Published by the Black Agenda Report on 24th February 2021
South Africa must dismantle and transcend the colonial nation-state through creation of a Pan-African federation that stretches across the Southern African sub-continent.
“Madalitso Zililo Phiri traces the contemporary rise of xenophobia in South Africa to the colonial and imperial formation of the Union of South Africa.”
For the fourth post in the Black Citizenship Forum, we feature an essay from Dr. Madalitso Phiri, a sociologist and post-doctoral research fellow at the Johannesburg Institute for Advanced Studies at the University of Johannesburg. He is currently working on a comparative study of the political economy of social policy in South Africa and Brazil. For the Black Agenda Review, Phiri traces the contemporary rise of xenophobia in South Africa to the colonial and imperial formation of the Union of South Africa, and two pieces of legislation in particular: The Land Act and the Immigration Act, both passed in 1913. He makes a case for Pan-African federation as a resolution to the violence and exclusion constituting both the South African state and nationalist discourses on immigration.
The Roots of Xenophobic Violence in South Africa—A Pan African Response
Madalitso Zililo Phiri:
In South Africa, the Covid-19 pandemic has served to reify the manifold inequalities emanating from the country’s histories of colonial domination, Black genocide, and anti-black racism. But South Africa’s current social crisis is further exacerbated by internal perceptions that it has been inundated and infested with illegal immigrants who have eroded the country’s social fiber. It is a perspective that oftentimes leads to physical violence. Trucks driven by foreign nationals have been burned and there have been arrests and extra-judicial killings of ‘illegal’ domestic workers, gardeners, and small shopkeepers from countries including Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, and Somalia. While such violence threatens to further polarize working-class communities, it also highlights the key existential and political problem of twenty-first century South Africa: that of the nature of the relationship between South African citizens, the belonging and inclusion of foreign nationals, and the post-apartheid polity. As a Malawian national with a Pan-African orientation living in South Africa, recent anti-immigrant actions have, for me, pointed to a need to understand the origins of the formation of the colonial nation-state, with the aim of dismantling it, as a means towards forging a more expansive and inclusive idea of citizenship.
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