Non-citizens' rights: Xenophobia, nationalism and struggle post-transition

Kerr, Philippa and Dixon, John (2022). Non-citizens' rights: Xenophobia, nationalism and struggle post-transition. In: Elcheroth, Guy and de Mel, Neloufer eds. In the Shadow of Transitional Justice: Cross-national Perspectives on the Transformative Potential of Remembrance. London, UK: Routledge, pp. 91–103.



Transitional justice often involves formerly oppressed groups taking over political power from their erstwhile oppressors. These newly empowered groups have typically been on the right side of history, occupying the moral high ground with respect to the injustices of the past. However, there are instances where discourses of liberation become a new hegemony that is used to quell opposition and/or produces new oppressions of its own. This chapter discusses xenophobic violence in post-apartheid South Africa, where black South Africans continue to bear the ongoing burden of racial inequality that is apartheid’s legacy. At the same time, anti-immigrant violence has been an ongoing crisis since the early years of democracy, and has been perpetrated mainly in low-income black South African communities against African and Asian immigrants. Spikes in violence in 2008, 2015 and 2019 resulted in loss of life, damage to property and widespread displacement. The authors consider how new South African citizenship was constructed in the transition from apartheid to democracy, and how familiar languages of liberation struggle and/or transitional justice are used to legitimate new forms of nationalistic discrimination against groups accused of undermining South Africans’ ongoing efforts to realize the material benefits of liberation in the present.

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