“Let us eat airtime”: youth identity and ‘xenophobic’ violence in a low-income neighbourhood in Cape Town

Publication type: 
Working paper
Year: 
2009
Author: 
Adam Cooper
Working Paper Number: 
263
Abstract: 
<p>This study involved 11 discussion groups and 9 individual interviews with learners at a high school in Dunoon, the area where apparently ‘xenophobic’ violence first erupted, in Cape Town, in May 2008. The study used qualitative methods to explore these youths’ perceptions of different groups who live in Dunoon, descriptions of how these groups interact in daily community life and accounts of what transpired in May 2008. In the research these young people described themselves as ‘black’ and Xhosa, using these identities to portray local township social and economic processes, in which ‘black Xhosa’ people are apparently worse off in terms of education, skills and wealth, in comparison to local Somali shopkeepers. Young people also described themselves as aspiring to be modern, urban citizens, shopping at malls and speaking on their cellular telephones. Participants then proceeded to explain the violence towards foreign nationals through a discourse of ‘the attacks happened because the people are hungry.’ People may well be hungry, but hunger usually turns to violence when a set of beliefs and ideologies exist, in addition to this hunger, which indicate that a situation is unfair and that taking action to bring about change, is justified. Through the combination of identities portrayed by young people in this study- as black, Xhosa and modern citizens- it appears as if the discursive justification for the violence- as due to ‘hunger’- was being used partially metaphorically, to describe a set of desires: people in Dunoon want food, but they are also hungry for televisions, laptop computers and airtime for their cellphones. Many of these commodities, which are integral to a modern, middle-class lifestyle, are still largely elusive for groups of the South African urban poor. This leads to resentment and frustration and may produce violence when others in the local environment, such as Somali shopkeepers, appear to enjoy these social and economic privileges, to a greater extent.</p>
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