Academics unpack causes of xenophobia

Don Makatile

Don Makatile

As xenophobia spread to other parts of the country, academics met to unpack the underlying causes of the scourge at Constitution Hill in Braamfontein yesterday.

The seminar was hosted jointly by the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR) and the Consortium for Refugees and Migrants in South Africa (Cormsa).

Speakers attributed the senseless attacks, which have so far claimed the lives of more than 42 people and displaced tens of thousands of others, to irresponsible statements by politicians, legislation and the psychology of the perpetrators, more often than not fuelled by their own fears.

Michael Neocosmos of the sociology department at the University of Pretoria, whose brief was to address "Xenophobia: the politics of fear and the fear of politics", spoke passionately about how South Africa was fast adopting a culture of degrading anyone "who didn't belong".

Quoting extensively from Frantz Fannon's writings of the 1960s, which could easily have been written in modern-day South Africa, Neocosmos said the xenophobic attacks were, in the words of Malcolm X, the chickens coming home to roost.

Neocosmos reminded the seminar of how, when he was still home affairs minister, the selfsame Mangosuthu Buthelezi, who was tear-eyed during his visit to victims of the attacks in Alexandra township at the weekend, regrettably spoke of "the millions of aliens entering the country".

Gillian Finchilescu, of the chair of psychology at Wits University, looked at the psychology of xenophobia - explaining why certain people found it necessary to hate others. Boredom, was among the causes, she said.