Xenophobia, social change and social continuity: changing configurations of intergroup allegiance and division among farm workers and farmers in De Doorns, 2009-2013.
Kerr, Philippa Louise.
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This thesis is about continuity and change in South African intergroup relations, especially group relations implicated in xenophobia, as new African migrants have arrived on a scene dominated by long-established, but also changing, South African race/class relations. It also critiques social psychology’s ‘two-group paradigm’, which conceptualises intergroup conflicts in binary terms involving dominant and subordinate or minority and majority groups. In November 2009, a community of Zimbabwean farm workers was forcibly evicted from the informal settlements of De Doorns, a grape-farming town in the Western Cape, by their South African neighbours. South Africans accused Zimbabweans of taking their jobs by working for white farmers at less than the minimum wage, which Zimbabweans and farmers denied. Two interview-based case studies were conducted with De Doorns residents, one in December 2009 (37 interviews), and the second in 2012-2013 during and after the Western Cape farm workers’ strikes (33 interviews). While xenophobic violence can be seen to involve two parties – black South African perpetrators and foreign black victims – in 2009 residents constructed an ‘alliance’ between farmers and Zimbabweans, excluding South African workers, and differently judged this alliance as legitimate or illegitimate according to ideological imperatives of black liberation, white responsibility, anti-xenophobia or free-market capitalism. The 2012-2013 interviews show that, despite the absence of xenophobic violence during the strike, the anti-xenophobic imperative had not necessarily triumphed, as Zimbabwean and South African workers interviewed both continued to level and rebut the same accusations about the 2009 violence while claiming that their relationship had improved since then because of adjustments made by the other group. Also, a ‘new’ racial division appeared – between coloured and all black people irrespective of nationality. Thus, the nationality category ‘South African’ workers, that appeared united in its opposition to the Zimbabweans in 2009, can itself be historicised as an ‘alliance’ among groups with different but converging interests in change. The intersection of racism and xenophobia in this community is considered, as are dilemmas of taking an anti-xenophobic stance which problematises the Zimbabwean-South African worker relationship but does not sufficiently problematise the overall farmer-worker relationship. Overall I argue for a historical approach to intergroup conflict discourse which treats constructions of intergroup relationships as oriented to speakers’ interests in change.