Class Identity, Xenophobia, and Xenophilia
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In 2008 and 2015, South Africa’s most deadly and violent xenophobic attacks erupted. Dozens of people were killed and thousands displaced. The dominant storyline in the media and the academy cast the figure of the migrant as the perpetual victim of xenophobia and as the ultimate Other. There was not enough emphasis on nuancing that statement to indicate that it is not all migrants who run the risk of deadly xenophobia even though xenophobia is pervasive across all South African socioeconomic classes. Deadly attacks only took place in specific microspaces, or Cultural Time Zones (CTZs). Those living in the CTZ of the informal settlement (shanty town) were most vulnerable. Migrants in economically privileged CTZs like the wealthy suburbs do not typically become victims of xenophobic violence. In this paper, I attempt to examine the relationship between (micro)space and migrant experience. Through an analysis of South African cities as a cluster of radically different CTZs where language, skin color, race/ethnicity, education, socioeconomic class, etc. function in different ways to impact the migrant experience, I try to uncover the nuanced reasons why working-class migrants who work and live in socioeconomically deprived CTZs may experience violent xenophobia, while middle-class professionals, especially those from Western countries, often enjoy high levels of xenophilia. This chapter employs the philosophy of Cultural Time Zone theory to explain this paradox and explore how some migrants are considered culturally “closer” to the South African Self, while some are viewed as culturally more “distant” Others.
KeywordsFrontier migration Xenophobia Xenophilia Uneven development Language Skin color Urban space
When scholars study transnational migration, they analyze it in terms of crossing national borders. They approach migration through a national lens as the movement of a Mexican national to the USA or a French citizen to Indonesia. The presumption is that the migrant crosses one border at the port of entry and thus moves from one country to another. What I will be arguing here is that (a) every country is divided by multiple internal borders; (b) nowhere are those multiple borders more visible than in the global(izing) city (Leildé 2008: 2); (c) parts of global(izing) cities are more “global”/transnational than “local”/subnational which in turn impacts the migration experience (Myambo 2017b; c); and (d) migrants who occupy the city’s middle-class “global”/transnational microspaces are less likely to experience (deadly) xenophobia than migrants living in more working-class “local”/subnational microspaces. I call these microspaces Cultural Time Zones (CTZs). (“Global” and “local” are in quotation marks because they are merely shorthand terms. Many “local” CTZs are very globalized and genuinely cosmopolitan and boast large migrant populations, but I use “global” here in the sense that Starbucks is a globally omnipresent, transnational chain of coffee shops. “Global,” like “cosmopolitan,” is often a euphemism for Western, and thus the reader should be aware of all these connotations.)
Middle-class migrants who traverse the global(izing) city’s “global”/transnational CTZs like the gated residential community, the securitized office complex, the fancy mall, the elite gym, the international school, the hipster bar, and the cappuccino-serving café may sometimes encounter xenophobic attitudes, but they do not normally risk being beaten or killed because they are foreigners. Working-class migrants, who live in shanty towns, hustle a living on street corners, shop in “local” (open air) markets, socialize in “local” taverns, and attend services in “local” places of worship run a higher risk of encountering anti-foreigner violence (Gqola 2008; Landau 2010; Azari 2012; Spitz 2017). My goal in this chapter is to understand the migrant experience in all its nuances, and to do so, we need to have a more fine-grained understanding of place as it relates to the construction, expression, and performance of identity of both the local and the foreigner. We understand nothing about the migrant’s life when we speak of a Brazilian national moving to Tanzania. We can only understand the daily lived experiences of the migrant when we find out what CTZs she occupies. Identities of the local Self and foreign Other are relational, situational, and “site-specific.” Identity emerges in this study as fluid, intersectional, and constructed, as is space, and migrant experience depends on how these two social constructs interact.
I came to realize the need for a more fine-grained, systematic approach to dissecting and analyzing national space through my study of frontier migrants leaving industrialized countries in North America, the European Union, the United Kingdom, Japan, and South Korea to live and work in the emerging market economies of China, India, and South Africa in the era of post-Cold War globalization (See American Dream Abroad: Privileged Frontier Migrants in the Global South Africa (forthcoming) and Myambo 2017a for more on frontier migration and related concepts. This chapter consists of material condensed from American Dream Abroad). Frontier migration refers to the move of people, technology, capital, and ideas from a more “developed” to a less “developed” economy. In my ongoing fieldwork studying multiracial frontier migrants and comparing their lives with those of less privileged migrant populations, the need for a philosophy of space in relation to identity (and vice versa) became clear. Nowhere is this more starkly illustrated than in the divergent experiences of xenophobia and xenophilia for different types of migrants.
Xenophobia, it should be noted, is not a particularly South African problem; it is a problem in all immigrant-receiving nations. Outbreaks of “racist violence” in Europe are a common occurrence (Castles and Miller 2009: 265–268) as is increasing Islamophobia against Muslim foreigners and others perceived as culturally distant from the white European majority. In the USA, Donald Trump’s candidacy was rocket-boosted by his anti-Mexican prejudice, but globally, as in South Africa, xenophobia is a socio-spatial phenomenon. In other words, a Mexican migrant living in the CTZ of Manhattan’s West Village in diversity-rich New York City will normally face far less xenophobia than the same migrant living in some counties in Texas or some neighborhoods in Phoenix, Arizona. Hence, while the Trump administration advocates a xenophobic national policy toward immigrants, not all migrants will necessarily experience xenophobic prejudice because the USA is divided, like every country, by myriad (cultural, linguistic, ethnic, religious, socioeconomic, etc.) borders which split the nation’s macropsace into CTZs. We all live our lives on a microscale in the CTZs we frequent in our daily lives. Additionally, the neoliberal global economy has resulted in increasing income inequality and uneven development, a structural feature of capitalism, which is further splintering polities into a small, wealthy elite and an increasing number of poor and precarious (Harvey 2005; Smith 2008). Nowhere is this more evident than in neoliberal South Africa (see Myambo 2011).
Owing to its legacy of apartheid, also known as a system of racial capitalism, and in its present incarnation as one of the most unequal countries in the world according to the Gini coefficient, South Africa is “an internally divided and highly unequal society…[full of] old apartheid-era fences and divides” (Sichone 2008: 257). Xenophobic sentiment is often expressed by high-level politicians, in the country’s media and institutionalized in some state policies which all contribute to xenophobia (Hassim et al. 2008; Bond et al. 2010), but although studies have shown that “South Africans of different [class, racial, ethnic] backgrounds are equally xenophobic…there is a tendency to blame [xenophobia] entirely on the poor” (Sichone 2008: 258). Yet, we must interrogate this paradoxical conundrum: if xenophobia is present at all levels of society, why do middle-class migrants rarely become victims of xenophobic violence?
Firstly, we must differentiate between xenophobic attitudes and xenophobic violence.
There are very few studies of middle-class migrants in South Africa, but in my own primary qualitative research on about forty “highly-skilled” frontier migrants who have moved from “First World” countries to South Africa, we find that not a single one of them experienced, or feared, becoming a victim of xenophobic violence. In fact, often, as citizens of highly regarded Western countries like the USA, the UK, Germany, Sweden, etc., they are the recipients of warm xenophilia. I will try to illustrate in this chapter that there is a dialectical relationship between xenophobia and xenophilia in the context of South Africa’s extreme uneven development, high levels of income inequality, and dynamics of spatialized precariousness and privilege.
Working-class migrants who frequent less privileged, more precarious CTZs like the township, and more particularly the informal settlement, inner-city neighborhoods, the spaza shop (small tuckshop), the shebeen (tavern), etc., live in a vastly different Johannesburg in which being a foreigner can sometimes translate into being attacked or even killed. (Townships, like suburbs, informal settlements, etc., are highly variegated and complex spaces so these broad terms are merely shorthand to facilitate discussion). Violent, deadly xenophobia in South Africa is, therefore, a socio-spatial phenomenon.
French philosopher, Henri Lefebvre’s assertion that space is produced and producing of social relations (see also Harvey 2005; Smith 2008; Leonard 2013), has become a truism in urban studies but perhaps, nowhere is this more apparent than in South Africa’s extremely unequal, unevenly developed urbanscape. Every city has a “specific spatial and social context” (Bolay 2006: 286), and South Africa’s particular apartheid legacy in which the city and suburbs – “luxurious and cocooned enclaves” (Leonard 2013: 98) – were reserved for comparatively wealthier whites and blacks, Indians, and so-called Coloureds (mixed race people) were relegated to the bleak townships on the city’s periphery still structures urban space today (Myambo 2019). Apartheid was literally an attempt to spatially divide the population along racial, ethnic, and linguistic lines which were aggressively linked to socioeconomic class thus creating multiple CTZs conditioned by racial and spatial segregation and a form of social engineering designed to create and maintain uneven development. This spatial legacy continues to influence xenophobic sentiment today.
The city, then, is crisscrossed by myriad borders, some more visible than others. Scholars who study migration refer to the “context of reception” as in how will migrant from X country be received in Y country. But there is no national context of reception because there are myriad South Africas and therefore myriad South Africas made up of myriad divergent and complex CTZs. Understanding the experience of different types of migrants in South Africa will, therefore, require a comprehensive analysis of the different types of CTZs they occupy and the spatial politics at play as these in turn influence identity, identification, and relations between the Self and the Other.
Space is of course implicitly and explicitly related to race, ethnicity, socioeconomic class, language, and so on, but drawing on the philosophy of CTZ theory, a concept of space in relationship to the cultural matrix and time (history, tradition, etc.), studies of working-class African migrants and some of my own primary research on middle-class frontier migrants to South Africa, I attempt to explain not only xenophobia but also xenophilia. What does it have to do with the material reality of these different groups’ spatial practices as they navigate the segregated city which is demarcated by racial, cultural, linguistic, and socioeconomic borders? How much does xenophobia and of course, xenophilia, have to do with different CTZs and the denigration or valorization of different types of cultural capital? (A Cultural Time Zone consists of three interdependent elements: cultural time, time zone/spatial zone, and cultural capital. Once a certain “zone” has been identified – let’s say a gated community or a village – we have to try and identify what type of cultural time(s) it is operating on and which is dominant – e.g., capitalist “clock-time” and/or the Islamic calendar, etc. – and then determine what forms of cultural capital translate into the dominant cultural time. CTZs are fully explained in CULTURAL TIME ZONES: Splintered Nation, Networked Neighborhood (forthcoming)).
One of the central tenets of CTZ theory is the notion of cultural capital (know-how, cultural competence) which I derive from French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu but also expand upon (Bourdieu 1984, 1986, 1999). To navigate a CTZ successfully, migrants need to have the types of cultural capital (language, physiognomy, fashion, gender, skin color, education, possession of a smartphone, etc.) that translate well into the “cultural time(s)” of the “zone” they occupy. Migrants who possess the “wrong” types of cultural capital that do not translate well can experience more friction in certain “zones.” Overarching notions of how South Africans differentially valorize particular types of cultural capital (i.e., different identities) also greatly impact the migrant’s experience. Translation, the notion of cultural distance/cultural kilometers, and various other elements of CTZ theory will become clearer as I compare the experiences of privileged frontier migrants from Western countries, both black and white, to those of working-class African and Asian migrants who live in more precarious CTZs. Ultimately, I aim to illustrate that the migrant experience is determined by their different forms of cultural capital which enable or prevent them from experiencing more or less “friction” in different types of South African CTZs, and I hope to bring more nuance to understanding the migrant experience. Class identity, which relates closely to certain forms of cultural (and economic) capital like “global” English and thus particular CTZs, overdetermines the migrant’s daily life.
Deadly Xenophobia as a Socio-spatial Phenomenon
In 2008, South Africa’s most deadly and violent xenophobic attacks erupted. Sixty-two people were killed, (mis)identified as African foreign nationals, although about a third were actually South Africans. Since then, “over 400 immigrants, refugees, asylum-seekers and those viewed as ‘outsiders’ have been killed in similar events” (Hiropoulos 2017) including a particularly violent period in 2015. In addition to the killings, there are also brutal rapes, beatings, forced evictions, and lootings inflicted on foreigners, primarily African foreign nationals, and some South Asian shop owners.
Contributing factors to the xenophobic outburst include structural, social, economic and spatial inequalities as well as a general reliance on cheap labor, housing shortages, township retail competition, racism, a general history of violence to advance sectional interests and a scarred national psyche…poor service delivery, high interest rates, high costs of living, competition over Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) housing, corrupt government officials, and high unemployment rates. (Holder 2012: 31)
Additionally, competition over women is a frequently cited cause of xenophobic violence. In the patriarchal discourse in which South African men “own” South African women, it is commonly said that foreigners are “stealing” women and there is a complementary narrative in popular culture that holds that South African women do prefer foreign men because they have jobs, are better off, and treat them with more respect. This form of female xenophilia for foreign men ironically leads to increased xenophobia toward them from South African men.
Overall, the social drivers of xenophobic violence which is largely perpetrated by men are multiple and complex but are intimately related to the spatial as illustrated in the work of Eric Holder who sought to map xenophobic violence and model spatial relationships to identify xenophobic-prone “hotspots” which tend to be areas where “large numbers of African non-nationals [are] living in close proximity to poor South Africans in squalid and congested urban living spaces…breeding extreme social discontent” (33).
Thus, applying a spatial lens in mapping where attacks have taken place, a clear spatial pattern emerges showing that “most attacks appear to occur in townships and areas surrounding hostels” (Hiropoulos 2017). Xenophobic incidents also happen on overcrowded public transport like the mobile CTZs of trains and the “taxis” (commuter omnibuses).
At the most basic level, though, and in the interests of stating the spatially obvious, vulnerability to violence is made more or less possible by actual physical barriers. Living behind a six-foot-tall wall topped with electric wires as is typical in the wealthy suburbs will make a middle-class migrant safer than living in a defenseless shack made of bits of cast-off metal and plastic. Selling wares on a street corner in “public spaces…contribute[s] to the vulnerability” of African migrants who “find themselves hustling and negotiating their existence in uncertain spaces” (Azari 2012: 39–41). Xenophobic violence therefore is directly related to certain spaces and consequently, not correlated with others (see Azari 2012: 70).
Once we recognize that space is absolutely central to the question of violent xenophobia and, dialectically, xenophilia, we must pursue a better understanding of social space, spatial practice, and South African perceptions of different migrants (and their multiple types of cultural capital). In the next section, we explore typical South African stereotypes, both positive and negative, in how they perceive foreigners.
(De)Valuing Cultural Capital in Xenophobia/Xenophilia
Why…so much violence against foreigners?
Foreigners have occupied most of our space for their spaza shops…
Is there an element of xenophobia in all this?
Not. If it’s xenophobia, what about the white person who comes from overseas?
Why is it only black foreigners from Africa the people hate?
They don’t hate, they are perturbed. Because don’t come when I am suffering, because then you become a problem in my vicinity when I am having a problem myself. Your people [whites] come with experience, they come with the right papers. You understand where I’m coming from? Do the right thing in the rightful manner and be known well what you are coming with and what you are going to be doing. Are you employing? These people [from Africa] are not employing. These people are doing what we are doing in our own spaces. (Barron 2015, my emphasis)
Ms. Nkosi lays out here all the stereotypical South African views about both African migrants and privileged frontier migrants from “overseas.” They are assumed to be white (not always the case, in fact about a third of the frontier migrants I interviewed were black), they are assumed to be in the country legally (not always the case), and they are supposed to bring experience and skills and finance capital to create jobs (not always the case). Nkosi here demonstrates that First World cultural and economic capital is welcome in South Africa because as a “developing” country, the nation welcomes those from the more “developed” world (see Myambo 2017a).
[South Africans ask me], ‘Why would you choose to be here?’ I think that there are two things behind it…I get it from all sides. I get it from your white merchant banker and the black car guard. I think that it is a general…the grass is always greener. And I don’t know what it is about New York in particular, I think the States in general, Europe in general, people look up to it. (Matt, white American architect, 30s (my emphasis))
Although my research has indicated that many frontier migrants are in fact economic migrants, seeking out better opportunity, in the court of public opinion, frontier migrants are never seen as economic refugees, thanks to international uneven development which results in an hierarchy of nations. A developing country like South Africa is trying to become developed, and thus South Africans in general look up to Europeans and Americans. Also, privileged frontier migrants do not occupy the same space – literal and metaphorical and cultural and physical – as the South African majority who live very precarious lives, with up to 54–55% of the population living below the poverty line depending on how one cooks the figures (Grant 2015; Musgrave 2015). Nkosi implicitly suggests that frontier migrants are not competing with working-class South Africans “in our own spaces.” In other words, frontier migrants are seen as adding value in a different sphere of the South African economy located in a different CTZ and their cultural capital is highly valorized.
African working-class migrants, on the other hand, who live and work among South Africa’s precarious classes are viewed as direct competitors who do not create employment. Although the presence of foreign workers does somewhat decrease South African workers’, especially male workers’, success in the labor market (Broussard 2017), some scholars have debunked this notion (Kalitanyi and Visser 2010), proving that African migrants do create businesses which create jobs for locals (however, this research is yet to filter into the public sphere and change this deeply held opinion which depends on national stereotypes). Stereotypes about Africans are often negative, whereas stereotypes about Westerners are often positive, and this of course impacts how the migrant is perceived (and therefore treated), and South African opinions about migrants also reflect how they value or devalue different types of migrant cultural capital.
In Bourdieu’s conception of cultural capital, there is only one type of cultural capital, and people have more or less of it (Bourdieu 1984, 1986, 1999). In my version, there are multiple types of cultural capital. For example, eating with a fork and knife is a form of Western cultural capital, and eating with chopsticks is a form of Asian cultural capital. Bourdieu lists four types of cultural capital: embodied (e.g., dispositions), objectified (e.g., art), institutionalized (e.g., degrees), and symbolic (e.g., Levi-Strauss’ preface to The Gift). I expand upon his notion in several ways. For example, I include gender, ethnicity, race, religion, and physiognomy in my use of embodied cultural capital, and I also focus on the notion of linguistic cultural capital. Taking just two forms of cultural capital – skin color and language – we can see how migrants in precarious CTZs become victims of xenophobia and “othered,” whereas privileged migrants who live in middle-class CTZs, and even occasionally work in precarious CTZs, do not. Space, race, color, and language map onto each other and onto divergent CTZs.
Skin Color as Cultural Capital
…Even during the  xenophobic attacks, I was here. So I was thinking, should I feel like it would also affect me possibly? Because obviously it’s about foreigners, and it was never anything like that against me or anyone from other countries, other non-African countries. It felt really unfair and really strange, but I also know that that was the whole…That’s the whole conflict. It’s a very different kind of issue that the xenophobia was about. I’ve never really felt that. (Bregtje, white Dutch Developmental Community Theater Maker, 30s)
Not a single privileged frontier migrant I interviewed reported experiencing a single instance of violence spurred on by xenophobia. Less than 4% had ever even encountered anyone whom they felt was hostile toward them because they were foreigners. As Bregtje here explains, they were all aware that working-class immigrants from African countries, “strangely” and “unfairly,” became the sacrificial victims for frustrated South Africans who scapegoat them for myriad social ills. Most frontier migrants explained the xenophobic attacks as “poor-on-poor” violence which results from an ongoing struggle over resources as reflected in much mainstream research on xenophobia (see also Hassim et al. 2008; Bond et al. 2010). But what we see very clearly in the qualitative data from frontier migrants both implicitly and explicitly in their discussions of xenophobia is the notion of distance, both cultural and literal. Xenophobia was something that happened to foreigners but foreigners who were culturally “different” from frontier migrants and physically located in poorer CTZs.
Because [xenophobia]’s more to do with poverty and people being very poor and feeling like other people are coming in and taking over their jobs…They see it in their communities. They see little like shebeens [local taverns] coming up and little shops coming up of Somalians who are making a little business and are maybe driving a nicer car or who are getting homes, and they’re still not getting homes, so it was more things that they were seeing in the day to day life which I’m not part of…They weren’t really looking at foreign people from other [non-African] countries to be a threat to their immediate income. (Bregtje, white Dutch Developmental Community Theater Maker, 30s (my emphasis))
In general I feel very welcome. I think also people I’ve worked with and studied with, they were super open. They were very curious about learning about, knowing where I come from, what I do, what I want to do here. Lots of people are really interested…I think because many people think of Europe as this wonderful place of opportunity and of education also, I think that’s why many people are quite open to having [me]…If you come there and you offer to work with them, they’ve been really eager and very open about it because they wanted to learn more and also gain skills and sometimes in a very idealistic way. They were almost expecting too much from my side. I’ve had lots of people that I was able to work with and lots of collaborations that I would be able to start up because people were really willing to work with you and really open to…There’s a lot of space for new things. There’s a lot of space for things, and there’s lots of space for starting up any kind of initiative so I’ve always felt very welcome in whatever I wanted to do and with whoever I wanted to. (Bregtje, white Dutch Developmental Community Theater Maker, 30s (my emphasis))
If anything, I think I’m surprised by how often as a white American, people are still afraid to confront or challenge me in some way…I think there are times in which probably the color of my skin gives me power in their eyes in a way that is still quite uncomfortable for me. In which case I’m treated … They defer to me or they … You know what I’m saying. That’s I think especially true outside of Johannesburg and especially true amongst lower-skilled workers or…workers with lower levels of education…Let’s say I needed to get access to a place…You walk in and assert a certain kind of authority and people would be afraid to say, ‘What right do you have to be here?’ Whatever. It’s interesting… Doing a lot of stories in like rural townships, I don’t blend in and so people I think … People have really gone out of their way to make sure I get what I need as a journalist or help me out to tell their story or whatever in a way that’s sometimes quite surprising. I don’t think you’d get the same response in the US. (Cynthia, white American journalist, 30s (my emphasis))
Frontier migrants, like all city denizens, navigate the city with mental maps peppered with CTZs which they mark as closer or further away from them in terms of culture, class, religion, race, ethnicity, etc. But as Cynthia and Bregtje make clear, they can easily traverse culturally “distant” CTZs because they do not blend in. Their skin color is a form of cultural capital that increases their privilege, but this becomes more interesting when compared with African migrants.
Where not blending in can be a boon to a frontier migrant in a township, blending in can sometimes become life saving for a foreigner trying to avoid a mob. During xenophobic attacks, mobs identify foreigners through various methods of reading their physiognomy, primarily “dark” skin and vaccination marks on the upper arm. Some scholars argue that the black South African population suffers from “not simply xenophobia, but specifically negrophobic” xenophobia based on a self-hating “negrophobia” (Gqola 2008; Mngxitama 2008: 197; Matshikiza 2008: 235) which manifests itself against “darker-skinned” African nationals from other African countries. It is a common stereotype in South Africa that those north of the border are much darker, but this does not hold true since South Africa’s multiethnic black African population runs the gamut from pale yellow to deep brown (e.g., South Africans from the Venda ethnic group are often identified as foreigners because they have darker skin). However, because of this stereotype combined with South Africa’s apartheid legacy of racialization, the xenophobic attacks are often viewed through a racial lens, but can we reduce xenophobia to a form of negrophobia, Afrophobia, or a misguided case of “black-on-black” violence?
In the South African case, it is not wrong to assume that race and skin color are part of the dynamics animating xenophobic violence. But race and skin color cannot fully explain this violence because it is not just whites whom are exempt: not all black foreigners suffer this extreme form of xenophobia. Middle-class foreign African nationals do not typically experience violent xenophobia, and the privileged frontier heritage migrants I interviewed who included African Americans, Afro-Germans, and Black British mostly tended to view their brown skin as a benefit in South Africa and as a valuable form of cultural capital (Myambo 2017a) because the middle-class CTZs which they frequented operate on a different “cultural time” and thus skin color/race/ethnicity/nationality sometimes translate differently.
Linguistic Cultural Capital
Xenophobic mobs rampaging through the streets in search of foreigners to beat and kill would also test them by asking them if they knew the word elbow or meerkat in isiZulu. Even though Zulu is only one of South Africa’s eleven official languages, it is the dominant lingua franca of township and informal settlement life in Gauteng Province along with SeSotho. The inability to answer this question could result in death.
When working-class African migrants enter the township or informal settlement, intending to live and/or work there, they become part of the “day-to-day” socioeconomic fabric and are quickly expected to assimilate to the “cultural time” of those precarious CTZs by acquiring the major forms of necessary cultural capital: an African language such as Xhosa, Zulu, Sotho, SePedi, Tswana and/or Afrikaans, and English. As stated above, their inability to assimilate or integrate can in the worst-case scenario result in their death. Yet, in stark contrast, part of the privilege of being a middle-class (frontier) migrant is that one does not have to learn a local language because one does not have to survive in the subnational/“local” CTZs in which a competition over space, both literal and metaphorical, becomes a factor impacting violent xenophobia. To wit, not a single one of the frontier migrants I interviewed could speak Zulu or any other indigenous language; the migrants from the Netherlands could speak Afrikaans as it is a derivative of Dutch, but not a single migrant had learned a whole new language. Less than 10% even expressed the desire to learn Zulu.
Like many white South Africans or middle-class migrants from both African and non-African countries, frontier migrants did not need to learn Zulu to function in their everyday lives because the lingua franca of privileged CTZs in South Africa is English. Therefore, and this is the crucial point, the frontier migrant’s normal, “day-to-day” CTZs require a kind of cultural capital that they already possess (even European migrants had mostly acquired English-speaking skills before arriving in South Africa). Like space, language is both literal but also metaphorical. In South Africa, (home) language is one of the most potent markers of ethnic, racial, national affiliation, socioeconomic class, and identity. Language functions as an important form of cultural capital, and different languages are necessary for different CTZs. (Accents are also a form of cultural capital as we will see later.)
Language is deeply symbolic and illustrative of power relations. When African migrants speak their own native tongues, xenophobic South Africans call them “Makwerekwere,” a pejorative onomatopoeic term which is “derived from kwere kwere, a sound that their unintelligible languages were supposed to make, according to the locals” (Mpe 2001: 20). CTZs in which precarious migrants and precarious nationals try to coexist, because of the cultural distance between them epitomized by linguistic difference, can become the crucibles of violent xenophobia. Whereas middle-class and Euro-American migrants benefit from cultural distance from the black South African Self, working-class migrants do not. Ironically meanwhile, in those “global”/transnational CTZs, cultural proximity is possible because in those spaces, global English – the language of globalization – is the dominant language. As we can see here, perceptions of the migrant’s identity is site-specific and relational.
Borders and Translating Linguistic Cultural Capital
English was really the unifying language in the country, so although you had many different languages – Zulu, Sotho, Xhosa, Tswana, Ndebele, you know – Zulu was the primary African language, but English was the unifying language, so in business, everyone spoke in English, and anyone who really wanted to integrate into the mainstream of society had to speak English, so I didn’t have a language barrier. (Angus, black American Executive Leadership Coach, 50s)
The “mainstream of society” seems to be equated here with the “business” community (because Zulu/Xhosa are the most widely spoken languages in the country). Thanks to a history of British imperialism, rebooted in globalization, and even though English is only the mother tongue of less than 10% of the South African population and depending on one’s educational level, the majority population speaks English to a greater or lesser degree, the CTZs in which Angus lives are English-speaking; hence there are no “barriers” or borders restricting him access, so to speak.
In some South Africas, however, there are higher barriers to entry, thicker borders to cross, and thus more cultural friction. The CTZs which frontier migrants occupy are ones in which global English prevails, illustrative of its world-knitting dominance – which of course both “unifies” some sectors of the world population across national borders but also “disunites” local populations within national borders as they become stratified according to their ability to speak or not speak English fluently which in turn reflects and impacts their class position. In “local” or subnational CTZs, different indigenous languages and their various dialects mark people ethnically/nationally/racially, and attempts by the apartheid government to divide South Africans according to their native language further exacerbated this even though many South Africans are fluent in at least two, three, four, or more languages.
One of Johannesburg’s most famous buildings is Ponte located in downtown Johannesburg. It is home to numerous African immigrants and diverse South Africans: “Ponte is Africa. You can find the whole of Africa in Ponte. In South Africa there are eleven tribes…All of them in Ponte you would find. Nigerians you would find, Congolese you would find, Zimbabweans, everything. Everybody is talking their language. Ponte, she’s just Africa” (Subotzky and Waterhouse 2014: 129).
Ironically, although “global”/transnational/First World CTZs are described as cosmopolitan, they are much more monolingual. When Agatha, the British-American journalist, explained why she felt so welcome in Johannesburg’s CTZs in which global English is the dominant language, she said: “…I think there’s a lot of British accents around so…I don’t think people are that interested and bothered really [about me being a foreigner]. And Jo’burg is such a melting pot [read cosmopolitan] there’s people from everywhere here so it really doesn’t generate that much interest.” In other words, she did not stand out at all. She could blend in to the CTZs she occupied because she had the requisite cultural capital – global English and an accent that signified a middle-class/educated identity.
Now, let’s compare Angus and Agatha’s experiences to a typical precarious migrant we shall call Tendai from Zimbabwe, a composite of several Zimbabwean migrants. When working-class Tendai moves to Jo’burg from Harare’s Highfields, the biggest township in Zimbabwe’s capital, she has to quickly learn isiZulu and SeSotho because she has to take public transport from her home in Alexandra township where she lives with black South Africans who have not received much education and therefore do not speak much English. They do not value the kind of Zimbabwean cultural capital she brings in the form of the Shona language which is only spoken in Zimbabwe and in parts of Mozambique (the Ndau dialect). When South Africans hear Shona, it reminds them of Venda which is the language of an ethnic group that is rather looked down upon (along with Shangaan and Tsonga speakers).
When Tendai gets a job as a hairdresser in the “global” CTZ of Craighall Park, a well-off suburb, she quickly discovers that she will have to speak to some clients in English (which she already speaks well thanks to her excellent Zimbabwean education), but others will address her in Zulu or SeSotho or Afrikaans. If she arrives in South Africa speaking English and Shona very well – two forms of cultural capital – she will quickly acquire some ability to manage in three new languages in order to travel through the precarious and privileged CTZs she must navigate in her daily spatial practice. She must surmount several cultural and linguistic barriers to operate in South Africa. It is in subnational/“local” CTZs where we find true cosmopolitanism in the sense of radical multiculturalism and multilingualism (Myambo 2014).
Angus and Agatha, on the contrary, like the frontier migrants in general, encountered far fewer “barriers” in the privileged, English-dominated CTZs they occupy. Their level of cultural comfort and more friction-free “blending in”/belonging goes beyond the English language though. These CTZs are inhabited by people culturally proximate – not just other frontier migrants but other middle-class migrants from other countries in Africa and beyond as well as the South African middle classes. The South African middle class is a multiracial although still predominantly white social class, but they have in common with frontier migrants something we might call an Anglo-American-dominated global culture (e.g., watching Game of Thrones), a transnational force that again provides a lubricant for frontier migrants to transition into some privileged South Africas with relatively less friction. When privileged frontier migrants enter these “global” CTZs, they confront a radically different South Africa than more subnational, “local” CTZs. They in fact confront a South Africa which is culturally proximate to their home countries. For African migrants from subnational CTZs in their home countries, this is often not the case.
“Cosmo”-local CTZs, “Coconuts,” and Global Culture
Sharing a common class-based identity means that frontier migrants and middle-class black and white South Africans also share similar forms of global cultural capital which augments their feelings of cultural proximity. In Global Dreams: Class, Gender, and Public Space in Cosmopolitan Cairo, sociologist Anouk de Koning illustrates how “Egypt’s new liberal age, with its attempted integration into global networks and markets,” has led to “its striving for First World standards and appearances” (2009: 9). These words are certainly true of South Africa as well as plenty of other developing countries (Abaza 2001; Myambo 2017b). Egypt’s attempt at First Worldness means that Cairo is exploding with new global CTZs like Starbucks-style cafes where the Cairene middle and upper classes can sip their mocha lattes and eat their salted caramel cake while speaking in a mixture of Arabic and English performing their “conspicuous cosmopolitanism…[as] a potent marker of elite belonging and distinctiveness” (2009: 9).
I use the term ‘cosmopolitan capital’ for those forms of cultural capital that are marked by familiarity with and mastery of globally dominant cultural codes…Such cosmopolitan capital most clearly entails fluency in English…It also entails knowledge of the West, Western consumer culture, and prevailing elite dress codes that reference global fashions. Such cosmopolitan capital has come to designate social and cultural worth…it is a crucial marker of…up-market offices, as well as upscale consumption and leisure venues like malls, cinemas and coffee shops. (2009: 9)
Thus, to return us to our spatial analysis, “global” CTZs like the café, cinema, and mall are spaces easily frequented by both the “local” middle classes and frontier migrants because they require similar types of cultural capital. Global cultural capital is an ever more valuable commodity which can be translated into an increasing number of CTZs in global(izing) cities across the world (Davis and Monk 2007; Heiman et al. 2012). And global English is central to these CTZs.
Although the Egyptian middle and upper classes mix Arabic and English, the Indian middle classes may switch between Hindi and English, and the black South African middle classes might choose to speak Zulu and English, the point is that privileged frontier migrants – even those from Europe who speak English as a second or third language – arrive in the global South with one of the most coveted forms of global cultural capital, the English language, and they already represent/symbolize/enact global culture itself. When they meet their counterparts in the global South, some adjustments are necessary, but they are still conscious of a universal global culture that affords them cultural proximity. Geraldine, an African American frontier heritage migrant (Myambo 2017a) from Chicago, told me that at home in the USA, “we speak slang all the time. Here [in South Africa], I have to speak Standard English because otherwise people don’t know what you’re talking about. [But] there is kind of a universal culture and popular culture and much of it comes out of the U.S.”
Thus, beyond language, frontier migrants arrive in their new countries in the “developing” world – developing toward becoming like Euro-America – already equipped with most of the cultural capital they will need to navigate the globalizing cities’ elite/middle-class/transnational/First World/“global” CTZs populated by “locals” who are “cosmopolitan” in the sense of being familiar with Western culture and languages. It is not that they do not encounter friction, but they certainly encounter far less friction in these transnational CTZs than working-class migrants who leave one subnational CTZ in their home country for a subnational CTZ in a new country.
One of the things to me that I find really fascinating about South Africa, I talk about the people. Most people who have the means here have traveled extensively. I find that Americans are much more insular or much more naïve in a sense, because people will travel within the States, but people will generally not travel overseas. Whereas I found that South Africans travel. A lot of people have intimate knowledge of what life is like elsehwere, which I think there’s a constant influx of ideas. (Matt, white American architect, 30s)
Even if they have not taken “gap years” to travel the world in between secondary school and university or if they have never lived in Australia or the UK as many (especially white) South Africans have done (Andrucki 2010), those who have not physically travelled are media-savvy and draw on the same global popular culture as people in the First World. I remember vividly a conversation I was privy to as I waited in a queue with the incoming first year students at UCT (University of Cape Town). A Tsonga girl from Soweto, Johannesburg’s largest township, became acquainted with a girl from Northwest province, and since they both had satellite TV, they both literally “kept up” with the Kardashians. Trading stories about bad American reality TV shows formed the majority of their two-hour-long conversation.
Neither of these two students would probably describe themselves as “coconuts,” but it was a word I heard constantly used at UCT by middle-class black students who would begin their assertions by self-identifying as a coconut – someone who is brown on the outside but white on the inside. Also known as “Cheese boys” or “Bishops” meaning they eat cheese which is associated with white people or went to the predominantly white private school, Bishops, not far from UCT, or alternatively as “Top Decks,” a milk chocolate bar topped with white chocolate, these terms mostly refer to a certain accent while speaking English, a language in which they are extremely fluent and far more so than their working-class compatriots. Speaking English fluently and/or with a private school or “white” accent also distinctively marks them as middle- or upper-middle-class.
Teboho Banele Moleko, one of my undergraduate students at UCT who participated in the sociology class I taught on xenophobia and immigration in South Africa, described himself in these terms but explains crucially that black kids like himself who grew up going to multiracial although white-dominated “Model C” (good/private) schools are used to interacting with people of several nationalities whether Tanzanian or French. Race and nationality for these middle-class kids are not what defines their psyche. Instead, they feel quite culturally distant from other black South Africans of a lower socioeconomic class and feel culturally closer to others from the same class background regardless of their race/ethnicity/nationality.
Upper- and middle-class blacks whom Moleko interviewed for his research paper feel “marginalized and ostracized on both sides of the dominant racial make-up of South Africa, [black and white]”; hence “individuals [from] this social economic spectrum tend to be more tolerant” of all types of people (Moleko 2011). He writes that they are often resented by the majority black population “for their perceived privileged life” hence “‘cheese boys,’ ‘Bishops’ or ‘coconuts’…social interactions [are influenced most by] class rather than race, ethnicity or nationality. This leads individuals in this social economic grouping to interact with individuals of the same social class, regardless of race or nationality or ethnicity making them more tolerant” (Moleko 2011). His findings from interviews conducted with a group of young black men who all attended multiracial Model C schools in postapartheid South Africa concluded decisively that “individuals who are relatively privileged interact with one another regardless of race. It is also very common for individuals in this class to date across racial, ethnic and nationality lines; due to the common identity individuals perceive they have when they come from the same social economic realities” (Moleko 2011, my emphasis). In other words, a shared class identity between migrants and locals who occupy similar CTZs can be a unifying factor.
The salience of a class position as an identity is important for understanding the experience of migrants. In her study of how urban identities are changing in postapartheid society, Anne Leildé illustrates that the multiracial South African middle class are becoming more bound by class ties than other types of bonds (e.g., racial/ethnic, etc.) and writes the following of their specific spatial choices: “…residential choice among middle class residents appears to be motivated by the socioeconomic status of the neighborhood. In these suburbs, class identities appear to be constructed around common interests and concerns such as property values, neighborhood tidiness and crime” (2008:123). Frontier migrants who move into such suburban neighborhoods oftentimes share these common interests, concerns, values, and understandings of space. It is not only the English language and shared global cultural capital which undergirds the “global” CTZs, however, that frontier migrants frequent. It is additionally the very language of architecture. Frontier migrants are familiar with globe-spanning Euro-American architectural languages which in turn bolster their privilege.
Frontier Migrants and Socio-spatial Privilege in the CTZs of the Globalizing City
The radically gentrifying urban landscape of globalizing cities in the global South (Lees 2012; Myambo 2019) further facilitates frontier migration because frontier migrants can mostly live and work in CTZs that are culturally similar to the ones they left behind in their industrialized home countries, e.g., the USA (see also Fechter and Walsh 2010). The growth of malls, suburbanization, and gated communities worldwide and the “homogenizing global cultural landscape” (Swyngedouw and Kaïka 2003: 6) provide frontier migrants in diverse countries with the option to live very “First World” lives. American Architect Matt said that his sense of familiarity upon arriving in Jo’burg arose, “not just [from] the layout of the city but the interconnection between things. For me, the urban fabric of Jo’burg is very American and I think that it is largely about the age of those countries in a sense. I think that because Jo’burg and very much of the States are relatively new, they were able to be designed around the automobile.”
Even if the home country in Euro-America is spatially distant, it is culturally proximate because one of the most visible, materially tangible processes of globalization is the increasing territorialization of the “First World” burrowing its way into the urbanscape, e.g., McDonald’s, Starbucks, Krispy Kreme, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and other American chains continue to spread around the world. To fully decipher the nature of (socio-spatial) privilege as a lubricant that reduces the friction of migration for middle-class frontier migrants as they travel between transnational, “First World” CTZs in different countries, comparison offers us the most insight.
Working-class migrants, for example, who travel from distinctly subnational CTZs in one country to subnational CTZs in another country cross more (cultural) borders, and less permeable borders at that, than privileged migrants as we saw in the case of Tendai, the Zimbabwean hairdresser. There is a global architecture of privilege which undergirds cultural globalization, structurally enabling some forms of mobility while making others more difficult which we shall explore more in the next and final section.
Traversing the City: Migrant Experience Contrasted
Privilege and precarity impact middle-class migrants and working-class migrants not only in their different habitats but also in their daily spatial practice navigating the city’s myriad CTZs. Again, at the most practical level, this comes down to how they get around the city. As middle-class Kenyan migrant Caroline Wanjiku Kihato notes, driving a “private vehicle,” a mobile CTZ, made her “less vulnerable” than working-class migrants taking overcrowded public transport who can become sitting ducks for ill-meaning xenophobes (Kihato 2013: 37). Sibongile, an Ndebele-speaking migrant from Zimbabwe, told me she was tense every time the police stopped the combi she was riding in because even though Ndebele is relatively close to Zulu, she was afraid they would hear her slightly different accent/intonation and identify her as a foreigner and harass her. Just getting around the city can be a harrowing experience for many foreign African nationals, whereas the true power of First World cultural capital and privilege becomes apparent in the literal and metaphorical ways it facilitates the movement of frontier migrants through the city.
I have been pulled over before. The [metro police] don’t even ask to see my license. I’ve been pulled over, they hear my accent, they say, “Where are you from?” I tell them where I’m from [New York], they say, “What are you doing here?,” asking me the, “Why are you here?” question. I go on a rave about how I love South Africa, that it’s the greatest country in the world, whatever, and they will send me on my way. They don’t even check my registration. (Matt, white American architect, 30s)
[African working-class migrant] women use multiple strategies to avoid state capture on Johannesburg’s streets. Fazila, from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), described her experience at a police roadblock in the city. “I do not like going down that street, Joe Slovo…because under the bridge there are always police there…I rather take another route through Yeoville. It is very long, but it’s better than meeting the police.” (Kihato 2013: 36)
The police are not friends but enemies, not helpful but harmful for working-class migrants. Even Kihato herself, a middle-class Kenyan, feared that same roadblock on Joe Slovo although she was in South Africa legally but she writes, “an encounter with the police was unpredictable – there was always the threat of incarceration and violence” (Kihato 2013: 37).
I find [it] ironic [that I’ve never experienced xenophobia here] because it’s like when you get stopped at a roadblock or something, and I still have my American driver’s license because it’s such a nightmare to get a South African license. So, you would think after all these years that at some point, I would’ve had a problem but I never have. And they’re always like, “Oh, you’re from America,” you know? It’s like they’re almost impressed by it which is a bit sad when you think about their response to people from their own continent who come here, and they see them… Maybe they see them as more direct competition for resources but, no, I’ve never had a problem. (Agatha, white British-American journalist, 30s (my emphasis))
Like Matt, Agatha was allowed off scot-free and did not experience any harassment or negative interactions with the police because as we saw before, she is seen as culturally and literally distant from the resource struggle, and they are “impressed” with her American cultural capital. For many of the frontier migrants, guilt, befuddlement, and embarrassment characterize their descriptions of their preferential treatment vis-a-vis that of working-class African foreign nationals.
Encounters with bureaucrats, immigration officials, and state authorities in many countries can be influenced by a concatenation of factors: race, class, gender, nationality, ethnicity, weather, luck, etc., but generally speaking, there is great hostility toward working-class Africans and quite the opposite feeling toward foreigners from the global North. It is not only Matt and Agatha who find that the police and South Africans in general are “impressed” with their Americanness which helps them to navigate the postapartheid city cosseted in a cloak of privilege. First World cultural capital is such a potent force that even during the last years of apartheid, a black American man named Frank Wilderson could enter “whites only” establishments because his nationality trumped his race. Wilderson’s memoir, Incognegro: A Memoir of Exile and Apartheid, is full of encounters with everyday South Africans, black and white, who declare their love for Americans and thus make him an exception to the rules of racially segregated space (see 45–6, 49–51, 100, 122, etc.). When he first enters the country as an “honorary White,” the only way for him to get into the country, he can barely find a place to stay because “multiracial” hotels are rare. Navigating the city is also a challenge until he meets a white woman whom he needs to help him “get a taxi,” and she does so because as she says, “I love people from America” (Wilderson 2008: 37).
Conclusion: Xenophobia and Xenophilia as Dialectics
Both xenophobia and xenophilia are in fact socio-spatial phenomena related to inter- and intranational uneven development, and it is out of this research that I developed the philosophy of CTZs. This chapter illustrates a practical application of the philosophy which explores the multiple South Africas in which such radically different migration experiences coexist in conjoined national spaces, both “global”/transnational and “local”/subnational.
The spatialization of privilege and precarity in relationship to inter- and intranational uneven development means that crossing national borders entails less friction than crossing socioeconomic “barriers” which often manifest themselves in different (linguistic) zones, but the globalizing city is itself one which is increasingly unequal. It is not only South Africa which bears witness to increasing income inequality and the correlative of disjunctive although contiguous CTZs. Writing about the global(izing) city of Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, Mari Fujita asserts that the “recent and rapid rise of the middle class is often coupled with crudely uneven development and a persistent language of walls and divisions that assist in class articulation” (Fujita 2013: 183). This is a global story, and globally, frontier migrants from industrialized and especially Western countries often enjoy special privilege. Working-class migrants often suffer the inverse. Overall, I have argued here that sociocultural class and class-related forms of cultural capital (in which the economic is inherent) are very important for understanding the nuances of the migrant experience in addition to national identity, skin color, language, race, etc. Migrants, like locals, live in CTZs in which their cultural capital either translates or does not, and when it does not, friction, sometimes deadly friction, can result.
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