Xenophobia Tweets Spill Over To Reality

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Xenophobia on Twitter is on the rise, warns Kyle Findlay, a researcher based in Cape Town. Furthermore, it’s not just a single incident that worries him; the xenophobic tweets have been going on for months. “The flames have been fanned for the past few months and we’re poised to reap a bitter harvest.” says Findlay.

What prompted Findlay to gauge the xenophobic sentiment, or put it under the barometer, was the nationalist and populist language he found online. “There’s a hashtag that’s been bubbling just under the surface of many Twitter communities that is being used to marshal locals who don’t like people from other countries making a living in South Africa,” writes Findlay on his website, Superlinear.

Fouad Asfour says that language used in a society must be discussed and critiqued, especially language “in relation to descriptions of foreign nationals”. Asfour continues to write: “The public in nationalist, late capitalist societies have become accustomed to a discriminatory use of the language in the media, setting apart ‘illegal foreigners’ (them) from the ‘legal citizen’ (us).” Asfour noted terms like “amakwerekwere” and “a flood of foreigners” as “verbal discrimination”.

According to Findlay, in 2020 hashtags such as #PutSouthAfricansFirst are trending and he quantified the activity of 20 such hashtags. These kinds of hashtags were being used, at least on a daily basis, plus minus 5 000 times. In two months (June and July), Findlay writes that #PutSouthAfricansFirst had been used 434 000 times.

Employment is a major discussion point in debates on xenophobia as South Africans feel neglected. When truck drivers went on strike this year, dumping their trucks on highways, Findlay believes this is when the #PutSouthAfricansFirst” went viral or gained momentum.

On its website The African Transformation Movement has now adopted the slogan and put up banner which says: “Put South Africans First”. On 29 August 2020, a march dubbed “The Citizens March” took place. This was the same day former Johannesburg Mayor Herman Mashaba launched his new political party, The People’s Dialogue. This might have been a coincidence, Findlay points out. But, politicians and citizens feed off each other. Politicians have power over institutions, command power in the media and they have resources to spread their ideas. Politicians can augment and campaign on populist and nationalist ideas but theoretically and practically, better parties have to come up with a variety of ideas to address the societal ills that fuel the growth and spread of these ideas.

Researchers have also noted the often contradictory role of government institutions and policies both in enabling and combatting xenophobia.

Findlay notes that locals have driven out foreign nationals from their spazas in Ncala, Katlehong. Those attacked found refuge at police stations. In another incident, police rounded up foreign nationals at the Johannesburg Central Methodist Church for deportation.

This article was submitted on 3 September 2020. You may republish this article, so long as you credit the authors and Karibu! Online (www.Karibu.org.za), and do not change the text. Please include a link back to the original article.

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