International migration, xenophobia and the South African state

Musuva, Catherine Kavata (2015-12)

Dissertation (PhD)--Stellenbosch University, 2015.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: This dissertation seeks to advance the political understanding of xenophobia in South Africa by examining the relationship between the South African state and its African migrant population. It investigates the practices of frontline officials of three state institutions when dealing with African migrants and relates such practices to the prevalence of xenophobia. These institutions are the Department of Home Affairs, the South African Police Service and the City of Cape Town. The state of exception, propounded by Giorgio Agamben, provides a conceptual lens through which to examine the practices of state officials towards African migrants and the place of migrants in South African society. This concept is concerned with the law and the conditions of its application or suspension. It is characterised by the relationship between sovereign power and ‘bare life’– the form of deprived subjectivity produced by and captured in the exercise of sovereign power. The research is guided by a central question: Do the practices of state officials (from the three institutions), as experienced by African migrants, reinforce xenophobia in South Africa? This question is addressed by way of four secondary questions: a) How are the practices of state officials experienced by migrants?; b) To what extent are migrants treated differently by state officials in terms of their legal status or nationality?; c) Is the approach of state officials towards migrants evidence of a state of exception?; and, d) If so, to what extent has a state of exception in dealing with migrants shaped xenophobia in South Africa? In order to answer the research questions, an ethnographic field study was undertaken in Cape Town. The data-collection instruments were semi-structured interviews and observation at selected Home Affairs offices. A total of 40 African migrants, seven key informants from organisations that work on migration issues and two state officials were interviewed. The migrant sample represented 13 African countries and comprised five legal migrant categories. The key findings are that, firstly, migrants’ experiences with state officials were predominantly negative. Secondly, the primary basis for differential treatment of migrants was their foreignness, regardless of their nationality. With regard to the police and municipal officials, migrants’ experiences were further differentiated by other variables such as residential area, socio-economic status, and knowledge of the law or access to human rights organisations. There were also apparent differences in how migrants experienced Home Affairs officials based on their legal status with asylum seekers and refugees experiencing worse treatment than temporary and permanent residents. Thirdly, evidence of the state of exception varied within the three institutions. The main agents of the state of exception were mainly Home Affairs officials followed by the police. In the case of Home Affairs officials, the targets were predominantly illegal foreigners, asylum seekers and refugees, and in the case of the police migrants who are informal traders were targeted. The most evident site for the practice of the exception was the Refugee Reception Office. Fourthly, both the state of exception and xenophobia have an exclusionary power, which makes them mutually reinforcing.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Hierdie verhandeling is daarop toegespits om groter politieke begrip van xenofobie (vreemdelingehaat) in Suid-Afrika te bewerkstellig deur die verhouding tussen die Suid-Afrikaanse staat en sy migrantebevolking uit Afrika te verken. Dit ondersoek die praktyke van frontlinieamptenare by drie staatsinstellings in hul omgang met Afrika-migrante, en lê ’n verband tussen hierdie praktyke en die voorkoms van xenofobie. Hierdie instellings is die Departement van Binnelandse Sake, die Suid-Afrikaanse Polisiediens en die Stad Kaapstad. Die staat van uitsondering, ’n konsep wat deur Giorgio Agamben geskep is, bied ’n konseptuele lens waardeur staatsamptenare se praktyke teenoor Afrika-migrante sowel as migrante se plek in die Suid- Afrikaanse samelewing ondersoek kan word. Hierdie konsep handel oor die reg, en die omstandighede vir die toepassing of opskorting daarvan. Dit word gekenmerk deur die verhouding tussen soewereine mag en ‘blote lewe’ – die vorm van ontblote subjektiwiteit wat geskep word deur én vasgelê word in die uitoefening van soewereine mag. Die navorsing word deur ’n kernvraag gerig: Versterk staatsamptenare (by die drie instellings) se praktyke, soos Afrika-migrante dit ervaar, xenofobie in Suid-Afrika? Hierdie vraag word met behulp van vier sekondêre vrae ondersoek: a) Hoe beleef migrante staatsamptenare se praktyke? b) In watter mate behandel die staatsamptenare migrante verskillend op grond van hul regstatus of nasionaliteit? c) Getuig die staatsamptenare se benadering tot migrante van ’n staat van uitsondering? d) Indien wel, in watter mate dra die staat van uitsondering met betrekking tot migrante tot xenofobie in Suid-Afrika by? Om die navorsingsvrae te beantwoord, is ’n etnografiese veldstudie in Kaapstad onderneem. Die data is met behulp van semigestruktureerde onderhoude en waarneming by gekose kantore van die Departement van Binnelandse Sake ingesamel. Onderhoude is met altesaam 40 Afrika-migrante, sewe sleutelinformante van organisasies wat met migrasiekwessies werk, en twee staatsamptenare gevoer. Die migrante-steekproef het 13 Afrikalande verteenwoordig en uit vyf wettige kategorieë van migrante bestaan. Die belangrikste bevindinge is soos volg: Eerstens ervaar migrante staatsamptenare hoofsaaklik negatief. Tweedens is die vernaamste rede waarom migrante verskillend behandel word, hul vreemdheid, ongeag hul nasionaliteit. Wat die polisie en munisipale amptenare betref, word migrante voorts verskillend hanteer op grond van ander veranderlikes, soos woongebied, sosio-ekonomiese status, en kennis van die reg of toegang tot menseregte-organisasies. Daarbenewens is daar duidelike verskille in migrante se ervaring van amptenare van Binnelandse Sake op grond van die migrante se regstatus, met asielsoekers en vlugtelinge wat swakker behandeling ontvang as diegene met tydelike en permanente verblyfreg. Derdens bestaan daar wisselende bewyse van die staat van uitsondering binne die drie instellings. Die hoofagente van die staat van uitsondering blyk die amptenare van Binnelandse Sake te wees, gevolg deur die polisie. In die geval van Binnelandse Sake is die teikens hoofsaaklik onwettige migrante, asielsoekers en vlugtelinge, terwyl die polisie weer meestal informele handelaars in die visier het. Die plek waar die uitsondering die duidelikste in die praktyk beoefen word, is die Vlugtelinge-ontvangskantoor. Vierdens beskik die staat van uitsondering en xenofobie albei oor ’n uitsluitingsmag, wat die een die ander laat versterk.

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