D M Matsinhe
The New South Africans and Africans: The sociogenesis of a
postcolonial established-outsider figuration
David M. Matsinhe
University of Alberta
Department of Sociology
A man flies from one country to another. A few minutes after landing, the
immigration officer looks at his passport and immediately orders him to step out
of the queue and stand aside. Meanwhile she passes the visa barcode through the
scanner. The scanner rings accordingly as it does when barcodes are in order.
“The visa is genuine! Everything is fine,” the man sighs in silent of relief. The
officer, however, is not satisfied. She questions him anyway.
“Where did you get this visa?”
“In Ottawa, as it is written on the visa.”
“But how did you get it there?”
“Because I applied for it there?”
“No. I mean, how come you applied for it there?” she probes; now looking
“Because that’s where I was when I needed it. But officer, are there any
problems with it? Your scanner scanned it just fine.”
Annoyed and dissatisfied with his answers, she disappears without a word
with his passport. Thirty minutes later she returns with it, and gives it back to
him. Again, no word, no apology for making him appear suspicious or
explanation of any kind.
As this happens, other travellers are let in without questioning their moral
integrity. For after all, don’t they have European and North American passports?
And most importantly, aren’t they obviously white? And are they crossing
borders to places where they don’t belong? Certainly not – they are flying within
their domestic space. Now what makes our man so suspicious in the immigration
officer’s eyes that he deserves her unwelcoming treatment? Here are the clues.
His passport is African. Worse still, the man is black. He’s flying internationally,
which means he’s crossing borders to places where he’s not welcome. Now when
do you think this incident is taking place? Now what do you think is the skin
colour of the immigration officer? Now in which country do you think this is
happening? Here are the facts. It is happening in 2003. The immigration officer is
black. The country is South Africa. The man in question is me. Flying from
North America via Great Britain did not quell this “fact of blackness.” By virtue
of being black my moral integrity and civility to cross borders legally were
questioned. The questioner was the least expected. Now can I still presume
affinity with others on the grounds of our perceived common blackness?
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A man travels from South Africa to Zimbabwe. When he arrives at the
Zimbabwean border-cross point he finds a very long queue on the scorching heat
of the sun. Here he is immediately drawn, along with other travellers, into the
inefficient, time-wasting bureaucracy of Zimbabwean immigration. Standing in
front of him, on the same queue, are two frustrated young, male, black South
Africans. “Welcome to Africa!” they shout sarcastically, showing annoyance.
Here at the Zimbabwean border, the South Africans feel they are standing on the
margins of civilization, they are face to face with the threshold of Africa’s
backwaters. This happened in 1998.
The above mentioned incidents speak to the central sociological problem
that I hope to address in this project. The attitudes of these black South Africans
– the immigration officer and the travellers to Zimbabwe – are symptomatic of
what Robert Davies describes as
[the] notion that South Africa is part of the First World and that its future
lies in developing its relations with the countries of the North….
Concomitant with this is a view of Africa as an economic graveyard. The
only lessons to be learnt are negative ones, overtures to become part of
regional or continental integration or cooperation programmes should be
resisted as diversion.1
Since early 1990s, a serious xenophobic atmosphere in South Africa has attracted
the world’s attention.2 South Africa’s population is estimated at 44.8 million people, of
whom 79 per cent are black, 9.6 per cent are white, 9.4 per cent are mixed (the coloureds)
and about 2 per cent of Indian descent. According to Southern African Migration Project
Surveys of 1997 and 1998, only 6 and 2 per cent of South Africans were friendly to
immigrants.3 Obviously, not all South Africans are xenophobic. But friendliness toward
immigrants is an exception to the general rule of hate, fear, suspicion and hostility. The
1998 survey suggests that this exception decreased sharply from 1997. The rule, not the
exception, is the central concern of the project. “[A]nti-immigrant sentiment is not only
strong,” argues Nyamnjoh, “it is extremely widespread, and cuts across virtually every
socioeconomic and demographic group.”4 Fear and hate of the perceived foreigner are the
basic emotional components of this problem. The interlocking of these emotions steers
multitudes of South Africans to taunt the perceived unwanted with apparent pleasure and
zeal.5 The xenophobic in South Africa appear to delight in inflicting pain on immigrants:
A Mail and Guardian (18 April 1997) story on the activities of the South African Narcotics
Bureau [Sanab] headlined ‘Searching for a “guilty” Nigerian…’ described how a group of Sanab
police celebrated a collegue’s birthday by endeavouring to arrest as many Nigerians as possible in
the Hillbrow area.6
This new form of racialization has been a topic of concern, debate and discussion in
South Africa in recent years7 and it appears to function in two ways: (1) as a surveillance
mechanism with which South Africans police their borders and social spaces; (2) and as a
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set of criteria for identifying, disciplining and punishing suspected illegal African
Since early 1800s thousands of Africans flocked to the Cape, Natal and Transvaal
from the hinterlands of southern Africa in pursuit of masculinity projects.8 The entire
southern Africa – particularly Lesotho and Mozambique – functioned as a rich reserve of
cheap labour for the South African colonial industry. The plantation and manufacturing
industries of Natal and the mining industry of Transvaal relied heavily on cheap labour
from the region. During this period and later during Apartheid, black South Africans’
aversion to immigrants from elsewhere in the continent remained concealed for two
reasons: (1) the politically charged racial polarization inherent in white suppression of all
Africans, regardless of nationality, overshadowed fear and hatred between and among
Africans; and (2) the colonial situation stimulated feelings of anti-white African
solidarity rendering aversion to Africans by Africans dormant. However, with the end of
crude colonial rule, particularly Apartheid in South Africa, these tendencies toward
African solidarity melted into air. As a result, xenophobia has been rising since early
1990s. Battles over South African identity have erupted.
This project will explore as a sociological problem the mechanisms with which
South Africans police their social spaces and borders against perceived foreign threats.
Of particular interest is the process of foreignization aimed at keeping away African
immigrants from elsewhere in the greater continent. South Africans often construe
African immigrants as a threat to their lifestyle. They experience them as undesirable
competitors for access to, and control over, the Rainbow Nation’s means of power and
prestige. The construction of African immigrants in South Africa, including the physical,
social and psychological effects which go hand in hand with this categorization, will be
Studies on South African xenophobia
The phenomenon of xenophobia has attracted a number of scholars, activists and
journalists alike, all of whom tried to offer theoretical explanations for its occurrence. In
this section I will briefly give an overview of scholarly interventions on this topic.
Among the first to turn their attention to this issue was Morris who puts forward the
escape-goat theory, according to which the multitude of unemployed, poor, South
Africans use immigrants to express their anger and frustration with the current state of
affairs, blaming them for social ills such as unemployment and crime.9 Another who
argues in like manner is Tshitereke:
In the post-apartheid epoch, while people's expectations have been heightened, a realisation that
delivery is not immediate has meant that discontent and indignation are at their peak. People are
more conscious of their deprivation than ever before … . This is the ideal situation for a
phenomenon like xenophobia to take root and flourish. South Africa's political transition to
democracy has exposed the unequal distribution of resources and wealth in the country.10
Morris also puts forward the theory of isolation which basically goes like this.
South Africans, particularly black South Africans, have been isolated for decades from
the rest of the continent for decades. During this time they had no contact with Africans
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beyond their borders. This unfamiliarity with the continent and its people is expressed in
xenophobic sentiments when South Africans come face to face with Africans from
elsewhere. With the demise of apartheid, South Africa opened up and South Africans
suddenly found themselves under siege by unknown Africa and Africans.11
But these theories do not explain why South African xenophobia is selective –
that is, it is racist. Not all immigrants equally targeted. The hostility against immigrants is
not evenly distributed. By far, Africans are the majority of those who become victims of
xenophobia.12 Why is this?
According to Harris, the ‘biocultural theory’ of xenophobia has been put forward
to explain this uneven targeting of black Africans. This theory centres on the African
immigrants’ visibity: “The biocultural hypothesis locates xenophobia at the level of
visible difference, or otherness, i.e. in terms of physical biological factors and cultural
differences exhibited by African foreigners in the country.”13 For example, in the case of
Nigerians and Congolese, Morris argues that they “are easily identifiable as the 'Other'.
Because of their physical features, their bearing, their clothing style and their inability to
speak one of the indigenous languages, they are in general clearly distinct and local
residents are easily able to pick them out and scapegoat them.”14 The selection of
immigrants for arrest and deportation is predicated on biocultural assumptions. Here
Minaar and Hough describe the methods used by the Internal Tracing Units of the South
African Police Service:
In trying to establish whether a suspect is an illegal or not, members of the internal tracing units
focus on a number of aspects. One of these is language: accent, the pronouncement of certain
words (such as Zulu for 'elbow', or 'buttonhole' or the name of a meerkat). Some are asked what
nationality they are and if they reply 'Sud' African this is a dead give-away for a Mozambican,
while Malawians tend to pronounce the letter 'r' as 'errow' … . Appearance is another factor in
trying to establish whether a suspect is illegal -- hairstyle, type of clothing worn as well as actual
physical appearance. In the case of Mozambicans a dead give-away is the vaccination mark on the
lower left forearm … [while] those from Lesotho tend to wear gumboots, carry walking sticks or
wear blankets (in the traditional manner), and also speak slightly different Sesotho.15
To say that Africans are targeted because they are visible is not helpful. The
biocultural theory does not explain why, of all the visibilities in South Africa, this
perceived African visibility should be the one that matters for those who are xenophobic.
Why does the visibility of other immigrants, particularly whites, matter less than that of
Harris has put forward a different theory in explaining the asymmetrical targeting
of African immigrants. His theory “situates xenophobia within South Africa's transition
from a past of racism to a future of nationalismduring the transitional period.” Harris
analyzes “the role of broad social institutions, such as the media, in generating specific
images of African foreigners in the country,” and “the mechanisms of nationalism and the
ways in which xenophobia itself has been represented”16 during this transitional period.
In the media he finds negative representations of Africa and Africans.
Africa and the foreign African are represented negatively. 'Africa' appears as a homogeneous,
undifferentiated place. There is no recognition that this is a large continent comprised of many
different interests and nations, including South Africa. Rather, it is seen as 'the troubled north', a
vague space marked by wars, woes and poverty. In this way, South Africa is divorced from the
rest of the continent. Africa appears as a negative space 'out there', totally separate from the space
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'in here'. This affords an interesting link back to the scapegoating hypothesis and the notion of the
'unknown', because Africa is portrayed as a negative collective force without specific form or
identity thereby representing an easy object of blame and anxiety.17
According to Harris, the representations of Africa and Africans by state institutions such
as the South African Police and the Department of Home Affairs fit hand in glove with
media representations. The South African state’s ideology of ‘illegals,’ ‘illegal aliens,’
‘illegal immigrant,’ criminalizes and ‘others’ African immigrants.
But why should South Africans, particularly black South Africans – they
themselves being Africans residing in Africa – construct Africa and African immigrants
in this way? Why should they engage in narcissism of minor differences? This question is
left unexplored predominantly because these scholars have totally retreated into the
present. Their approach fits what is critiqued in this comment: “One of the most striking
aspects of present approaches to established-outsider relationships with ‘racial’
connotations is their widespread discussion in terms of a here-and-now problem. The
exclusion of long-term group process – not to be confused with what we call ‘history’ –
from the study of this type of established-outsider relationship tends to distort the
In exploring these questions, I shall draw on Norbert Elias’s established-outsider
relations theory with figurational sociology generally animating the whole study (more
will be said on figurational sociology later). Along the way I shall also draw on Frantz
Fanon’s and W. E. B. Du Bois’ theories of colonized personality and fragmented self
respectively, and on Bordo’s theory of association between internalized ideals of the
body and neurosis.
The established-outsider relations theory
Before I proceed, I find it necessary to make a few remarks about the
unfamiliarity of Norbert Elias’ figurational sociology in North America, which makes it
challenging to work with his ideas in North American universities. Since 1970s interest in
Elias’ sociology has been on the rise in Europe, Brazil, Australia, China and Japan. The
journals of International Sociological Association publish numerous figurational studies.
The journal Theory, Culture & Society has had a few special issues on Elias’ sociology.
Books and articles on figurational studies across disciplines are being published in
growing numbers. Elias’ books are being translated into different languages: Portuguese,
Italian, Spanish, Japanese and Chinese. There is a Norbert Elias Chair in sociology at the
University of Amsterdam. The Norbert Elias Foundation publishes Figurations, a
quarterly newsletter with reports on developments in figurational studies. Quite
understandably, this trend has remained low in North America. The idea of North
America as a fortress society is relevant in this case. This cultural self-insulation is an
important characteristic feature of North American universities. Obviously, not all North
American academics are oblivious to cultural and theoretical developments outside their
borders. However, this oblivion is an observable ongoing pattern which makes it difficult
for non-North American academics to work with their North American counterparts.
Familiarity with Norbert Elias in North America is still an exception. ‘The retreat of
sociologists into the present’ is partly to blame for this widespread unfamiliarity with
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Elias’ work. As far as the widespread common wisdom is concerned, history is for
historians, society is for sociologists as if society were ahistorical thing that came into
being so suddenly as result of a big bang.
Briefly, the established-outsider relations theory is appropriated for this project
for the following reasons. The theory emanates from a study of two groups of people
interlocked in a power figuration. First, bioculturally and socioeconomically members of
one group could not be distinguished from members of the other group. And most
importantly, skin colour cut across group barriers. To a greater or lesser degree, black
South Africans and black Africans are interlocked in a power figuration of this type.
Second, in their study, the authors remarked that segregation between the established and
the outsiders was based on one single minor difference (see the next paragraph). This
applies in the case of South African xenophobia.
Elias and Scotson conducted a study of an English working class neighbourhood
which they gave the pseudo name of Winston Parva.19 The neighbourhood was divided in
two sections, one called the Village and the other the Estate. The village group had been
established there for generations whilst the estate group, on the other hand, was relatively
new, having arrived some twenty years before the study was conducted. The divide
between the two groups was not based on notions of race. However, the ideology and
practices on which the divide was predicated bear remarkable resemblance with
ideologies and practices of racism. There were no perceivable differences in skin colour,
ethnicity, occupation, income, habits, citizenship, education or accent between the two
groups. In fact, members of both groups worked in the same factories. The only
difference was that one was older, having established itself for generations, while the
other was relatively newer. This fact, and this fact alone, enabled the established to
categorize the newcomers, whom they viewed as outsiders from day one, with the most
dehumanizing labels – that is, stigma – while adorning themselves with the highest
possible (ideal) human qualities – that is, charisma. Dalal’s summary of Elias’s and
Scotson study is accurate:
1. The established attributed to their own members superior human characteristics.
2. Unspoken social conventions somehow emerged which excluded all non-occupational
social contacts between two groups.
3. The taboo on contact was maintained by praise gossip on those who observed the
conventions, and blame gossip against suspected offenders.
4. The established accrued for themselves a charisma which was internalized by its
members to become an integral part of individual identities; meantime the outsiders were
‘painted’ with stigma, which they too internalized and so tended to experience
themselves through the eyes of the established [:] ‘where the power differential is very
great, groups in an outsider position measure themselves with the yardstick of their
From this study, Elias and Scotson developed a general theory of power
differentials which they called the established-outsider relations theory. This theory is
relevant in trying to understand the mechanisms through which multitudes of South
Africans – the majority of whom are just as black as any other Africans – manufacture
differences, some of which are based on skin colour, to mark the perceived African
immigrants, not just as outsiders but as inferior human beings. The questions which
animated Elias’ and Scotson’s study evolved into: “How do member of a group maintain
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among themselves the belief that they are not merely more powerful but also better
human beings that those of another? What means do they use to impose the belief in their
own human superiority upon those who are less powerful?”21 The same questions
animate this undertaking in a different context.
The old easy way of explaining racism in South Africa in terms of differences in
skin colour does not hold for the phenomenon under consideration here. Elias critiques
exactly this habit:
In discussing “racial” problems one is apt to put the cart before the horse. It is argued, as a rule,
that people perceive others as belonging to another group because the colour of their skin is
different. It would be more to the point if one asked how it came to pass in this world that one has
got into the habit of perceiving people with another skin colour as belonging to a different group.22
In Elias’ and Scotson’s study the exclusion and stigmatization of one group by another
could have been easily described as racism had there been skin colour difference between
the groups. There was none. But even where such differences are present, why should
they matter? Similarly, such differences are absent between black South Africans and
African immigrants. The fact that 20 per cent of those incarcerated at Lindela repatriation
camp west of Johannesburg were South Africans bears testimony to this.23 As Elias
indicates, “[o]ne has got into the habit of explaining group relations such as described
here as a result of racial, ethnic or sometimes religious differences. None of these
explanations fit here.”24 This is what makes the inquiry interesting: the fact that the
former victims of Apartheid turn out to be the perpetrators of something more or less akin
to it against people who look exactly like themselves.
According to established-outsider relations theory, “[j]ust as established groups,
as a matter of course, regard their superior power as sign of their higher human value, so
outsider groups as long as the power differential is great and submission inescapable,
emotionally experience their power inferiority as a sign of human inferiority.”25
Consistent with this theory, I expect African immigrants in South Africa to accept in one
way or another the inferior status to which they are assigned by the newly established
blacks. Also consistent with this theory, I expect the lessening of power differentials
between blacks and whites to have contributed for the emergence of a new we-image
within both groups, with blacks feeling more or less empowered and whites feeling more
or less robbed of their self-worth. But for the purpose of this inquiry the question is, how
did it come to pass that the former outsiders, now the newly established blacks, consider
themselves not simply as exclusively deserving of post-apartheid benefits but as superior
human beings than the African immigrants who live among them? How did it come to
pass that, in relating to African immigrants, they deploy the same logic of established-
outsider relations which characterized their relations with whites during Apartheid? Here
Elias and Scotson only offer partial explanation. Therefore, I now turn to Fanon and Du
Bois for further analysis.
Colonized personality, fragmented self26
Having studied more or less similar processes in colonial contexts, Fanon and Du
Bois provide one more step in understanding not only the current dynamics of
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established-outsider relations between black South Africans and blacks from the rest of
the continent but also the processes which gave rise to the figuration of this type. Dalal’s
observation of internalization of negative self-image among members of outsider groups
establishes the connection between Elias and Fanon:
The fact that try as one might one cannot get away either from a bad ‘them’ or the bad self, must
in the end have a dire and debilitating effect on the psyche. This leads eventually to depression or
expressions of anger and self-hate, which by the processes of symmetric logic can as easily be
directed at others in the vicinity who are like me and therefore are the same as me. Elias is
describing exactly the same mechanisms as Fanon and Friere – mechanisms that drive horizontal
What are these mechanisms according to Fanon and Du Bois? While Fanon
showed how colonial constraints produced self-hating and -despising black subjects, Du
Bois describes vividly the psychological condition of black personality which forms and
crystallizes under such constraints, a “double-personality” with which black subjects (the
outsiders) judge themselves by the standards of the white colonial masters (the
established). The subject is born into an already colonized and colonizing figuration. As a
child, the subject enters it and finds it colonized and colonizing and, as an adult, if lucky
to live to adulthood, exits it leaving it behind still in the same condition. She/he lives a
thoroughly colonial life and dies a thoroughly colonial death. It is within such a social
figuration that the process of subjectification takes place. Here it is important to
emphasize that the present generations of adult South Africans lived under such
conditions until early 1990s. Their entire postcolonial human figuration – their social
relations, their interdependencies, their attitudes toward life, their habitus, their
personality structure, their collective unconscious, and their emotions – bears the colonial
stamp. The formation of neurotic self, of self-hating subjects, of which Fanon writes, is
the outcome of such colonial logic:
Little by little, one can observe in the young Antillean the formation and crystallization of an
attitude and a way of thinking and seeing that are essentially white. When in school he has to read
stories of savages told by white men, he always thinks of the Senegalese. As a schoolboy, I had
many occasions to spend whole hours talking about the supposed customs of the savage
Senegalese. In what was said there was lack of awareness that was at the very least paradoxical.
Because the Antillean does not think of himself as a black man; he thinks of himself as a white
man; he think s of himself as an Antillean. The Negro lives in Africa. Subjectively, intellectually,
the Antillean conducts himself like a white man.28
To a greater or lesser degree, South Africans were caught up in a similar power
figuration. Generations of South Africans were born, raised and perished under similar
conditions. They spent their childhood, the phase in life process in which human
personality is most malleable and vulnerable, and adulthood breathing and bathing in
stigmatization. Negative images of blacks structured the formation of South African
social unconscious (Dalal) or collective unconscious (Fanon): “the sum of prejudices,
myths, collective attitudes of a given group.”29 The social unconscious, then, is the stock
of common sense knowledge and mundane methods of reasoning which structure
people’s lives without necessarily being reflected upon. One must not forget that South
Africa was constructed as white, a little Europe away from Europe. And this point must
be grasped firmly. Following the establishment of the Union of South Africa, only the
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white minority became citizens. Blacks remained excluded from this category. By
establishing the Union, the powers that be felt they were carving for themselves an
enclave of Europe similar to other white-settler places in the world. Adedeji makes this
point quite forcefully:
Virtually ever since the establishment of what became the Republic of South Africa, it has stood
aside and apart from the rest of the continent. From 1910, when the Union of South Africa was
established and became an independent dominion of the British Empire, the leaders of the new
nation, invariably European descendants, saw their country as a European outpost. In this regard,
South Africa was exactly like other British dominions of Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. It
was a country where the colonial settlers were intent on either eradicating or subjugating the
natives. Thus the white settlers in South Africa were, by and large, no different from white settlers
Colonial writings bear witness to the common sense knowledge prevalent at the time,
namely that South Africans were white only. As R. P. Oswin (n.d.) wrote at the time: “It
is no exaggeration to say that the majority of South Africans feel an almost physical
revulsion against anything that puts a native or a person of colour on their level.”31 It is
clear from this observation that blacks were excluded from the category “South African.”
According to Fanon, through collective unconscious Martinique was made a European
country.32 Similarly, the social unconscious of both blacks and whites made South Africa,
in the long run, a European country.
Stigmatization of blacks structured South African habitus formation profoundly.
As Fanon indicates, “the Negro has one function: that of symbolizing the lower emotions,
the baser inclinations, the dark side of the soul. In the collective unconscious of homo
occidentalis, the Negro – or, if one prefers, the colour black – symbolizes evil, sin,
wretchedness, death, war, famine.”33 As blacks partake in this social unconscious they
model their lives after it:
without thinking, the Negro selects himself as an object capable of carrying the burden of original
sin. The white man chooses the black man for this function, and the black man who is white also
chooses the black man…. After having been the slave of the white man, he enslaves himself…. let
us say that the Negro lives an ambiguity that is extraordinarily neurotic…. one is Negro to the
degree to which one is wicked, sloppy, malicious, instinctual. Everything that is opposite of these
Negro modes of behaviour is white…. In the collective unconscious, black = ugliness, sin,
darkness, immorality. In other words, he is Negro he who is immoral. If I order my life like that of
a moral man, I simply am not a Negro…. Colour is nothing, I do not even notice it, I know only
one thing, which is the purity of my conscience and the whiteness of my soul.34
Constructed from the beginning as a European country, South African habitus bears the
imprints of blackness as a symbol of “evil, sin, wretchedness, death, war, famine.” As
such, it can be hypothesized that, paradoxically, multitudes of oppressed South Africans
learned not only to identify with, but also to love and lust after, the oppressor. In so doing
they not only hate themselves but also anyone who reminds them of their repressed
blackness. As Fanon points out, “[f]or unconsciously I distrust what is black in me, that
is, the whole of my being.”35 In other words, aversion to those who look like them is an
expression of self-contempt. African immigrants in South Africa are feared, hated and
distrusted not simply because they compete for access and control over means of power
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and prestige but also because their presence pollutes South Africans with African
Five decades earlier Du Bois had arrived at more or less similar conclusions to
Fanon’s, namely that the colonial environment, a culture in which “The one virtue is to
be white,” structures people’s organization of their social lives in fundamentally
A true and worthy ideal frees and uplifts a people; a false ideal imprisons and lowers. Say to men,
earnestly and repeatedly: "Honesty is best, knowledge is power; do unto others as you would be
done by." Say this and act it and the nation must move toward it, if not to it. But say to a people:
"The one virtue is to be white," and the people rush to the inevitable conclusion, "Kill the
Within such a social, political and moral environment, the oppressed – in this case blacks
– are torn inwardly as they tend to measure themselves – their self-worth – by the
standards of the oppressing group (whites). Du Bois expressed the condition of the
colonized self in this way:
the Negro is… born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world, – a world
which yields him no true self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation
of the other. It is peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at
one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on
in amused contempt and pity. One never feels this two-ness; an American, a Negro; two souls, two
thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength
alone keeps it from being torn asunder. The History of the American Negro is the history of this
strife, – this longing to attain self-conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better and
truer self. In this merging he wishes neither of the older selves to be lost.38
In the South African context, what Du Bois describes as the “two-ness; an American, a
Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one
dark body,” manifests itself in the paradoxical South African practice: preaching black
pride and, as of lately, African renaissance whilst maintaining strong contempt for
anything and anybody from the rest of the continent. Thus it can be hypothesized that, in
preaching black pride in African renaissance, South Africans are debunking the ideology
of whiteness and asserting their human self-worth. But in seeking to ‘clean’ their social
spaces of black African ‘leeches’, to keep the undesirable (who are invariably non-
whites) out of their borders and social spaces, they could be expressing a certain desire
Before I proceed to discuss Bordo’s theory, an explanatory digression on colour
(black and white) is necessary at this point. Dalal speaks of two levels (linguistic and
mythological) of colour connotations.39 At the linguistic level, there is the actual colour
of tangible things, e.g. the colour of one’s skin. It is not at the linguist level that I think of
colour in this project. Rather, I think of colour as operating at the mythological level –
beyond the linguistic level – whereby white and black express morality and desire. As
Dalal points out, historically there is an observable trend since 18th century of blackening
undesirable people, things and emotions. I took the occasion to look at dictionary
definitions of black. I found them quite instructive:
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Black: of the very darkest colour; the opposite of white; without light, completely dark; (of tea or
coffee) without milk; of a race that has dark skin; of black people; very dirty; covered with dirt;
without hope; very sad or depressing; very great despair; full of anger or hatred; evil or wicked;
(of humour) intended to be funny but about TRAGIC or terrible things; (of goods, etc) not to be
handled by trade union members while others are on strike.40
Current English is literally littered with similarly cathected terms: “black listed,” “black
death,” “black market,” “black magic,” “black mass,” “blackmail,” etc – not to mention
the idiomatic phrases. Dalal indicates that this blackening process is retrospective in
character. For example, until the 1860s the so-called “black death” was simply referred to
as “the great plague” since it occurred.
In tandem with the historical blackening of evil and vice was the historical
whitening of good, virtue and positive emotions. Hence, the idea of black as the opposite
of white belongs in people’s common sense knowledge – it’s natural and it’s what
everybody knows. This contrast is not simply in dictionaries or in language but in the
personality structure of people, of the language users themselves, who use it not only to
accomplish various ends in life but to structure their very lives. In Dalal’s words:
First, the associations of positivity and negativity with whiteness and blackness are not natural in
any sense, but developed within the context of a field of power relations. Second, the evidence
[demonstrates] that the terms black and white have become increasingly ubiquitous over the last
thousand years, penetrating, organizing and structuring all aspects of existence, both internal and
external. The terms, for they are no longer just colours, tag all sorts of things, by colour coding
them, and so locate them on a dual grid of morality and desire. Third, this has resulted in the
English language itself becoming colour coded. Fourth, the fact that emotions that are disapproved
of start becoming coloured black at about the same time that the European imperialist adventure is
taking place, is powerfully suggestive that in this process we are witnessing the mutation of
aspects of the psyche in response to changing structures and the preoccupations of society. 41
In keeping with Elias’ thesis, this means as society becomes colour coded the psyche also
becomes colour coded, for what is society if not a way of living together? This is clear
unless one believes that society or structure is a virtual object that exists apart from the
human beings who form it – that is, unless one does not believe that society is nothing but
an abstraction of historical living/behaviour patterns that human beings form with each
other over time and space.
Ideology of the body and neurosis
Among the above theorists – Elias, Fanon and Du Bois – it is Fanon who deals
with colonial construction of the black bodies. According to Fanon, the white
construction of the black body centres on sexuality whereby the black body is construed
as over-sexual. In fact, Fanon argues that the white construction of the black other’s body
is highly reductive: the black other is reduced to his/her genitals; the male black other is
his penis. But Fanon does not go beyond the construction of the black other’s body as
his/her genitals. Here we will have to borrow from Bordo’s theorizing on western female
bodies and in so doing her theory will be transposed beyond her focus on North
American consumer culture and into the domain of transnational identity politics in South
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According to Bordo, internalized hegemonic female body standards wreak havoc
on the female body. Dominant ideology is littered with ideals of the female body that are
constructed in a variety of images. As women take in these they also strive to actualize
them on their bodies – they struggle to embody or resist them. As such women’s bodies
are texts of femininity. Bordo argues that this is at the root of women’s neurotic
disorders: “neurasthenia and hysteria in the second half of the nineteenth century;
agoraphobia and, most dramatically, anorexia nervosa and bulimia in the second half of
the twentieth century.”42 The manifestation “of these disorders reveals itself as textuality”
(ibid.). In other words, “[w]orking within this framework, we see that whether we look at
hysteria, agoraphobia, or anorexia, we find the body of the sufferer deeply inscribed with
an ideological construction of femininity emblematic of the period in question.”43
In the South African context we are presented with a variation of this process.
Here members of dominant groups (South Africans) construct stigmatizing images of the
bodies of members of subordinate groups (African immigrants). These images are
circulated through gossip channels comprising a variety of types of media. Subordinate
groups, in turn, take in (internalize) these images and the negative emotional weight
which goes with them, into their ‘we-image’ (Elias) – collective self-image. That is what
the formation of self-hating subjects entails at least. Self-colonization is the manifestation
of this process. In the case of South Africa, self-colonization results from internalized
apartheid racial ethos. The construction of images of the African immigrant’s body – with
feelings of revulsion, aversion, fear and suspicion which go with it – is one aspect of its
manifestation. The description of the immigrant’s body performance with categories such
as makwerekwere, or magrigamba, or mapoti,44 is no less stigmatizing than the categories
nigger and kafir which the white establishment used to describe blacks during Apartheid.
Both the colonial and postcolonial sets of categories are cathacted with negative
emotional and moral connotations. Each time any of these terms is used, both the user
and the hearer experience chills of fear, hatred, revulsion and suspicion.
As the struggle over South African identification continues, the African
immigrant’s body is used as the battleground, as a “literal ‘text’ on which… some of [the]
most graphic and scrutable messages”45 of revulsion and aversion are written and read.
How Africans look, dress, walk, talk and behave is legible to the immigration officials,
the police and the public generally as either “authentic” South Africanness or
“otherness.” Bodily appearances and performances which are construed as deviating from
imagined South African we-ideals warrant arrest, detention, deportation, torture, rape,
mugging, lynching and what not. Not surprisingly many are arrested as suspect illegal
immigrants because “they walk like Mozambicans” or “too black” to be South Africans:
Suspected undocumented migrants are identified by the authorities through unreliable means such
as complexion, accent, or inoculation marks. We documented cases of persons who claimed they
were arrested for being "too black," having a foreign name, or in one case, walking "like a
Therefore, in addition to discursive representations of ideal South Africanness, an
exploration of discursive constructions of foreign black bodies as a site of contradictory
and detrimental convergence of South African identity politics, immigration practice and
xenophobia, will be included. It will be of interest to find out how African immigrants
respond to the images of immigrants’ bodies produced, reproduced and propagated
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through the media. What do African immigrants do to their bodies in response to these
constructions? Are their responses those of conformity or resistance?
The extended case method
Close to the methodological procedure that I will use in this undertaking is
Michael Burawoy’s “extended case method.”47 According to Burawoy, the life processes
of members of local communities are connected to global, extra-local, forces in a variety
of ways. The global shapes the local. But the local, in turn, also shapes the global. The
global is constituted in the local. But the local is also constituted in the global. The global
and the local are mutually constituted and constituting. The extended case method begins
with the study of local community life processes, followed by the search of possible ways
in which they are linked to extra-local social, economic or political forces. Extended case
method researchers are not interested in studying local communities as self-contained and
sufficient enclosures – not as “windowless monads” as Elias puts it – but as social spaces
open to the outside world, as constellations of human relations in which the local and the
Central to extended case method is Extension which, according to Burawoy,
involves four dimensions. First, there is the extension the researcher to the research site,
the community itself. That is, “Rather than bringing the ‘subject’ into the laboratory or
into the world of the interviewer, the observer leaves the security of the university for the
uncertain life of the participant.”48 Obviously there is nothing new about this. Colonial
anthropology was built on this practice. But for a variety of reasons – which we will not
get into – the difference is perhaps that the extended case observer does not have the
same degree of colonial, patronizing, attitude as his/her colonial ancestor. The second
dimension concerns itself with the “extensions of observations over time and space.” 49
The observers “spend extended periods of time following their subjects around, living
their lives, learning their ways and wants. Believing that situations are important in
determining both actions and beliefs, the ethnographer’s problem becomes one of
understanding the succession of situations as social processes.”50 The third dimension of
extended case is the extension from micro processes to macro forces, “from the space-
time rhythms of the site to the geographical and the geographical context of the field.”51
This dimension of extension is therefore concerned with the exploration of possible
micro-macro connections. Here, writes Burawoy, it is possible to think of micro-macro
connections in terms of
the micro as an expression of the macro, discovering reification [for example] within the factory,
commodification within the family, bureaucratization within the family. Some putative principle
that governs society is found in its every part. [But] For us the micro-macro link refers not to such
an “expressive” totality, but to a “structural” one in which the part is shaped by its relation to the
whole, the whole being represented by “external forces.52
The fourth dimension of extended case method is the extension of theory. Extended case
method researchers do not work with grounded theory attitudes. The extended case
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observers do not embark on their observation without theory. They begin and end with
theory, modified or rejected: “We cannot see the field… without a lens, and we can only
improve the lens by experimenting with it in the world.”53 Theory enables the observer to
see, though it does so at the cost of precluding the seeing of other life processes. Both to
see and not to see are characteristic of all types of researchers, including those, such as
grounded theorists, who claim not to have theory prior to observation.
In any event, “the discovery of extralocal determination is an essential moment of
the extended case method. Such discovery is impossible, however, without prior theory
that would identify those external factors likely to be important.”54 This dimension of
extension is central to this project. As I indicated above, the established-outsider relations
theory animates inform this study. To what extent will this theory be confirmed or
challenged by the South African social context remains to be known. After all, this theory
arises out of a divided British, white, working class community of the 1960s. But it will
be put to work in a twenty-first century divided African community, whose members live
in the shadow of their colonial history.
But Burawoy also rightly points out the dangers of this dimension of extended
case method. “We are in danger,” he writes,
of straitjacketing the world we study, disciplining it so that it conforms to the framework through
which we observe it. We must expose our theories to continual critique from those they presume
to understand, we must search for anomalies that challenge our theories, if we are to avoid the
sorts of power effects that Eduard Said, for example, discerns in “Orientalism.”55
Burawoy’s binary oppositions – social process/social forces, the local/the
extralocal (global) – are offshoots of the master binary opposition individual/society
which for centuries has been as established basic principle of sociology, an article of faith
without which sociologists cannot do their jobs. This faith leads Burawoy to assume the
global/local binary opposition. This is the theoretical limitation of extended case method.
And, indeed, Burawoy himself acknowledges that the limitations of a theory are its
critique.56 But instead of throwing the baby with the bath water, I will turn to figurational
sociology not only to critique but also to enrich extended case method.
What is figurational sociology? Figurational sociology or process sociology is the
kind of social thought associated with Norbert Elias. It is both theory and methodology of
human associations. It is difficult do disentangle Ealias’ methodology from his theory.
Methodology is already theoretical. It clear, however, that methodologically, figurational
sociology is interdisciplinary, long-term historical perspective and processual. Mennell
and Goudsbom sum up figurational sociology in four basic, interrelated, deceptively
1. Sociology is about people in the plural – human beings who are interdependent with each
other in a variety of ways, and whose lives evolve in and are significantly shaped by the social
figurations they form together.
2. These figurations are continually in flux, undergoing changes of many kinds – some rapid and
ephemeral, others slower but perhaps more lasting.
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3. The long-term developments taking place in human figurations have been and continue to be
largely unplanned and unforeseen.
4. The development of human knowledge takes place within human figurations, and is one
important aspect of their overall development.57
Elias rejects the view of human associations which human beings form with each
other as forces external to them, even though they experience and think of them that way.
Thus, unlike Burawoy, Elias also rejects the myth of individual/society divide:
we always feel impelled to make quite senseless conceptual distinctions, like “the individual and
society,” which makes it seem that “the individuals” and “society” were two separate things, like
the tables and chairs or pots and pans. One can find oneself caught up in long discussions of the
nature of the relationship between these two apparently separate objects. Yet on another level of
awareness one may know perfectly well that societies are composed of individuals, and that
individuals can only possess specifically human characteristics such as their abilities to speak,
think, and live, in and through their relationships with other people – “in society.”58
In his studies of human associations, Elias noted and critiqued what he called
“process reduction,” habits of thought in the social sciences and humanities which reduce
social processes into states of rest. Process reduction detaches human actions from human
actors, objectifies, mystifies, reifies and personifies them. Actions become objects, things
existing independently of actors themselves. We all know the famous Durkhemian
methodological rule of sociological investigation: always consider social facts as things.
This tendency is inherent in everyday language use itself:
The convention of speaking and thinking in terms of reifying substantives can gravely obstruct
one’s comprehension of the nexus of events. It is reminiscent of the tendency of the ancients,
which has by no means entirely disappeared today, to personify abstractions. Just actions became
the goddess Justitia. There are plentiful examples of the pressure which a socially standardized
language puts on the individual speaker to use reifying substantives. Take such sentences as: ‘The
wind is blowing’ or ‘The river is flowing’ – are not the wind and blowing, the river and flowing,
identical? Is there a wind that does not blow, a river that does not flow?59
Elias conceptualization of life processes offers a different understanding of
societies – small or large – which human beings form with each other. This
conceptualization leads to methodological procedures which resist reification of social
life. Whether large or small, societies are ways of living together – that is, human beings
bound together in longer or shorter, denser or thinner, interdependences. As Mennell
explains: “More and more people have tended to become more and more interdependent
with each other in longer chains and denser webs…. The growth of the web of social
interdependence tends to outstrip people’s understanding of it.”60 In Elias’s own words:
The network of human activities tends to become increasingly complex, far-flung and closely knit.
More and more groups, and with them more and more individuals, tend to become dependent on
each other for their security and the satisfaction of their needs in ways which, for the greater part,
surpass the comprehension of those involved. It is as if first thousands, the millions, then more and
more millions walked through this world with their hands and feet chained together by invisible
ties. No-one is in charge. No-one stands outside. Some want to go this way, others that way. They
fall upon each other and, vanquishing or defeated, still remain chained to each other. No-one can
regulate the movements of the whole unless a great part of them are able to understand, to see as it
were from outside, the whole patterns they form together.61
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From this theoretical and methodological framework, one can see why Burawoy, in his
extended case method, speaks of forces exerting pressure on processes, of the extralocal
(global) shaping or forcing the local, in other words, of society coercing individuals.
Elias also rejected the view of human beings as discrete, close and self-contained
entities or, in his word, “windowless monads” or “homo clauses, the thinking statues.”62
Instead, he conceptualized human beings as open personalities, a conceptualization which
is coherent with the image of “social figurations.” “The image of the human being as a
‘closed personality’,” he writes,
is here replaced by the image of the human being as an “open personality” who possesses a greater
or lesser degree of relative (but never absolute and total) autonomy vis-à-vis other people and who
is, in fact, fundamentally oriented towards and dependent on other people throughout his or her
life. The network of interdependencies among human beings is what binds them together. Such
interdependencies are the nexus of what is here called figuration, a structure of mutually oriented
and dependent people. Since people are more or less dependent on each other first by nature and
then through social learning, through education, socialization, and socially generated reciprocal
needs, they exist… only as pluralities, only as figurations.63
Instead of working with concepts such as society and structure which tend toward
reification, Elias introduced the concept of “human figuarations” which not only
expresses interconnectedness and interdependence of individuals. It also expresses
change, dynamism, flow, flux and motion as inherent features of human associations.
Drawing from dance floor imagery, he thus illustrates the concept of “human
One should think of a mazurka, a minuet, a polonaise, a tango, or rock ‘n’roll. The image of the
mobile figurations of interdependent people on a dance floor perhaps makes it easier to imagine
states, cities, families and also capitalist, communist and feudal systems as figurations. By using
this concept, we can eliminate the antithesis, resting finally on different values and ideals,
imminent today in the use of the words “individual” and “society.” Once can certainly speak of a
dance in general, but no-one will imagine will imagine a dance as a structure outside the
individual or as a mere abstraction.64
This understanding of mobile figurations of people on a dance floor, argues Elias,
“applies to all other figurations. Just as the small dance figurations change
becoming now slower, now quicker – so too, gradually or more suddenly, do the
larger figurations which we call societies.”65
The image of human beings as “open personalities” is crucial for understanding
the figurational dynamics in which the new South Africans and African immigrants are
caught into. Without it, one cannot properly fathom their established-outsider relations.
With the idea of human beings as “closed personalities” it is impossible to envisage the
process of internalization, of formation and crystallization of collective or social
unconscious, through which members of outsider groups develop attitudes, practices and
ways of thinking which are in tune with their stigma. That is, it is impossible to explain
why the oppressed hate themselves and love their oppressor.
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On the method of fieldwork
This project will entail twelve months of fieldwork involving the following
methods of data generation: textual analysis, participant observation and interviewing.
The first five months – from August to December 2006 – will be allocated to textual
analysis, while the remaining seven – from January to July 2007 – will be allocated to
participant observation and interviewing.
1. Textual analysis will entail an exploration of representations of African
immigrants in the South African gossip channels such as the media. These
representations will be teased out from four sets of texts, all of which are available at
Southern African Migration Project (SAMP): the first set includes reports on migrants
and human rights such as, for example, the Human Rights Watch and the South African
Human Rights Commission; the second set includes responses to xenophobia in southern
Africa such as official statements by political parties, trade unions and government
officials; the third set is research on xenophobia in southern Africa and it includes a
series of SAMP research reports, research reports commissioned by different
humanitarian organizations; and the fourth set of texts includes press coverage on
xenophobia. In addition to this, other forms of media representation will be examined.
2. Participant observation will entail the observation of day to day human
interactions between South Africans and African immigrants in a local community
setting. This will provide an entry into South Africans’ mundane methods of reasoning in
policing and controlling their social spaces against suspected African intruders; and it
will provide an understanding of the ways in which African immigrants within the
community react to the physical, social and psychological controls to which they are
subject. How do South Africans deploy their common sense ideology of the foreigners –
the categorization of the immigrants’ bodies and moral character – to protect their social
spaces? What are the mundane methods with which they close rank against immigrants?
How do they identify suspect “illegal” immigrants?
3. The interviews will entail the eliciting of stigma narratives with which South
Africans represent African immigrants and charisma narratives with which they represent
themselves. The interviews are also intended to elicit from African immigrants narratives
about their reactions to the stigma attached to them. Do they resist it or do they conform
to it? So I will invite them to reflect on their lives as immigrants in South Africa.
The site of fieldwork will be Rasternburg in the North West Province. This
community is an ideal location for a project of this kind for several reasons. First, its
mining industry attracts large numbers of migrant workers from neighbouring countries,
particularly Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Lesotho. On the one hand, these
immigrants crystallized in different national grouping forming a specific power figuration
with each other. On the other hand these various groupings are interlocked in an
established-outsider figuration with members of local community. Second, virtually all
members of the established and outsider groups have no visible skin colour differences.
This means members of one group engage in narcissism of minor differences to
stigmatize members of another group. Third, in the last year the community has seen
explosions of inter-group violence which appear to be precipitated by narcissism of minor
differences. Fourth, for approximately a century the locals – the established – have
maintained the right to the land and the minerals in it, thus making them the most affluent
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black community in South Africa. However, the new government has since revoked the
community’s rights to the land and minerals. This means members of this group no
longer receive royalties for the land and minerals. This condition is bound to have
contributed for the tilting of power balance to their disadvantage – but not necessarily to
the advantage of outsider groups – and thus impact their collective we-image and ideals.
This may have precipitated the waves of violence that have ravaged the community.
I intend to explore the historical development of this community taking shape in
tandem with the invention of South Africa as an imagined community. I intend to explore
the nature of civic associations and other community networks such as churches to
discover the gossip channels and flows through which the outsiders are constructed and
excluded. I would like to see to what extent those who violate community taboos are
punished through blame gossip. For this end I shall interview women who have broken
the taboo against marrying “makwerekwere” and men who have broken the taboo against
On the part of the outsiders I intend to observe and conduct interviews in order to
unearth the processes through which they construct counter stigmas against members of
the established group. According to Morris, Congolese and Nigerian immigrants were
able to transmit news, stereotyping of South Africans, and other gossip items through
their networks.66 But whether these are affective means of resistance, Morris does not tell
us. In this project I intend to explore their nature as well as their effectiveness.
The structural organization of the thesis is tentatively planned as follows. The first
chapter will introduce the problem of thesis, its scope and objectives. The second chapter
will introduce the theoretical framework that animates the project. The third chapter will
deal with methodological considerations.
The fourth chapter will briefly deal with the sociogenesis and psychogenesis – the
invention, if you like – not only of an imagined community called South Africa but also
of the imagined South African citizen itself which goes with it. This will entail the
figurational formation and changes in the South African “we-ideals” and “we-identity.”
This is by far the most intriguing aspect of the problem. The emotional aversion to
African immigrants, along with emotional identification with whites that goes with it –
whites are investors, they create jobs – is predicated upon essentialized and objectified
South African “we-image” that is nothing less than modern/colonial accomplishment,
collective habitus not so long ago acquired. Who are these new South Africans, these
selectively fearing and hating people? What is new and what is old about their new “we-
ideals” and identities? The chapter will critique, deconstruct, historicize, denaturalise and
psychoanalyse being and becoming black South African.
The fifth chapter will zero in to the life processes and dynamics of a local
community. It will address the problem of gossip channels and networks through which
the newly established South Africans circulate messages and ideas intended to stigmatize
and exclude African immigrants who live among them. To what extent are local charisma
and stigma gossips, praise and blame gossips, symptomatic of the general exclusive
South African we-ideals and images? The sixth chapter will also explore life processes of
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the same local community. However, it will focus on members of African immigrant
groups. This chapter will be concerned with the mechanisms through which African
immigrants deal with negative ideology – that is, stigma – with which South Africans
construct them. Do African immigrants internalize these stigmas into their “we-images”?
If so, to what extend? Or do they resist them? And if so, do they have sufficiently
extensive and strong gossip channels to mount effective counter-stigmatizing images of
South Africans? Do they have sufficiently integrated and strong gossip channels to
construct effective charisma of their own (positive we-ideals)? Or does their stigma
immobilize them to resist?
The seventh chapter will deal with the irony which pervades the whole idea of the
Rainbow Nation. For in principle the New South Africa is based on elimination of
exclusions which in the past rendered members of non-white groups as outsiders.
Conversely, inclusion of formerly outsider groups animates the formation of Rainbow
Nation. Ironically, however, contained in this inclusion is the exclusion of other groups of
people, the construction of outsiders. It came to pass that these former outsiders use their
power as insiders to exclude others in fundamental ways.
Robert Davies, “South Africa’s Economic Relations with Africa: Current Patterns and Future
Perspectives,” in Adebayo Adedeji, ed. South Africa and Africa: Within or Apart? (London, 1996), p. 148.
The holding, from 21 August to to7 September, 2001, of the United Nations’ World Conference Against
Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance in Durban, South Africa, is a historical
testimony to the seriousness of the problem.
Cited in Francis Nyamnjoh, Insiders and Outsiders: Citizenship and xenophobia in contemporary
southern Africa (London and New York, 2006), p. 38.
Francis Nyamnjoh, Insiders and Outsiders: Citizenship and xenophobia in contemporary southern Africa
(London and New York, 2006), p. 38.
Xenophobic acts of violence in South Africa are neither value- nor emotion-free. Both morally and
emotionally there is a sense of pride, satisfaction and accomplishment in ridding South Africa of ‘illegal
aliens.’ Violence against African immigrants is both a moral and patriotic duty – it is the right thing to do.
Cracking down on ‘these leeches’ is a rewarding service one can render to one’s group. In-group ‘praise
gossip’ (Elias and Scotson 1994) affords this sentiment. Poststructurally, this is pleasure at its finest. And
this must not be underestimated. Because of these patriotic sentiments – the we-feelings – and the in-group
pleasures that go along with them, zeal and enjoyment animate violent acts of xenophobia. Consider the
following incident related in the Human Rights Watch report (March 1998):
Some of the most serious attacks on non-South Africans occurred in the Alexandra township near
Johannesburg during December 1994 and January 1995. Over a period of several weeks, gangs of
South Africans tried violently to evict perceived "illegals" from the township, after blaming
undocumented migrants for increased crime, sexual attacks, economic deprivation,
unemployment, and other social ills. The attackers claimed to be members of the ANC, the South
African Communist Party, and the South African National Civic Organization… The violent
campaign was known as Buyelekhaya or "go back home." Other groups linked to the violent
protests were the Concerned Residents Group of Alexandra and the Alexandra Property Owners
Association. The Alexandra Property Owners Association participated in the removal campaign…
saying, "We are simply doing the job for the police by handing them [the undocumented migrants]
over and asking them to be deported back to their own countries."
…groups of armed men evicted suspected foreigners from their homes in the township and
marched them to the local police station, demanding that they be repatriated. In most cases, it
appears that the undocumented migrants were indeed repatriated… The possessions of some
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suspected undocumented migrants were thrown into the street, while other victims told Human
Rights Watch that their possessions had been stolen by members of the armed gangs when they
were brought to the police station for deportation. Some of the migrants who were released by the
police after proving their legal status returned to their homes only to find the locks changed, or to
find armed men preventing them from entering their own homes.
The same report relates other incidents of violence against African immigrants, including hate statements
by leaders of angry mobs in a rampage:
The situation in Johannesburg has remained volatile since the August protests. On October 23,
1997, approximately 500 hawkers marched again in Johannesburg, chanting slogans such as
"chase the makwerekwere out," and "down with the foreigner, up with South Africans." At a rally
following the march, Manikis Solomon, a representative of the Greater Johannesburg Hawkers'
Planning Committee, told the crowd that,
These people are not welcome. No country would allow the mess Johannesburg has come to.
We must clean up the streets of Johannesburg of foreign hawkers. The pavements of
Johannesburg are for South African citizens and not for foreigners.
A flyer announcing the protest obtained by Human Rights Watch stated "We want to clean the
foreigners from our pavement." A South African hawker interviewed at the time vowed:
"[F]oreigners flocked here after the  elections and took our businesses. We will not rest
until they are gone." The chairperson of one local hawking group, the Inner Johannesburg
Hawkers Committee, Mr. Mannekie Solomon, told the Sowetan newspaper that "We are prepared
to push them out of the city, come what may. My group is not prepared to let our government
inherit a garbage city because of these leeches."
Alan Morris, “‘Our fellow Africans make our lives hell’: the lives of Congolese and Nigerians living in
Johannesburg,” Ethnic and Racial Studies vol. 21, 6 (1998): 1116-1136.
See www.queensu.ca/samp; www.allafrica.com/stories/200408300448.htm
This is not to deny the exploitative nature South African migrant work. However, going to South Africa in
many cases was an act of resistance against oppressive colonial regimes. African men were indeed
conscripted but one must qualify this conscription, for the decision to go South Africa was often made due
to the inability to pay head and hut taxes on local wages, including the inability to embody respectable
masculinity by relying on local means. In the case of Mozambique, for example, why did the Portuguese
colonial administration, under pressure by Portuguese planters, try to stop or reduce the exodus of men to
South Africa? Why did these men prefer the South African exploiter to the Portuguese one? The answer is
quite simply this: with South African wages they could pay lobolo for at least two wives (in cases where
polygamy was part of one’s dream), buy ploughs and oxen, pay both head and hut tax, not to mention
buying all kinds of coveted commodities. Going to South Africa eventually became an indispensable part
of one’s masculinity repertoire. By the time I was born, boys were admonished to eat well to grow up to go
to South Africa to become men. Going to South Africa was indeed in pursuit of a dream.
Alan Morris, “‘Our fellow Africans make our lives hell’: the lives of Congolese and Nigerians living in
Johannesburg,” Ethnic and Racial Studies vol. 21, 6 (1998): 1116-1136.
Cited in Bronwen Harris, Xenophobia: A New Pathology for a New South Africa? in D Hook and G
Eagle (eds) Psychopathology and Social Prejudice. Cape Town: University of Cape Town Press, 2002,
http://www.csvr.org.za/papers/paphar1.htm (retrieved in March 1, 2006).
Alan Morris, “‘Our fellow Africans make our lives hell’
See Human Rights Watch, “Prohibited Persons: Abuse of Undocumented Migrants, Asylum-Seekers and
Refugees in South Africa” (New York, March 1998); South African Human Rights Commission, “Report
into the Apprehension and Detention of Suspected Undocumented Migrants” (Johannesburg, 19 March
1999). http://www.queensu.ca/samp/migrationresources/xenophobia, retrieved in March 1, 2006.
Bronwen Harris, “Xenophobia: A New Pathology for a New South Africa?” in D Hook and G Eagle
(eds) Psychopathology and Social Prejudice. Cape Town: University of Cape Town Press, 2002,
http://www.csvr.org.za/papers/paphar1.htm (retrieved in March 1, 2006).
Alan Morris, “‘Our fellow Africans make our lives hell’, p. 1125.
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Cited in Bronwen Harris, Xenophobia: A New Pathology for a New South Africa? in D Hook and G
Eagle (eds) Psychopathology and Social Prejudice. Cape Town: University of Cape Town Press, 2002,
http://www.csvr.org.za/papers/paphar1.htm (retrieved in March 1, 2006).
Norbert Elias and John Scotson, The Established and Outsiders (London, 1994), p. xlvii.
The established-outsider relations theory has been applied to good effect in a variety of contexts. For
example, see Feiwel Kupferberg’s “The Established and the New Comers: What makes Immigrant and
Women Entrepreneurs so Special,” International Review of Sociology 13(1) (2003): 89-104; Stefanie
Ernst’s “From Blame Gossip to Praise Gossip? Gender. Leadership and Organizational Change,” The
European Journal Of Women’s Studies vol. 10(3) (2003): 277-99; David M. May, “The Interplay of Three
Established-Outsider Fifurations in a Deprived Inner-city Neighbourhood,” Urban Studies vol. 40 (11)
(2004): 2159-2179; Philip W. Sutton and Stephen Vertigans, “The Established and Challenging Outsiders:
Resurgent Islam in Secular Turkey,” Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions vol. 3 (1) (2002): p.
Farhad Dalal, Race, Colour and the Processes of Racialization: New perspectives from group analysis,
psychoanalysis and sociology (New York, 2002), p. 190.
Norbert Elias and John Scotson, The Established and the Outsiders (London, 1994), p. xvi.
Human Rights Watch; South African Human Rights Commission.
Ibid., p. xxix.
Ibid., p. xxvi.
As an internal process, the self does not need to be the opposite of external (or social) material
conditions. In the approach taken here, the individual is not the opposite of collectivities; the internal is not
the opposite of the external; nor is the self the opposite of society. (This issue is covered in the section on
“methodological considerations” below). But let me briefly say that, for analytical purposes we often
abstract social processes – this is fine as long as we remember that we are abstracting. The binary
oppositions “individual/social”, “internal/external” are examples if this practice. Contrary to doing this, I
work within the framework of figurational sociology in which these abstractions do not reflect the reality of
life. In reality the individual and the collective, the internal and the external, the self and social, are aspects
of the same life process. They do not exist independently in separate spheres. Changes in people’s habits
reflect the changing structures of the figurations they form with each other, and simultaneously make for
changes in the psyche. Psychic structures always reflect social structures. Social structure and
psychological structure are always interwomen.
Dalal, Race, Colour and the Processes of Racialization, p. 193.
Frantz Fanon, Black Skins, White Masks (New York, 1967), p. 148.
Ibid., p. 188.
Adebayo Adedeji, “Within or Apart?” in Adebayo Adedeji, ed. South Africa and Africa: Within or
Apart? (London: Zed Books, 1996), p. 5.
Cited in Fanon, Black Skins, White Masks, p. 88.
Fanon, Black Skins, White Masks, p. 191.
Ibid., p. 190-1.
Ibid., p. 192.
Ibid., p. 191.
This, however, is not to say there was no resistance whatsoever on the part of blacks. Of course, there
was. We do know that the black elite produced and propagated black power ideology which, to a certain
degree, boosted the self-image of blacks in South Africa. But this is besides the point. The power
differential between the whites and blacks was so great that black resistance was weak to counteract
effectively black stigma ideology that filled the very air they breathed.
W. E. B. Du Bois, “The Souls of White Folk” (1920), retried in March 9, 2006, from
W. E. B. Du Bois, Souls of Black Folk (New York, 1990), p. 8-9.
Farhad Dalal, Race, Colour and the Processes of Racialization (Hove and New York, 2002).
Oxford Advanced Lerner’s Dictionary of Current English (Fifth Edition, 1997).
Farhad Dalal, Race, Colour and the Processes of Racialization, p. 168-9; italics in the original.
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Susan Bordo, Unbearable Weight: Feminism, western culture, and the body (Berkeley, 1993), p. 168.
Ibid., p. 168.
Makwerekwere refers to an outsider, a person whose language is unintelligible – kwere-kwere is
supposed to be the sound of intelligible languages. Here even when the outsider tries to speak the language
of the in-group the sound is still unintelligibly ‘kwere-kwere.’ However, in the context of South African
xenophobia the term ‘makwerekwere’ has negative valencies akin to those of ‘nigger’ or ‘kafir’ during
apartheid. The same goes with ‘magrigamba’ and ‘mapoti.’ This is important because many African
immigrants who are thus categorized come from countries whose languages are the same as those that are
spoken in South Africa, e.g. Tswana in Botswana, Tsonga in Mozambique, Ndebela in Zimbabwe, Sotho in
Lesotho, Swazi in Swaziland.
Bill Ashcroft et al., The Post-Colonial Studies Reader (London, 1995), p. 322.
Human Rights Watch, March 1998. “Prohibited Persons: Abuse of Undocumented Migrants, Asylum-
Seekers and Refugees in South Africa.” New York: Human Rights Watch.
Michael Burawoy, Global Ethnography: Forces, connections, and imaginations in a postmodern world
(Berkeley, 2000); “The Extended Case Method,” Sociological Theory (1998), 16(1), p. 4-33.
Burawoy, Global Ethnography, p. 26.
Ibid., p. 27.
Ibid., p. 28.
Burawoy, Global Ethnography. Burawoy’s methodological conceptualization of social research resonates
with Elias’ idea of human figurations or human interdependences – but not quite. For the sake of
comparison, let’s refer to Burawoy’s conceptualization of micro-macro connections one more time. “One
way to think of the micro-macro, but not the way we think of it,” he writes,
is to view the micro as an expression of the macro, discovering reification [for example] within the
factory, commodification within the family, bureaucratization within the family. Some putative
principle that governs society is found in its every part. For us the micro-macro link refers not to
such an “expressive” totality, but to a “structural” one in which the part is shaped by its relation to
the whole, the whole being represented by “external forces” (p. 27).
While it contains virtues and merits, the extended case method is an example of what Elias called
“process reduction.” This is evident in Burawoy’s language (Burawoy himself is not to blame for this, for
the language of the social sciences is itself process-reductive). According to Elias, process reductive
practices and thought habits preclude the development of social sciences. He is referring to tendencies
among social scientists to reduce dynamic processes of social life into states of rest. Mystification and
objectification are manifestations of these tendencies. Burawoy remains locked in process reduction. By
using terms such as “forces,” he runs onto the wall of mystification and objectification which he wishes to
avoid, thus perpetuate process-reductive thinking:
constituting the extralocal as forces gives them a false sense of durability. After all, forces are only
the historically contingent outcome of processes that are hidden from the ethnographer.
Objectification can be a powerful source of mystification, since we often believe we are in the grip
of forces beyond our control which turn out to be quite fluid and susceptible to influence (p. 27).
He is aware he is mystifying and objectifying life processes. Yet he cannot conceptualize life
process without doing so. It’s a dead-end, hopeless situation. In his “The Extended Case Method” essay
(1998), Burawoy explains extended case analytical strategy in the same process-reductive ways: one starts
with the “situational knowledge” and then aggregates “situation knowledge into social process” and finally,
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[One looks] upon the external field as the conditions of existence of the locale within which
research occurs… [one] therefore move[s] beyond social processes to delineate the social forces
that impress themselves on the ethnographic scale. These social forces are the effects of other
social processes that for the most part lie outside the realm of investigation… the everyday
world… [is] simultaneously shaped by and [shapes] an external field of forces (p. 14).
Stephen Mennell and Johan Goudsblom, “Introduction” in Norbert Elias On Civilization, Power, and
Knowledge (Chicago, 1998), p. 39.
Norbert Elias, What Is Sociology (Columbia, 1978), p. 113.
Norbert Elias, On Civilization, Power, and Knowledge, p. 256-7.
Stephen Mennell, Norbert Elias: An introduction (Dublin, 1992), p. 169-70.
Norbert Elias, On Civilization, Power, and Knowledge, p. 223.
Ibid., p. 286.
Norbert Elias, The Civilizing Process (Oxford, 2000), p. 481-2.
Ibid., p. 482.
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