“Let us eat airtime”: youth identity and ‘xenophobic’ violence in a low-income neighbourhood in Cape Town

“Let us eat airtime”: youth identity and ‘xenophobic’ violence in a low-income neighbourhood in Cape Town

Identity, youth and xenophobic violence in a Cape Town neighbourhood

This paper was as a result of a survey which was carried out in South Africa to demonstrate how the scarcity of food may have resulted in the May 2008 violence. The author analyses how social identities and divisions function among South Africans and how groups’ positions were understood, by participants, in the context of the broader society. He then discusses terms such as:

  • ‘us’: Aspirations of the African urban working-class
  • ‘them’: foreign nationals
The author's findings include:
  • hunger usually turns to violence when people feel that a situation is unjust
  • youth in Dunoon used descriptions of ‘us’ and ‘them’, as well as notions of ‘needs and hunger’, to demonstrate that their situation is substantially unfair
  • young people in Dunoon state that they are ‘black’ and Xhosa
  • young people in Dunoon aspire to be modern and urban
  • young people in Dunoon rationalise attacks through literal ‘hunger’: “they didn’t kill them they only took their food”.
The author's conclusions include:
  • the attacks and looting carried out towards foreign nationals, in Dunoon, were the result of ‘hunger’ - this need for food was used as a justification
  • integral to the manner in which young people legitimised the attacks and grapple with issues related to citizenship, were post-apartheid understandings of ‘blackness’, which were associated with inferior skills, wealth, education and prosperity, in relation to Somali shopkeepers
  • the events which transpired in Dunoon illustrate how a disjunction may exist between ‘formal citizenship’- membership within South Africa; and ‘substantive citizenship’- comprised of political, civil, socio-economic and cultural rights, for groups of poor South Africans, in the post-apartheid period
  • the disjunction between formal and substantive citizenship may produce a response that enhances exclusivity, in the form of reactionary local movements, such as‘xenophobia’
  • the conflict between South African citizens and African foreign nationals needs to be seen in global terms
  • globalisation has also opened up channels for people to acknowledge their shared humanity, through common interests, such as music, sport and childrearing.
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