‘Just crime’? Violence, xenophobia and crime: discourse and practice

  • Tara Polzer University of the Witwatersrand
  • Kathryn Takabvirwa University of the Witwatersrand
Keywords: violence, xenophopia, foreign nationals, crime, South Africa


The minister of police and other prominent politicians have interpreted violence against foreign nationals as 'just crime', implying that it is criminally motivated, and thus denying the presence or relevance of xenophobic motivations. This article deconstructs this claim by showing that the police have in fact reacted strongly and specifically to this kind of 'crime'; analyses the assumptions about perpetrator motivations implicit in it; and reflects on the normative and political flavourings of terms such as 'crime' and 'xenophobia' suggested by the claim that violence against foreign nationals is 'only' crime. The article concludes by examining the implications of the distinction between 'xenophobia' and 'crime' in terms of shaping institutional responses to violence against foreign nationals and influencing general perceptions of xenophobia, including those of potential perpetrators.

Author Biographies

Tara Polzer, University of the Witwatersrand
Forced Migration Studies Programme
Kathryn Takabvirwa, University of the Witwatersrand
Forced Migration Studies Programme
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Research articles