In commemoration of Africa Day, the Rural Women’s Assembly (RWA) hosted a webinar on xenophobia. This was a very revealing webinar since it soon became clear that as the panellists discussed xenophobia, there was very different understandings of what the drivers of xenophobia are. This article is the first of a series of conversations to deal with xenophobia.

In the past few years, South Africa has seen a worrying increase in xenophobic attacks, leading to really horrific and inhumane scenes. This has become a significant issue of concern since many African nationals from other countries on the Continent, live and work in South Africa. For us as the RWA, a regional movement across Southern Africa, this is a matter that is very close to our hearts because many members have family living in South Africa.

So why is xenophobic violence so dominant in South Africa? Is it a manifestation of racism? Is it simply hatred as one of the speakers in our webinar suggested? Is it common in societies undergoing transition? Is it because South Africa is opening up after years of isolation from the region during apartheid? Is it because of the nature of South African foreign policy? Is it because of inequality, growing poverty and unemployment within society? Is it because the bosses employ nationals of other countries (often undocumented) because they accept lower wages, are not unionised and therefore appear less likely to strike or demand worker rights? Is it because bosses have changed the nature of work, use labour brokers which has led to an increase in the casualisation and precariousness of work?

While we try to analyse and understand the xenophobia violence in the country, we have to know that xenophobia is a crime against humanity that involves aspects such as dislike, fear, distrust or intolerance of foreigners, often expressed in terms of hostilities towards the outsiders. Xenophobia is classified as a ‘hate crime’.

Throughout the centuries and even recent decades, people have moved in search opportunities for work and to build a better life for themselves. However, in past 30 to 40 years violent anti-foreigner practice has grown and is not restricted to South Africa, but is very much a worldwide issue. Many see xenophobia as a result of the globalisation of society, which prompts the migration of people, especially from developing and less developed countries to go in search of greener pastures.

As the Rural Women’s Assembly, we campaign against ALL forms of violence, including xenophobic violence. RWA is committed to creating spaces for ongoing dialogue and self-education in our effort to strengthen unity!

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