were not able to speak a South African language “properly”, often “tried to to avoid or limit contact across the boundary” by employing performances whereby they pretended to be a person that was not really talkative (Larsen 1982; Ndundu and family, Zimbabwe 2009). As did Ndundu’s sister, who just arrived a few months ago in South Africa:
[We] don’t try to talk too much, because we could be identiﬁed. So pretend you are the type of person that doesn’t like to talk to people. Pretend you are a quiet someone. Because that you won’t be able to make them identify you. Yeah, so you have to pretend you don’t like talking (Ndundu and family, Zimbabwe 2009).
Jeffrey, who sold shoes and bags at Pan-Africa, employed similar tactics of strategic avoidance, by which he very pragmatically solved the problem on how to live with possibilities of (violent) harassment (Larsen 1982). In order to lessen the chance to be identiﬁed as foreign, he kept his verbal interactions with his customers to a minimum: “You don’t talk to them, when they ask how much, you tell them. When they want to buy, they buy, when they don’t want, say thank you” (Jeffrey, Malawi and his wife, South Africa 2009). Although not frequently mentioned, behaviour and physical appearances were sometimes modiﬁed too, in order to engage in strategies of invisibility. Ndundu’s sister, for instance, mentioned how she had “been given some tips by some, how to respond, how to walk on the street” (Ndundu and family, Zimbabwe 2009). A very drastic solution to hide the inoculation mark is exempliﬁed by immigrants who try to acidize or burn their left arms in an attempt to erase or obliterate this signiﬁer of foreignness (Matsinhe 2009). Ndundu conﬁrmed this: “Yeah, they remove the scar with those scar-removals, like bio-oil” (Ndundu and family, Zimbabwe 2009). Others employed a less drastic strategy and simply covered the inoculation mark by wearing long sleeves (Matsinhe 2009; Salani, South Africa 2009; Ellen, South Africa and Themba, Zimbabwe 2009). Situational rules for the coverage of foreignness went beyond appearance and language skills to include behavioral symbols as well. For instance, a Zimbabwean barber explained to me he
“Y OU HAVE TO PRETEND ”. P ERFORMING I DENTITIES BY M ISREPRESENTATION
did not ﬂee the violence during the xenophobic riots, simply because it would create suspicion among his friends:
Ah, I’ve got a lot of friends. So, some people, if you run away, they are gonna see, this guy is not from here. But some people if you don’t run away, they don’t know, maybe this guy is from South Africa. That’s why I didn’t run away (Barber, Zimbabwe 2009).
Although especially those who were not able to speak South African languages ‘properly’ were very limited in their strategies of invisibility, they were still able in creative ways to somehow navigate as ‘undercover agents’ within in the midst of a hostile community. Strategies of misrepresentation are a considerable more complex type of “identity work”. As the strategies of concealing stigma signiﬁers are predominantly concerned with negating foreignness, strategies of misrepresentation are additionally concerned with the performance of sameness (Einwohner 2008). Discreditable persons who successfully pass into another category by performances of sameness thus face considerably more danger of being exposed by the very weakness they are trying to hide in their daily interaction with South Africans (Goffman 1986). It was Prince’s brother, Lucky, who was placed in an extremely vulnerable position when I conducted an interview with him in the presence of a youngster who I at ﬁrst assumed to be familiair with Lucky’s Zimbabwean nationality. Fortunately, I realized just in time that the boy who Lucky identiﬁed as his friend wasn’t aware that he was Zimbabwean and that Lucky even actively gave a performance in which he presented himself as a fellow Zulu.
“You have to pretend”. Performing Identities by Misrepresentation
“Ah, you did a really good job there, I was really feeling nervous for a moment”, Lucky said to me as we were returning to his street-stall at Pan-Africa. I met Lucky, a Zimbabwean street-hawker during my ﬁrst month in Alexandra. One day Lucky took me out for a walk through the area of Beirut and showed me some formerly foreign-owned shops that were closed or demolished due to the xenophobic violence. He appeared to be more than happy to talk with me about those days of
C HAPTER 5. C OVERING THE S ELF, P ERFORMING THE O THER
violence from his Zimbabwean perspective and I made an appointment with him for an interview. Although my original intention was to interview Lucky only, we accidentally met a friend of him on our way to Lucky’s residential area. “I can tell you a lot about xenophobia too”, Lucky’s friend said to me after I explained what we were up to. Glad with this opportunity to be able to get some insights on my research subject from more than one perspective, I asked them both if they would be ﬁne to conduct the interview with the three of us. “Ah, no problem”, both Lucky and the undisclosed man replied and together we resumed our journey on foot to Lucky’s living-room. As I switched on my recording device and gave a short introduction on my research subject, Lucky started by explaining to me that xenophobia was something “that came out of space” due to an incident when a Zimbabwean “took the Zulu’s wallet”. After this happened, Lucky explained, “those Zulu guys became angry” and said to each other: “This guys from Zimbabwe, Maputo, whatwhat, they’ve got full of crime!”. That’s what “caused of the matter”, concluded Lucky and clearly identiﬁed the spark of the violence as with Zulu’s being fed up with what they perceived to be criminal Zimbabweans. So far, Lucky’s friend occasionally stressed the points that Lucky made to me by shouting short statements like “YAH” with his very deep rough accent. When Lucky explained that the Zulu’s “took them out because they are the one who are coming with CRIME”, the other man suddenly angrily interrupted: “Zimbabwe guys, Maputo guys, they want gun, they want crime! They take money, they take whatwhat wallets, whatwhat, they point guns!”. I suddenly realized Lucky’s friend was a South African who by no means held positive perceptions towards Zimbabwean immigrants. “Back! They are taking our jobs! They must go!”, he shouted after Lucky stated Zulu’s were “crying about Zimbabwean guys taking our whatwhat”. Slightly confused whether the man was aware of Lucky’s nationality, I realized I had to be careful with my formulation of questions. But although Lucky at ﬁrst seemed to be reproducing South African perceptions towards foreigners from a neutral point of perspective, he all of a sudden radically changed his frame of reference: “Zimbabweans hijack people, taking people’s money, feeding themselves with people tears”, he shouted to me in a rough tone of voice similar to his friend’s. The course of the interview changed dramatically when both Lucky and his friends
“Y OU HAVE TO PRETEND ”. P ERFORMING I DENTITIES BY M ISREPRESENTATION
started reproducing a wide range of negative stereotypes about African immigrants from a South African perspective. I became even more puzzled and assumed Lucky was acknowledging those perceptions as a Zimbabwean due to his friend’s hostile notions about many of Lucky’s fellow nationals. But I soon realized Lucky was not only concealing his Zimbabwean nationality, but even pretended to be a South African Zulu. “Zulu! Me, I’m a Zulu. I know Zulu, this is a Zulu” Lucky states at a point by referring both to himself as his South African friend and acclaims that South Africa is “our” “Zulu country” (Lucky, Zimbabwe and Zulu-friend 2009). Lucky was clearly performing a South African identity in front of his South African friend who appeared to be oblivious to Lucky’s Zimbabwean nationality. Although Lucky was talking from a South African point of reference, he implicitly motivated the necessity to misrepresent himself by stating that many Zimbabweans “pretend” to be South African “because of fear” and therefore “don’t come with their own image and everything” (ibid.). Due to his mastery of the Zulu language, the appropriation of the very stereotypes that make it necessary for him to render himself invisible and his morphological features he was able to feign sameness while simultaneously performing Zuluness. The very ways foreign and South African bodies are proﬁled within South African society which are outlined in the previous chapter were utilized by immigrants to misrepresent themselves as South African citizens and thus to render their foreignness invisible. As soon as many foreign nationals realize that their own personal attributes, such as clothing styles, biographies, names and language put them in a vulnerable position, immigrants, like Ndundu, readjust their self-presentation by appropriating those attributes that allow them to pass as South Africans:
Why you have to pretend to be South African, what’s the problem? If you, if you can be seen otherwise you are coming from... outside. Eish, you don’t survive. Why? I’m struggling. Otherwise, you can see I’m coming from there. Because I used to work with guys, you see? South African guys. So, if I work with them. I have to hide myself, you see? Identity, my identity (Ndundu and family, Zimbabwe 2009)
Language always remained a crucial signiﬁer of foreignness and especially immigrants from Southern Africa have the advantage over those from farther aﬁeld to learn South African languages to perfect their skills of mimicry (Matsinhe 2009).
C HAPTER 5. C OVERING THE S ELF, P ERFORMING THE O THER
Ndundu, who identiﬁed himself as Shona, stated he had been able to make himself familiair with several South African languages such as Venda, Pedi, Zulu and Shangaan due to his long-term residency in South Africa. In his daily interaction with strangers and colleagues he used these different ‘native’ languages in creative ways to hide his identity:
By now you are going to force a language, you see. I’ve got my Shona language. But, by now, you see, I can speak those languages. So I have to speak their language. You see. Otherwise, maybe, this one is a Shangani, this one is a Pedi, this one... I’m going to say. What I did like, because I know... several languages. If I saw you, this one is a Pedi. This one is a Venda. I"m going to speak Shangani. Or Zulu! I’m going to say [speaks Zulu] Because, people of here ne? They are going to speak their language, home language. That’s only. If it’s a Pedi. Pedi. Yeah! No more languages. Pedi is Pedi. Always. This one is Shangani. Shangani always. So, if I see this one speaks Shangani, this one speaks Pedi. Ok? I’m going to speak Zulu [everybody starts laughing] (Ndundu and family, Zimbabwe 2009).
By utilizing the fact that many South Africans not always understand each other due to South Africa’s linguistic diversity, he intelligently alternated between the different South African languages in order to ‘juggle with identities’. In a similar vein of the strategies of invisibility of Rwandan ‘town-refugees’ in Tanzania, Ndundu’s “multiple identities were shaped by many different nexuses of relations with diverse categories of people, and in a multitude of shifting contexts”. By employing them, depending on the category he perceived his audience to ‘belong’ to, “these multiple identities operated as strategies of invisibility” (Malkki 1995a). Of course, strategies of immigrants varied according to their audiences. For discreditable individuals the social identities of the ones he is interacting with can be used a source of information concerning the social identity he should pass into in order to let his audience assume that he is what they themselves are (Goffman 1986). We have already seen that immigrants especially perceived Zulu’s to be a audience in front of whom they particularly felt the need to employ strategies of misrepresentation and coverage. Many immigrants perceived policemen to be another category for whom they needed to hide their identity from, out of fear to be arrested or to be forced to bribe them to avoid detention and even possible deportation. Ndundu explained to me how he
“Y OU HAVE TO PRETEND ”. P ERFORMING I DENTITIES BY M ISREPRESENTATION
deals with this anxiety when the taxi he is travelling with is stopped by the police at a roadblock:
They are pretending they are searching for guns, for eh... Zolo’s, you see, those drugs, you see? But they are looking for? For foreigners. So you have to hide, Yeah! Look here, look here, I am Shona. From Zim. But by now, if there’s a roadblock, there’s a roadblock. I am going to say, I am Shangani. Shangani here, means, I’m a Pedi, from where where homes, there. I’m a Pedi. For what? If I’ll be arrested, I’ll bribe (Ndundu and family, Zimbabwe 2009).
Language is a highly ambiguous signiﬁer of identity within the Southern African context. For many South Africans Ndebele and Zulu are virtually indistinguishable. Primarily native Zulu-speakers are able to distinguish the subtle differences between the two forms of speechmaking and thus more prone to scrutinize accents in order to determine if the other individual sounds native too. For, communication in a South African language is not always sufﬁcient in order to pass as same, but may simultaneously depend on the passer’s accent. However, Ndebele is not the only tongue that has many similarities with Zulu. The reason that Ndundu was able to misrepresent himself as Pedi in front of policemen was largely due to the fact that some South African languages are also spoken outside its borders
Swazi is spoken both in South Africa and Swaziland. Non-Swazi and non-Zulu speakers can barely distinguish between the two languages. Thus in principle, one should not be arrested for speaking Swazi. South African Swazi and Swaziland Swazi are almost indistinguishable. The same applies to Tswana, which is spoken in South Africa and Botswana; with Sotho, which is spoken both in South Africa and Lesotho; with Tsonga or Shangana, which is spoken in South Africa, Mozambique and Zimbabwe (Matsinhe 2009).
Many Southern Africans are thus not easily distinguishable from South Africans and are rendered practically invisible within South African society. These cultural and linguistic similarities between South African’s citizenry and it’s foreign bordercrossers signify the concept of the Stranger who is neither friend nor enemy and even may be both since South Africans have no way of knowing (Bauman 1990; Matsinhe 2009). The body-hexis of immigrant thus largely shapes the possibilities to employ strategies of misrepresentation. Even during the violence, Themba utilized this as a
C HAPTER 5. C OVERING THE S ELF, P ERFORMING THE O THER
way to present himself as a fellow South African in front of the passengers he was travelling with in the taxi:
That’s why I’m saying, sometimes there are people that you can identify and there are some people that they fail to identify. Because, the last time when this thing still very hot, this xenophobic thing. I was in the taxi! And most of the people that were there, they were South Africans and they were busy talking: hey, you know these people, we must attack them, they must go man! These people they must go! And hey, what do you say, you know? People were just like talking and eh... I was also there! And I said, yeah, but guys, you know, we must try to think about these other things, you know, before we are doing whatever we’re doing, you know? I was acting as if I was one of them. And they never even saw that I was not from here. Even if you talk to them and your Zulu is not so good, but they can actually, ok this guy, well he’s trying his Zulu. But, they might think maybe he’s a Venda or Shangaan... [Ellen interrupts] Because, most of us, Shanghaan and Venda, they don’t really exactly speak this language, you see? They’re not proper Zulu’s (Ellen, South Africa and Themba, Zimbabwe 2009).
Of course, language wasn’t the only signiﬁer which immigrants could appropriate in order to employ their performances of sameness. While language, and especially its subtleties, have to be mastered in time before individuals can convincingly utilize it to sound like South Africans, clothing style was for immigrants an easier signiﬁer to appropriate in order to look like a stereotypical South African township resident. However, Robert explained to me that these strategies to “want to look more like South Africans” are dependent on both the linguistic competence of individuals of a South African language and their (im)permanency of residence within South Africa:
Yeah there are people who do that, especially those who come from Ndebeleland in Zimbabwe. They want to look more like South Africans, than us. We are from maShonaland. So all those people, they speak Ndembele, which is more like Zulu. So, they want to look more like Zulu, than us from maShonaland. Yeah, those are the people that wear those All-Stars, Taeki’s. The clothing of the Zulu’s, yeah, the way like that. So it depends here you are coming from yeah, what you want to do. If you are here for a visit, you might do just what you are doing. But
100 “Y OU HAVE TO PRETEND ”. P ERFORMING I DENTITIES BY M ISREPRESENTATION
if you are here for good, you have to adopt to that kind of culture or that kind of life. So that’s what they do (Robert and Roommates, Zimbabwe 2009).
Especially what was described in the previous chapter as pantsula-style, was considered by informants to be a clothing style which represented ‘the South African’ as opposed to fong kong which was predominantly perceived to be associated with the stereotype of the Makwerekwere. Patrick, for instance, paid particular attention to how he dressed by reﬂecting on which style South Africans considered to be meaningful in order to draw boundaries between nationals and foreigners so his audience cannot ‘see him’ :
I’m supposed to wear lebo. It’s very important, you see. Just because, people they see you are wearing fong kong there from pan, you see. Just cheapy things. Something like that. They take you easily, others, like, ok, this one is a fong kong guy. You see, something like that. When I supposed to go to buy something. I’m supposed to buy nikes, or all stars, something like that, like South African things, you see. They can’t see you. (Patrick, Zimbabwe 2009)
Although immigrants may successfully pass as South Africans by means of sounds and looks, they are likely to have to recourse to other signiﬁers in order to give a consistent performance when their interactions with their audiences requires them to disclose personal information. Sensory ways of identifying identity are often accompanied with efforts of constructing personal identiﬁcations of immigrants by their audience. Immigrants who pass successfully as South African are often prone to be confronted with additional tests of sameness whereby South Africans try to corroborate their identity-claims with personal biographies. Therefore, my informants often had to anticipate to questions such as “‘What’s the name of the village primary school and who’s the principal?’; ‘What’s the village high school and who’s the principal?”’ when they fabricated a place of birth within South African in order to sustain the impression that they were South African (Matsinhe 2009). Immigrants, therefore, often carefully constructed a ﬁctive personal biography that they could rely upon when South Africans would interrogate their claims of sameness. “You must always have a story”, Josef said to me (Josef, Zimbabwe 2009). Sibusizo provided me with an example when I asked him whether he told his South African friends he was from Zimbabwe:
C HAPTER 5. C OVERING THE S ELF, P ERFORMING THE O THER
Sibusizo: Ah, no. I don’t. All they know, my friends, I always tell them I grew up in north-west, in Maﬁkeng. That’s where I grew up, that’s where I learned. But I was born and raised, I was raised in Durban. Because I can’t speak Tswana, but, when I tell them I was born in Durban, it’s more understandable. Because I know Zulu. And in Maﬁkeng, it’s only Tswana only. So I tell them, I was born in Maﬁkeng, but I grew up with my mother, there in Durban Me: Why don’t you tell you were just born in Durban, why make the story more complicated? Sibusizo: Yeah, but, my brother came here eight years ago. My brother, he always told all the guys that he’s from Maﬁkeng. So, we didn’t like to change the story, no. I come this side and I tell my brothers friends that, me I’m from Durban. It was going to be a problem, you see? Because, my brother, he’s the one who started with this thing. But lucky though, him he’s got an ID. (Sibusizo, Zimbabwe 2009b)
Sibusizo thus even tried to make sure his ﬁctive storytelling was compatible with his brother’s in order to make his performance less prone to be discredited. Of course, if individuals want to fabricate their personal biographies convincingly, an important part of it to sustain the impression of their performance is a name which ﬁts into this ﬁctive (hi)story. Although a name is not a very reliable way of ﬁxing identity, it is commonly employed in respect to legal aspects of personal identiﬁcation, in the case of draft dodgers and motel guests for example, or in respect to the issue of social identity when individuals feel the need to conceal their personal one (Goffman 1986). Jewish activists who worked on the German side during the second world war, for example, adopted Polish nicknames together with other attributes in order to successfully pass as Aryan (Einwohner 2008). Many informants adopted a Zulu name as soon as they arrived in South Africa explained Sibusizo: “All of them, they’ve changed their names to English names and Zulu names. There are few Zimbabweans who are using their original names, like Shona names, there are few, yeah” and added he himself adopted a Zulu surname in order to hide:
Me, I don’t tell people I’m from Zim. Even here, they don’t know where I’m from. I’ll tell them I’m a Zulu. I use a Zulu surname, Buthelezi. Because, eish, it’s hard. You have to hide yourself. Because if you don’t hide yourself, eventually if xenophobia comes back, you see, you’ll be the ﬁrst target. You see? So, it’s better to hide yourself (Josef, Zimbabwe 2009).
C ONCLUDING R EMARKS
Clearly those painful memories of the xenophobic violence still shape the need for African immigrants to employ strategies of invisibility. Although immigrants were particularly careful with the management of their stigma-attributes in their interaction with Zulu’s, many strategies of invisibility were paradoxically employed in order to pass as Zulu. It has been suggested that the cultural and linguistic similarity between Southern Africans and South Africans which renders many African immigrants invisible within public spaces stimulates anxiety within the South African imagination. In order to overcome this ambiguous nature of Strangeness, South Africans attribute many stigma-attributes to black foreign bodies. These South African attempts to accomplish the ideological construction of the Makwerekwere by means of stigma thus seems to take the form of the narcissism of minor differences by means of South African exceptionalism and a peculiar imagination of the South African who has lighter skins than Africans from across their borders (Matsinhe 2009).
I have tried to show in this chapter how foreign immigrants deal with their exclusion in daily life within South African society. By drawing on the very attributes that South Africans predominantly perceive meaningful to be able to recognize foreigners, African immigrants are able to perform themselves as sames or cover their otherness. I identiﬁed the limits to which immigrants could employ these strategies, such as the settings they were performing in, the audiences they were performing to and their subjective perceptions, while the previous chapter already elaborated on the possible attributes they could appropriate to render themselves invisible. Many informants deemed these strategies of invisibility necessary due to their daily experience of hostility in their interaction with South Africans. While covering is concerned with hiding one’s personal identity by concealing possible discreditable stigma-attributes, such as language and inoculation marks and the management of their social interaction with South Africans, strategies of misrepresentation are additionally concerned with a conscious performance of South African identity by appropriating attributes, such ass style, ﬁctive biographies, and speech, which South Africans perceive to signify their very own identity. Although immigrants were thus often successfully resisting their marginaliza-
C HAPTER 5. C OVERING THE S ELF, P ERFORMING THE O THER
tion within South Africa’s public spaces, one must be careful not to see resistance everywhere (Ortner 2005). Creative agency is often readily categorised as resistance (Scott 1990), which glosses over many of the other possible sources of action, such as emotions, ambiguities, insecurities and other subjectivities (Bähre 2007; Ortner 2005). Although strategies of invisibility were often based upon such subjectivities and therefore indeed cannot be seen solely in terms of resistance, immigrants were certainly resisting the ideological construction of the makwerekwere and its marginalization within society and often reversed these notions by feelings of ‘pride’. Ob, for example, expressed to me he was too proud to ‘compromise’ on his very own social identity and consciously decided to render his foreignness clearly visible in Alexandra’s public spaces:
You know, today, you have to, if you want to be aware. If you want to ditch some of these things, it means you have to start BEHAVING like that ignorant young man on the street. Do you understand me? Which some of us cannot do. Never! No, I will not do it, believe me, I won’t do it. You can do what you want, but believe me, I won’t act, accept that. No matter what you say. You understand? But there are people who have to dress, you know, you see, you see a very very noble person from maybe the neighbouring countries who dress looking like a South African. You’re asking why do you dress like a South African, “ey, my friend [laughs], you see this people, who am I staying with, must always be like them”. You know, people are compromising on issues, things that if it would be back home, they will not do it. Whilst most of us will call SA home also. Do you understand? (Ob, Ghana 2009)
Due to his subjective feelings of pride, Ob refused to engage in strategies of invisibility, which he clearly regarded as undermining people’s dignity. Jerry used pride as a form of regaining dignity by re-inverting the negatively valued status of the makwerekwere within South Africa’s national imaginations by reinstating his moral superiority over South Africans:
“They are sick and tired of our intelligence. They know that we are very sharp, yeah very sharp. A person who’s my age, who is in South Africa. There is nowhere that he’s as educated as I. Here they only have that metric. That metric I can write ANY DAY! And I can get eight credits and what not, because, ah man [laughs]” (Sibusizo and Jerry, Zimbabwe 2009).
C ONCLUDING R EMARKS
Finally, one must be careful to classify strategies of invisibility too easily as the resistance to essentialized notions of identities or as a romantic celebration of the dialectical nature of identity. Although my informants were utilizing the performative and socially negotiated aspects of identity in order to (mis)represent themselves, they, like Sibusizo, frequently expressed pride in their ‘true’ ‘authentic’ inner self: “But, deep down I know I’m a Zimbabwean, I’m a Zimbabwean, I’m a Zimbabwean by birth, I’m a Zimbabwean. I grew up in Zimbabwe, I stayed in Zimbabwe, since I was born until the age of eighteen” (Sibusizo, Zimbabwe 2009b). By doing this, immigrants themselves often reproduced the very essentialized conceptions of discrete identity-classiﬁcations on which their otherness was constructed by in the ﬁrst place.
It is now exactly two years ago that South African society was ruptured by xenophobic riots that eventually left 62 dead, injured hundreds and displaced thousands of others. Sadly enough, African immigrants are still being stigmatized as undesirable outsiders by various segments of South African society and have to deal with considerable amounts of hostility on a daily basis. Once again, just a month ago, South African citizens chased away hundreds of foreign immigrants who were forced to erect temporary spaces of refuge, away from their homes and hostile neighbours. The upcoming event of the 2010 soccer World Cup that is held for the ﬁrst time in (South) Africa in July this year generates considerable anxiety amongst African immigrants in South Africa. Many of my informants expressed to me that South African citizens repeatedly warn them they will chase them away for good once the World Cup has ended. The strategies of invisibility that this thesis mainly focussed upon are thus still deemed very necessary by the many African immigrants who live within South Africa borders in order to deal with their fears. These fears that arise out of the various hostile and exclusionary practices, with which immigrants clearly still have to deal with daily from within all ranks of South African society make that the subject of this thesis unfortunately remains a highly relevant issue. This thesis started by stating that the very fact that African immigrants are able to render themselves invisible within South Africa’s public spaces is largely due to the particular highly ambiguous nature of the Stranger in South African society:
My aim is to show that the Stranger is particularly within the South African context a highly ambiguous ﬁgure, which creates considerable leeway for creativity that African
immigrants in the Alexandra township are able to utilize by means of strategies of invisibility in order to render their foreignness invisible
Strangers are always highly ambiguous ﬁgures because of occupying liminal spaces within nations and are therefore often perceived by state-authorities and their subjects to be threatening the orderly world of nationness. The propensity of citizens and national authorities to exclude the stranger from legitimate claims to resources has led to the global trend to draw boundaries between ‘authentic’ autochthons and non-belonging allochthones. Globalised ﬂows of interconnectedness that seem to dissolve national boundaries and thus fundamentally are perceived to threaten national hegemony have increasingly led to obsessions with who belongs and who does not. Within South Africa’s collective post-apartheid imagination the African immigrant has become to represent this global obsession to exclude strangers in the form of the ideological construction of the Makwerekwere. This hegemonic xenophobic political discourse that imagines African immigrants as highly undesirable and unintelligible ﬁgures who usurp resources, foster crime and deseases and thus fundamentally threaten the national body arose in tandem with South Africa’s postapartheid process of nation-building. A process, which is primarily concerned with a non-racial re-imagining of its national identity, but which has paradoxically rendered the undesirable outsider visible by means of superﬁcial physical features. As a perverted parody of South Africa’s apartheid past, the ultimate Other who is demarcated from South Africa’s newly imagined Self is predominantly deﬁned within this dominant discourse on racial and physical characteristics. The Stranger, in the South African context, is predominantly imagined as black and thus constructed upon those very essentialized apartheid-categories that the ‘Rainbow nation’ tries to overcome. The nature of the Stranger is particularly ambiguous within the South African context for two important reasons. First, South Africa’s internal ethno-racial and linguistic heterogeneity makes it extremely difﬁcult to distinguish between fellow nationals and strangers with certainty. Although South Africans predominantly imagine themselves to be light colored, in reality they can by no means be solely identiﬁed on the basis of physical characteristics, such as language and skin color. To make matters even more complicated, in a similar vein, South Africans share many physical, cultural, racial, ethnical and linguistic similarities with the very nationals
C HAPTER 6. C ONCLUSION
they consider to be a threat. The many African immigrants that reside within South Africa’s national borders are often not easily to distinguish from its citizens on the basis of such physical features. Second, South Africa’s apartheid history of racial segregation made sure that many South Africans were always strangers towards another. The apartheid regime interpellated many black rural migrants, whether South African or not, as illegal aliens that were legally excluded from the rights to space and employment within South Africa’s urban cities. This made sure that black urban residents could appropriate these categories of il/legality to claim resources they perceived themselves to be entitled to. These political interpellated categories rendered apartheid insider/outsider cleavages and forms of belonging as fundamentally different from their post-apartheid equivalents. Whereas the demarcation between the self and the other in post-apartheid South Africa is largely based on a national/non-national divide, the Stranger in the apartheid context was predominantly constructed by rural/urban divides. Stigma is often considered to be a convenient device by citizens to overcome the ambiguities of the Stranger. By rendering certain body attributes, such as clothingstyles, morphological features and languages as meaningful identiﬁers of foreignness, South Africans are able to reify their differences with African immigrants. South Africa’s hegemonic xenophobic discourse predominantly imagines immigrants as individuals who are pitch-black, speak unintelligible languages and even walk or dress in speciﬁc manners. By employing these superﬁcial attributes in order to identify who is foreign or not, both state-authorities as citizens themselves use bodies as texts in order to determine citizenship by perceiving that African immigrants are recognizable by their looks, sounds, behaviours or even smells. These stereotypical perceptions are clearly reﬂected within the daily experiences of immigrants. Not only do they have to deal with hostility and marginalization in their interaction with citizens who infer their foreignness on the basis of such stigma-attributes, even policemen are known to proﬁle supposedly illegal immigrants on these superﬁcial features. Of course, body attributes provide far from a secure technique of classifying individuals in national, racial, ethnical or otherwise designated orders. Especially in the context of South Africa where linguistic and racial diversity is high, reading bodies appears to be highly deceptive. The xenophobic violence of May 2008 seemed to be a horriﬁc expression of the
108 frustrations of many South Africans who are disillusioned with the materialization of change of South Africa’s democratic transition. South Africa’s former oppressed population re-imagined their post-apartheid nation as a country with renewed possibilities by which they would ﬁnally reap the fruits of freedom. However, many citizens feel for them little has changed. The post-apartheid political interpellations of the Stranger are increasingly appropriated by these disillusioned citizens in ways that they scapegoat African immigrants to blame for their social ills. Within Alexandra South African rioters during the xenophobic violence predominantly legitimized their violent actions on the same hegemonic perceptions that foreigners are stealing their houses, jobs and women and are responsible for high crime-rates. Likewise, they singled out their targets on the same superﬁcial features that deﬁne the hegemonic stereotypical Stranger. Skin-color, language, clothing-styles, inoculation marks, modes of walking, occupational background and behaviour were all used by rioters in order to identify their victims. Nevertheless, the violence cannot be understood without placing it in the context of Alexandra’s socio-economic historical landscape. Alexandrians have always distinguished between insiders and outsiders and used these divisions throughout its impoverished history to exclude the others from scarce resources. However, during apartheid the outsider was in Alexandra not necessarily from across the border, but often a fellow national from rural areas. Since the violence, African immigrants in Alexandra are still dealing with considerable feelings of fears of ‘it’ happening again. Due to their experience of (past) violence and hostility many are very cautious in their interactions with South Africans. The far from fool-proof method of body-reading by which their South African neighbours often try to identify foreigners has created considerable leeway for immigrants to render themselves invisible. As identity is always established within social interaction and group-membership can never be deﬁned in unambiguous rules of membership space for creativity emerges to (re)negotiate their identities in public spaces. The highly ambiguous nature of the Stranger and the uncertainty to identify him by reading body attributes are clearly reﬂected in the many South Africans that are arrested by the police due to perceptions that they are foreign. Such ‘mistaken identities’ often had tragic consequences during the xenophobic violence too. Rioters chased away or even killed South Africans too in their obsession with the exclusion of others. Although mistakes are always made within (ethnic) riots due to the
C HAPTER 6. C ONCLUSION
very uncertainty to identify on the basis of body attributes, it seemed that old rural/urban divides and forms of belonging were conﬂated with the post-apartheid interpellations of who belongs and who does not. South African informants who were victimized during the violence often came from rural areas and expressed the rioters who chased them away were very conscious of their South African identity. Such South African urban immigrants ultimately seemed to represent the ambiguity of the stranger, who is no longer classiﬁed and not/yet classiﬁed. My informants were able to utilize these ambiguities of strangeness in order to employ strategies of invisibility. Within the midst of a community they still experienced to be very hostile they used two methods to render their foreignness invisible and/or pass as same. Both methods were based on the appropriation of the very culturally dictated scripts that deﬁned which body attributes are deemed useful by South Africans in order distinguish between fellow nationals and foreigners. The ﬁrst, coverage, is based on the management of stigma-attributes that could disclose one’s foreign identity. By hiding their inoculation marks, limiting their social network, keeping their verbal interactions with South Africans to a minimum, immigrants are able to keep their identity hidden. The second method some employed, strategies of misrepresentation, depends on both the management of discreditable stigma symbols as the appropriation of attributes, such as clothing style, ﬁctive biographies, that are perceived to be meaningful in order to perform a South African identity. Both strategies are made possible due to the ability of immigrants to reﬂect upon the ambiguous nature of which attributes are deemed useful to signify strangeness and which signify South Africanness. Although this clearly exempliﬁes the performative and socially constructed nature of identity, this did not necessarily mean immigrants were not expressing very essentialized and stereotypical notions about themselves and South Africans. “What is a makwerekwere? We are all black. We are from the same place”, an informant once said to me (Kumalo, Zimbabwe 2009) and many informants expressed similar appeals to Pan-Africanism. Seen from this angle immigrants’ strategies of sameness could indeed be seen as a conﬁrmation that people are actually not that different, but are sometimes deemed necessary because people themselves are often very preoccupied with constructing difference.
(a) A mob of South African rioters
(b) Mozambican immigrant Ernesto Alfabeto Nhamuave who was set on ﬁre
(c) Displaced immigrants in one of the refugee camps
(d) A rioter demolishing a shack
Figure 3: Images of the xenophobic violence. See: http://www.boston.com/bigpicture/2008/06/xenophobia_in_south_africa.html, http://www.msf.org/source/countries/africa/southafrica/2008/43232.jpg, http://www.joaosilva.co.za/images/series_eight/sa2_big.jpg
(a) Criminalizing the Immigrant
(b) Polarizing reporting during the violence
(c) Alien iconography
(d) Suggestions of immigrants ‘ﬂooding’ into the country
Figure 4: Stigmatizing reporting in newspapers
(a) Outside view
(b) Inside view
(c) One of the many communal kitchens
Figure 5: The Madela Zulu-hostel
(c) Bird-eyed view of shacks in Beirut
(d) Playing children on the playground in the park
(e) Playing children within the Transitcamp
(f) Young men in front of their house
Figure 6: Images of Alexandra
(a) Sweets, cigarettes and chips
(b) Brooms and buckets
(c) Typical street-stall
(d) Dried mopani worms
(e) Pirated DVD’s
(f) Leather belts and caps
(h) Hair salon
(i) Chicken intestines and –feet
Figure 7: A variety of goods and services many (foreign) street-hawkers sell
(a) Club Jazz
(b) ‘Xenophobia Attack’ slogan on a taxi in Zimbabwe
(c) Inoculation-mark Zimbabwean
(d) An advertisement for sending remittances to Zimbabwe
(e) Inner view of a spaza shop
(f) Zimbabweans preparing their food
(g) A shack in the Beirut area
(h) A regular night out with friends
(i) A ﬁtness club in Alexandra
Figure 8: Miscellaneous
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URL : URL :
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Aunt Sibusizo, Zimbabwe (2009). “Personal Interview”. Alexandra, March 23rd. Barber, Zimbabwe (2009). “Personal Interview”. Alexandra, March 30th. Benneth, Mozambique (2009). “Personal Interview”. Alexandra, March 24th. Collen, Zimbabwe and Friends (2009). “Personal Interview”. Alexandra, January 13th. Ellen, South Africa and Themba, Zimbabwe (2009). Personal Interview. Alexandra, January 19th. Friend Ndima, Zimbabwe (2009). “Personal Interview”. Alexandra, March 25th. Innocent, Zimbabwe (2009). “Personal Interview”. Alexandra, March 5th. Jeffrey, Malawi and his wife, South Africa (2009). “Personal Interview”. Alexandra, February 22nd. Josef, Zimbabwe (2009). “Personal Interview”. Alexandra, April 1st. Kumalo, Zimbabwe (2009). “Personal Interview”. Alexandra, March 25th. Lucky, Zimbabwe and Zulu-friend (2009). “Personal Interview”. Alexandra, February 7th. Mozes, Zimbabwe (2009). “Personal Interview”. Alexandra, January 31st. Ndima, South Africa (2009). “Personal Interview”. Alexandra, January 1st. Ndundu and family, Zimbabwe (2009). “Group Interview”. Alexandra, April 8th. Ob, Ghana (2009). “Personal Interview”. Alexandra, February 6th. Patrick, Zimbabwe (2009). “Personal Interview”. Alexandra, March 30th. Prince, Zimbabwe (2009). “Personal Interview”. Alexandra, January 31st. Raphael Mozambique (2009). “Personal Interview”. Alexandra, January 17th. Robert and Roommates, Zimbabwe (2009). “Group Interview”. Alexandra, February 11th. Robert, Zimbabwe (2009). “Personal Interview”. Alexandra, March 6th. Salani, South Africa (2009). “Personal Interview”. Alexandra, March 16th. Sibusizo and Jerry, Zimbabwe (2009). “Personal Interview”. Alexandra, March 25th. Sibusizo, Zimbabwe (2009a). “Personal Interview”. Alexandra, March 6th. — (2009b). “Personal Interview”. Alexandra, March 25th. Taximarshall and Friends, South Africa (2009). “Group Interview”. Alexandra, March 31st.
Tendai, Zimbabwe (2009). “Personal Interview”. Alexandra, March 20th. Witness, South Africa (2009). “Personal Interview”. Alexandra, March 28th. Zulu and Two Zimbabweans (2009). “Personal Interview”. Alexandra, February 18th.