Borders and the Roots of Xenophobia in South Africa

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28 Scopus citations


Responses to migration are intricately linked to the demarcation of borders and hence separate citizenships. In South Africa, the racist roots of the connection between nationality and territory is especially significant for understanding anti-foreigner violence. Ameliorating xenophobia, in turn, requires destabilising this foundation, from the abstract world of social theory, through assumptions embedded within policymaking processes, down to public education. As a crucial step in that agenda, I bring the region's national narratives into sharper focus by concentrating on three constitutional transitions, each of which fundamentally altered territorial boundaries. (1) The establishment of the Union of South Africa in 1910 defined the core of its current borders, but those negotiations also left unresolved the liminal status of the neighbouring British protectorates. (2) A cascade of decolonisation into the early 1960s inscribed formal borders within the region, a process that also created new citizenships. (3) The dismantling of white-minority rule in South Africa transformed key features of this regional order, notably by granting full rights of citizenship for non-white nationals, but democratisation also reinforced an exclusionary definition of nationality that fuels xenophobia.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)180-194
Number of pages15
JournalSouth African Historical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2 2016


  • British Empire
  • Southern Africa
  • borders
  • citizenship
  • decolonisation
  • migration
  • nationality
  • territory
  • xenophobia

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History


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