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Political and economic gains behind attacks

- By Buhle Zuma

A debate to interrogate issues related to the ongoing xenophobic violence in South Africa was held at Wits.

The debate sought to unpack the issues behind the continuing rise of antipathy towards foreign nationals that threaten tolerance and peace within the Africa-rising narrative.

Speakers featured Jean Pierre Misago (Wits African Centre for Migration & Society), Uche Ajulu-Okeke (Consul-General of Nigeria), Clementine Awu Nkweta-Salami (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), Marc Gbaffou (African Diaspora Forum), Andries Viviers (United Nations Children’s Fund) and Richard Ots (International Organisation for Migration).

Misago, a senior researcher at Wits, presented a research-based paper that sought to move away from the emotive arguments that dominate discussions on xenophobia and xenophobic violence.

His presentation reflected on three areas: Firstly the nature, trends and dimensions of xenophobic violence in the country; the causal factors and explanations; and lastly the responses by different stakeholders.

Poverty, inequality and unemployment have been offered as the key drivers of attacks against foreign nationals, however Misago disputed this claim.

“Research debunks popular explanations and common hypotheses that emphasise factors such as poverty, inequality and unemployment. These [factors] matter but they are not the necessary and sufficient conditions for violence,” said Misago.

Research shows that these attacks are carried out by politically motivated instigators after a careful calculation of the benefits.

 “Violence against foreign nationals is ‘politics by other means’: there are political and economic incentives behind what is perceived to be irrational and spontaneous outbursts.”

To read Misago’s paper, click here.

The debate, which was held on Tuesday, 3 March 2015, was jointly hosted by the African Centre for Migration and Society at Wits and the Mail & Guardian Africa.