The brutal xenophobic attacks that rocked South Africa in 2008 came under the spotlight on Tuesday night during a public debate at the Centre for the Book in Cape Town.
The public dialogue was organised by the Centre for Conflict Resolution and was based on the book titled Exorcising The Demons Within: Xenophobia, Violence and Statecraft in Contemporary South Africa, edited by Loren Landau, which was published last month.
The meeting was addressed by Dr Aurelia Segatti and Dr Jean Pierre Misago, both researchers from the African Centre for Migration and Society at the University of the Witwatersrand, Vincent Williams, a migration policy researcher in Cape Town, and Prof Edgar Pieterse, the director of the African Centre for Cities.
In her opening remarks Segatti said the xenophobic attacks could be linked to a number of developments post 1994.
“We incorporated a new ‘citizenry’, which was also a defining moment. So the attacks in 2008 came as no surprise to scholars. Xenophobia is also a worldwide phenomenon. Contributing factors to xenophobia are migration, violence and ethnic clashes,” she said.
Williams, who has been doing research into migration for the past 15 years, said even though they were not surprised the scale of violence and the intensity thereof was shocking.
“Because we have been doing extensive research on migration, we could foresee attacks were imminent. And this is why this book looks at a whole range of factors which may have contributed to the xenophobic attacks. But we need to overcome our differences if we want to build a cohesive society and that means we need to change our individual behaviours,” he said.
Pieterse, who facilitated the session, said the book also touched on migration studies and how diversity was reproduced through violent clashes. The book also pays tribute to those who lost their lives during the attacks.