Original Research

Xenophobic violence and criminality in the KwaZulu-Natal townships

Bethuel S. Ngcamu, Evangelos Mantzaris
The Journal for Transdisciplinary Research in Southern Africa | Vol 15, No 1 | a606 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/td.v15i1.606 | © 2019 Bethuel S. Ngcamu, Evangelos Mantzaris | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 05 September 2018 | Published: 23 April 2019

About the author(s)

Bethuel S. Ngcamu, Department of Management and Governance, Walter Sisulu University, Buffalo City Campus, East London, South Africa
Evangelos Mantzaris, School of Public Leadership, Stellenbosch University, Cape Town, South Africa


This study’s focus on the xenophobic violence in South Africa is topical, mostly concentrating on the economic competition between foreign nationals and local people as a root cause. Whilst the South African government’s record of poor governance has led to a high crime rate, poor service delivery, corruption and poorly implemented and enforced legislations have been overlooked and disassociated with xenophobia. The current study explores other forces that have triggered the xenophobic violence in South Africa in 2015 with a clear focus on the province of KwaZulu-Natal. The study aims to ascertain some of the causes and dimensions of the xenophobic violence and the government’s inability to detect and respond to such a catastrophe in KwaZulu-Natal. The research methodology chosen was interpretivism, utilising qualitative in-depth interviews. Seventeen informants, comprised of community activists, non-governmental organisations and government officials, including the South African Police Service, were interviewed. Four major themes that triggered and influenced xenophobia emerged in this study. Firstly, there is economic competition amongst foreign nationals who use local gangs to attack their competitors, as well as competition between foreigners and local business owners. Secondly, the study established an association between xenophobia and criminal business, where both victims and perpetrators compete over turf and skills in committing crimes. Thirdly, the study noted the inability of the state to employ risk-reduction to prevent and mitigate the impacts of xenophobia. Fourthly, the state apparatus’s failed to detect, prevent or mitigate the impact and respond timeously. A number of themes and issues untouched in previous research surfaced. This study necessitates the need for municipalities to develop or review by-laws on economic development in the townships and in the informal settlements by regulating informal businesses. The research study will further encourage the government to apply effective, efficient and appropriate crime-intelligence strategies that can detect or combat any sign of xenophobia in all sectors of society. The study will contribute to the conceptual and theoretical empirical developments and realities regarding the issues, as well as the policy, as most studies published on xenophobic violence have concentrated on the economic dimension, to the exclusion of other underlying causes.


Xenophobia; competition; intelligence; illegal immigrants; gangsterism; township.


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Crossref Citations

1. Xenophobic Mob Violence against Free Labour Migrants in the Age of the Nation State: How Can the Atlantic Experience Help to Find Global Patterns?
Leo Lucassen
International Review of Social History  vol: 67  issue: 3  first page: 487  year: 2022  
doi: 10.1017/S002085902200027X