Making meaning amidst xenophobia: how Apolistic Zionist Churches make sense of outsiders, scarcity, and entitlement in Alexandra Township, South Africa

Hartman, Becca
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Reports from the May 2008 surge of ‘xenophobic’ violence in Johannesburg’s Alexandra Township and across the country name the causes of the attacks as: poor service delivery and high unemployment; a sense of entitlement and chauvinistic nativism; increasingly pervasive and publicly accepted anti-foreigner sentiments alongside a practice of vigilante justice; and the absence or agendas of local leadership. Drawing on these reports’ findings this dissertation firstly names the conceptual foundations that describe the causes and overlap with political and religious rhetoric: entitlement and work; outsider and insider; and scarcity and abundance. The role of leadership is utilised for its structural, as well as existing conceptual implications. Secondly, this research uses analysis of discourses of the above named concepts, observed in two meaning-making institutions located in and near Alexandra Township’s, where the 2008 surge began. These case studies are one majority Zulu and one majority Xhosa Apostolic Zionist Churches, and are based on one month of ethnographic research in each church and semi-structured interviews with approximately one third of both churches’ members and leaders, commonly using translation. Finally, this dissertation argues that the particularities of these churches position them as unique pockets of passive resistance to the xenophobic mobilisations that have and continue to engage many of South Africa’s Township residents, through a savvy assessment of needs and strategies; these reflect both the historic moment from which such churches emerged in South Africa and members’ current experiences as urban labour migrants. Ultimately, this research aims to provide insight into the role of one particular type of meaning-making and action-shaping institution, in areas where traditional political engagement often does not operate.
M.A, Faculty of Humanities, University of the Witwatersrand, 2011