Find information on thousands of medical conditions and prescription drugs.


Xenophobia denotes a phobic attitude toward strangers or of the unknown and comes from the Greek words ξένος (xenos), meaning "foreigner," "stranger," and φόβος (phobos), meaning "fear." The term is typically used to describe fear or dislike of foreigners or in general of people different from one's self. For example, racism is sometimes described as a form of xenophobia. In science fiction, it has come to mean "fear of extraterrestrial things." Xenophobia implies a belief, accurate or not, that the target is in some way foreign. more...

X-linked adrenal...
X-linked ichthyosis
X-linked severe combined...
Xeroderma pigmentosum
XX male syndrome
XY Female

Prejudice against women cannot be considered xenophobic in this sense, except in the limited case of all-male clubs or institutions. The term xenophilia is used for the opposite behavior, attraction to or love for foreign persons.

The American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th edition ("DSM-IV") includes in its description of a phobia an "intense anxiety" which follows exposure to the "object of the phobia, either in real life or via imagination or video..." For xenophobia there are two main objects of the phobia. The first is a population group present within a society, which is not considered part of that society. Often they are recent immigrants, but xenophobia may be directed against a group which has been present for centuries. This form of xenophobia can elicit or facilitate hostile and violent reactions, such as mass expulsion of immigrants, or in the worst case, genocide.

The second form of xenophobia is primarily cultural, and the object of the phobia is cultural elements which are considered alien. All cultures are subject to external influences, but cultural xenophobia is often narrowly directed, for instance at foreign loan words in a national language. It rarely leads to aggression against persons, but can result in political campaigns for cultural or linguistic purification. Isolationism, a general aversion of foreign affairs, is not accurately described as xenophobia.


[List your site here Free!]

Racism, xenophobia and human rights
From Ecumenical Review, The, 7/1/02 by J.M. Vorster

Ethnic conflict has to some degree become a basic feature in many modern societies, due to the fact that these societies have increasingly diverse populations. This growing diversity can be attributed to the extending global pattern of migration. In his assessment of the characteristics of these conflicts, Marger identified such conflicts in the United States, Sri Lanka, India, Burundi, South Africa, Sudan, Lebanon, Spain, Russia, several of the former republics of the Soviet Union and Germany. (1) Many other countries can be added to this list in which racism, ethnocentrism and xenophobia are the underlying causes of these conflicts. (2)

Zuma describes this growing phenomenon in this way:

Due to the increase in migration, this ethnic conflict is certainly not temporary in nature. According to the well-known "Hansen's Law", first-generation immigrants conserve their cultural identity within the broader community they have migrated to, and this without much conflict. The second generation tends to assimilate with the broader culture in the region. But the third generation is looking again for their own roots and the perseverance of the culture of their ancestors; and due to their search for their own language, religion and customs they now come into conflict with the broader culture. (4) The migration patterns of the early 20th century are, to a large extent, responsible for the current racial conflicts, and the immense amount of migration over the whole world today promises a future of increasing racism and xenophobia.

Although racism and xenophobia manifest themselves differently in different regions, communities and social contexts, the major pattern of this phenomenon remains the same and can therefore be dealt with in a general investigation.

Here the aim is to define and analyze racism and xenophobia from an ethical perspective. The central theoretical argument is that a comprehensive approach dealing with the political, social, educational, economic and cultural issues is necessary to curb the wave of racism and xenophobia sweeping over humanity today and to deal with the prospect of progressing intolerance and conflict in the future. Due to its historical experience of institutional racism, and its contemporary exemplary efforts of reconciliation, South Africa will feature prominently in this investigation. Firstly, attention will be paid to the definitions and social manifestations of racism and xenophobia. The pattern of these phenomena will be investigated and then examined in view of a Christian theory of human rights. The aim is to contribute to a possible solution to the severe effects of racism and xenophobia in contemporary societies.



The concept of "race" describes a group of people with the same physical characteristics and with notable cultural and social similarities. (5) In view of this description racism can be defined as an attitude of prejudice, bias and intolerance between various racial groups.

To understand the contemporary use of the concept of racism, Marger's exposition is of great value. Racism in his view can be seen as a belief system, or ideology, structured around three basic ideas:

* humans are divided naturally into different physical types;

* such physical traits as they display are intrinsically related to their culture, personality and intelligence;

* on the basis of their genetic inheritance, some groups are innately superior to others.

Thus racism is the belief that humans are sub-divided into hereditary groups that are innately different in their social behaviour and capacities, which therefore can be ranked as "superior" or "inferior". These judgments are subsequently used to legitimate the unequal distribution of the society's resources, specifically, various forms of wealth, prestige and power. (6)

The term "racism" can also be used to describe "bias" and intolerance between groups other than racial, such as ethnic and religious groups. Schutte says that ethnic groups can "construct themselves on the basis of language, religion, culture, descent, or a combination of these and other features. An ethnic group may even shift the basis on which it constructs its identity from one feature to another. Historical ethnic groups may merge and found their solidarity on a new basis." (7) One can therefore agree with Marger that "racist" beliefs are not limited to ideas about groups commonly referred to as "races"; the term "racism" can be applied to the attitude of any ethnic group. "Racism can pertain to Jews, Italian Americans, Northern Irish, Catholics or French Canadians as much as to African Americans, North American Indians or other more physically salient groups." (8)

The common denominator in racism and ethnicism (or ethnocentrism) is the consciousness of the distinction and tension between us (as the "in group") and them (as the "out group"). With the "we feeling", and subsequent solidarity, in one's group as the standard, a group (whether ethnic, racial or religious) can judge other groups by the standards and values of their own, producing according to Marger a view of one's own group as superior to others. In the following investigation the term "racism" will be used to describe this human behaviour. (9)

In analyzing the causes of racism, three main factors can be mentioned: ideology, greed and fear. Inherent in racism is the ideology of the superiority of one's own group and the inferiority of others. Among many historical examples of ideological (theological, religious, philosophical) justifications of various manifestations of racism, that of slavery, colonialism, genocide and apartheid can be mentioned. The theological justification of apartheid by the Reformed Christian tradition in South Africa is perhaps the best recent example. (10) International ecclesiastical bodies such as the World Council of Churches, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, the Lutheran World Federation and the Reformed Ecumenical Synod dealt with this issue intensively. They have pointed out how theology can be used to justify racism. Ideology can, indeed, be seen as a major cause for racism. (11)

Another cause for racism is greed, with slavery and colonialism offering good examples. To acquire natural resources, colonial powers colonized territories and subjected the indigenous peoples, in some cases to the point of genocide. Political structures were developed to secure access to and possession of resources. In this case also, ideology was used as a comfortable tool to justify the underlying greed. Too often, colonization was seen as a way to expand Western Christianity and to bring civilization to underdeveloped regions.

The third cause for racism is collective fear. In this regard Lake and Rothchild comment:

The white minority's collective fear of the black majority was a very important component in the development of the apartheid structure in South Africa. Collective fear creates a strong solidarity of groups, especially minority groups, around the notion of the "protection of own interests".

However, this fear can have another dimension too, and in the contemporary world the fear of globalization is a potent force in new racial conflict. As a reaction against the new value systems and culture posed by globalization, people overestimate their own national, religious and cultural identity. (13) The fear of globalization can be seen as the reason for the resurgence of fundamentalism in religion and ethnic cultural values. According to Monshupouri and Motameni, Muslims regard globalization as a menace to their cultural solidarity and authenticity. (14) Vernooy points to the current resurgence of local religiosity against universal religions. (15) Thus, globalization tends to evoke strong resistance in the form of ethnocentrism and religious fundamentalism.

Although these three causes of racism can be logically distinguished, they are mostly inter-related. Ideology can be the basis of fear, and greed can be justified by ideology and even fear.


Structural violence

One of the major manifestations of racism is structural violence. State-organized genocide was a well-known phenomenon in the centuries of colonialism. Several nations disappeared altogether, or were reduced to tiny minorities, during the 19th century by the United States and by European powers in Africa, Latin America, Australia and New Zealand. (16) Nowadays the international community witnesses state organized "ethnic" cleansing in Central Africa and Eastern Europe. (17) This "ethnic cleansing" includes methods such as deportation, terror and so-called "legal forms" of exclusion from the state concerned. However, structural violence based on racism can have a more subtle form than state-organized terror and genocide.

The philosophy of liberation proved in the 1960s that systems--even democratic systems--can become inherently violent. (18) In the maintenance of law and order, and sometimes even under the guise of human rights, a political and economic structure can exert violence to its subjects or a group of them. This usually happens when the system is one-dimensional, that is, when the system controls all spheres of life. The South African system in the period 1948-94 is a good example of a one-dimensional state. All spheres of life (even morality, sexuality and marital life) were controlled by the state. This provides the authorities with the means to discriminate in a "legitimate" way by introducing social stratification. This concept, and the usual pattern of its development, require further reflection.

Social stratification

Social stratification is a system of legitimated, structured social inequality in which groups receive disproportionate amounts of the society's wealth, power and prestige and are socially ranked accordingly. (19)

Social stratification flows from the supposition that society consists of irreconcilable groups and the premise that a unitary government with a general franchise cannot govern these groups. The maintenance of division is, according to this view, necessary for good and orderly government. The viewpoint in South Africa since colonization in the 17th century was that whites and blacks should be kept "apart" in order to have peace and prosperity for all. In this case the dividing principle was along racial lines, but it can also, in other cases and regions, be along ethnic, cultural, linguistic or religious lines. This premise denies the fact that pluralism can be maintained in a unitary state (in South Africa a unitary state was seen as a danger for white and indigenous futures), and is based on the conviction that nation-states are the only way to deal with pluralism.

The dialectical principle must lead to the "us-them" social attitude and structure, with (as has been proven historically) total division and conflict developing according to a particular pattern. In the "us-zone" the uniqueness of the own group is idolized, and maintenance of one's own uniqueness is then of absolute importance. To stimulate the "we feeling" and maintain a strong sense of solidarity, a community will start with a reconstruction of its own history. (20)

The way in which history can be thus used is well documented by Gottstein:

This is exactly what happened in South Africa with the glorification of "white" history over and above "black" or "indigenous" history.

The idolization of the "us" and the glorification of its history can eventually lead to the seizure of power, with institutional privilege and power--by way of social stratification --becoming a "legitimate" consequence. Following this pattern, the "us" becomes the oppressor in an inequalitarian pluralist society.

The pattern in the "them-zone" is the negative image of that in the "us-zone". "They" are different in culture, language, religion or colour; "they" are guilty of causing past conflicts and suffering; "they" are a danger to "our" peace and prosperity, and are inferior because of their otherness. Eventually "they" are demonized and alienated, and through social stratification "they" become the underprivileged and the oppressed. (22) Marcuse's social analysis (noting that oppression breeds aggression and eventual revolution) helps one to understand that this pattern must result in racial conflict.

This pattern can only change when total social transformation takes place in order to resolve the "us"-"them" tension. The inequalitarian pluralist system must be replaced by an equalitarian pluralist system--a form of government where unity and diversity are respected, and basic human rights are protected. However, the pattern can repeat itself when the new system is developed if a new basic division within the society is posited. (23) The pattern can be illustrated graphically through the diagram opposite.

The apartheid system in South Africa was the most obvious and explicit form of racism and the best example of this pattern. Some may argue that apartheid was exceptional, and that racism in this blatant, structured form does not exist any more. However, subtler forms of institutional racism certainly still occur worldwide. Marger points out how in American society racism as "indirect racism" or "side effect" racism still influences the lives of people. (24) In his discussion of "race or class" he poses a legitimate and fair question based on economic facts in America today:

Questions regarding this subtle institutional racism can also still be asked about the present post-apartheid South African situation. One can ask: "Has the abolition of apartheid improved the standard of living of South Africans?" Why are there still so many economic imbalances? White young people who were not responsible for apartheid ask: "Why do we have to pay the price of a past system merely because we are white?" They ask this question in view of the South African Affirmative Action Act that mandates preference to blacks in appointments for occupations. (26) Glimpses of this pattern of racism can also be discerned in Canada, Australia, Northern Ireland and many countries in Eastern Europe and Africa. Although apartheid has been dismantled, institutional racism is still alive and well in many parts of the world. And besides this institutional racism the attitude of racism is even more evident, and it is worthwhile to reflect upon this more thoroughly.

The attitude of racism

The later part of the 20th century witnessed the phasing out of de jure racism. However, at the beginning of the 21st century humanity still has to deal with de facto racism, defined as the prevailing attitude of racism which can take many social forms. In his study of Brazil, Marger gives a good example of the way in which this attitude can divide a society. In this thorough analysis he points out how an undercurrent of racism is present in, for example, employment and the harassment of blacks by the police.

The attitude of racism is based on prejudice, which is "more emotion, feeling and bias than it is judgments". (27) Prejudice is also the result of categorical and generalized forms: once a person's group is known, irrespective of his qualities, his behavioural traits are inferred. Prejudice is usually also inflexible and negative in content. Prejudices are based on erroneous and inadequate group images known as "stereotypes". A stereotype is a "picture" in one's head, not acquired through personal experience but drawn by traditions, group pressures, group isolation, racist propaganda, general perceptions and the beliefs of other group members. (28)

Stereotyping is usually responsible for perceptions of other people according to generalized images. In the American society stereotyping can lead to the following negative descriptions of groups: If you are white you are rich and oppressive, if you are black you are prone to drugs and criminality; Arabs are terrorists and Muslims are cruel. In South Africa stereotyping can lead to the perception that whites are racists, and blacks can "do nothing for themselves" and have HIV/AIDS. These stereotypes are far removed from reality; but they result in strong group orientation, leading to severe tension, bias and exploitation between groups. Such stereotyping lends justification to dehumanizing actions.

Racism manifests itself in structural violence, social stratification and a general attitude of racism between communities. Xenophobia is also a form of racism and the manifestations of racism may all apply to xenophobia. However, due to its current relevance, it is important to discuss and analyze this phenomenon separately.



Cashmore explains xenophobia as follows:

In spite of the limitations of the term, xenophobia is an emerging social and human rights issue in the contemporary world due to migration, and it cannot be ignored in reflection on human rights. (30) Several countries have become prone to xenophobic actions, and xenophobia has recently led to the reinstatement of policies with the undercurrent of racism, formulated to resist immigration by people from other racial or ethnic groups.

Xenophobic groups and actions have also emerged, such as the Front national in France, the Centrumdemocraten and Centrum Partij in the Netherlands, the Freiheitlichen in Austria, the Republikaner (REPs) and Deutsche Volksunion (DVU) in Germany, (31) the Vlaams Blok (VB) and Front National in Belgium. (32)

Proof of these actions are the several court cases in some of the European countries (EU) reflecting an inequality in the treatment of illegal immigrants into their countries, especially from "non-European" countries. Amongst others the following court cases can be documented: Beldjoudi vs France, Djeroud vs France, Bougbameni vs France, Boujlifa vs France, Mostquim vs Belgium, Cruz Varas vs Sweden, Vilvarajah vs UK, Soering vs UK, Chahal vs UK. (33) The same happens in South Africa, in spite of the current human-rights drive. (34)

In dealing with this growing issue, a distinction between illegal immigration and refugees is necessary. Refugees can be defined as "persons who are living outside their country because of a well-founded fear of persecution, for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion". (35) Illegal aliens are mostly those who enter a country undocumented, or are admitted into the country for a temporary period, but remain there after that has lapsed. (36)

The research of Solomon (37) reveals eight factors that can account for the special movement of people. These are:

* Socio-cultural factors. People can be forced out of their homelands as a result of their cultural or ethnic identities. Here one can refer to Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda and Burundi; Bosnian Muslims and Serbs and Croats in the former Yugoslavia.

* Communications and technology. Television and electronic media bring home to people in poor countries their own poverty and lack of democracy, and this strengthens the impulse to migrate.

* Geographic proximity. People tend to move for better conditions to regions as near as possible to their homeland. A more efficient country within a poor region will, "pull" migrants from its neighbouring countries. This is an important factor in the current migration to South Africa from countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

* Precedent. This plays an important role in migration, as pioneer groups who migrate smoothly act as a "magnet" for further migration. Migration from a country tends to flow towards an area in which there already is an initial nucleus of immigrants from that country.

* Demographic factors and population growth. Population growth is coupled with economic decline and induces persons to migrate in search of a better life. This results from fewer employment opportunities, greater stress on the social and welfare services of the state, and ultimately social and political discontent.

* Environmental factors. Catastrophes such as natural disasters and ecological damage foster migration. Two categories of catastrophes can be identified, namely, those without an anthropogenic cause (volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, hurricanes and other natural disasters) and those with an anthropogenic cause (the destruction of arable and grazing land and "natural" catastrophes occurring as a direct or indirect result of human activities).

* Economic factors. Economic reasons are perhaps the main ones for the migration of people worldwide; this was the case in the 1990s in Africa and Europe. More affluent countries serve as a magnet to those seeking employment, a higher living standard and brighter economic prospects.

* Political factors. Turmoil resulting from political rivalry, ethnic strife, socioeconomic inequities or regional imbalances tends to promote migration. The root causes of such migration take various forms: the prosecution of certain groups, denial of political rights, mass expulsions, coups or civil war.


The main manifestation of xenophobia is collective fear and subsequent aggression by a community against migrants. Xenophobia can be seen as racism in its broadest meaning and it is driven by the same factors; it results eventually, as in the case of racism, in prejudice, stereotyping, bias and discrimination. Religion and culture play an important part in xenophobia. Muller notes that because "religion and culture are strategies of meaning and practice rather than timeless and fixed substances, religious or cultural arguments can be construed that portray foreigners as being inferior, less deserving of right or humanity, reducible to a common negative, legitimately expendable." (38)

Fear usually results in inhuman policies on the part of hosting governments, and various forms of aggression by the citizens. Occasions are well-documented of the use of inhuman methods, and illegal and excessive force in the process of deportation of asylum-seekers and illegal immigrants. (39)

South Africa has, I believe, become a good example of the appearance of xenophobia. A study of Morris reveals how South Africans perceive migrants as criminals, drug dealers and carriers of diseases such as HIV/AIDS. (40) They are also seen as "parasites", taking away jobs from South Africans and, in a country with a high rate of unemployment, this issue has become a very emotional one. These perceptions account for the continuing attacks and killings of migrants by South African citizens. Viewing illegals as parasites leads to xenophobia, and they have increasingly become the targets of violence. Xenophobia is rife in the townships, where the aliens are referred to as kwerekwere (a disparaging term for "African immigrants"). (41)

The conflict is further induced by the negative perception of black South African men, and of the South African society in general, by foreigners including immigrants. The above-mentioned study of Morris also reveals that some immigrants depict black South African men as violent, lazy, and so on. (42)

Of course this general view of foreigners held by South African citizens is far removed from reality. Research has found that the majority of immigrants enter South Africa legally; that many visit family and friends and then go back to their countries of origin; that they are quite willing to pay for services; and that most who stay are self-employed. Some of them are exploited by employers because they tend to be willing to work for lower wages, and are not protected by trade unions. Muller refers to a study that has shown that the businesses run by immigrant entrepreneurs are actually creating jobs for South Africans and have very good prospects of increasing their contribution to the South African economy in this way. (43)

What is true of the manifestation of xenophobia in South Africa is also true in other pans of the world. In some instances the fear of cultural values, religious ideas and foreign life-styles of strangers also instigate xenophobia, as they are perceived to be dangerous for the maintenance of host identities.

Racism and xenophobia are responsible for extreme violence and the blatant violation of human rights in many parts of today's world. It is essential that Christian ethics should continue to reflect upon these issues within the sphere of a Christian theory of human rights. The following discussion is an attempt to contribute to such a reflection.

Racism and human rights


The method of distinguishing people according to race is alien to the Bible. The Bible does not use the concept of race. Arguing from its understanding of life, and the biblical command to enable the life of every human being to flourish, it is clear that racism runs against this important thrust of Christian doctrine. It violates the principles of human dignity, the commandment of love, social justice and unity. This becomes evident when the following biblical assertions regarding humanity and human relations are taken into account.

* The unity of humankind. The basic unity of humankind comes from the fact that humanity and all human beings have been created by God (Gen. 1:28, 5:1-2; Acts 17:26). This unity must be seen as the principle that directs all human relations. Any action or policy intending to divide and oppress is against the main thrust of the Bible.

* Humankind is created in the image of God. Any notion of the "superiority" and "inferiority" of people due to gender, class, race, culture, ethnicity or religion distorts the biblical view of humanity. That human existence unfolded itself in various cultures and a diversity of peoplehood is an historical reality. There is diversity in the unity; humankind develops into a multi-cultural diversity. In a statement to the 57th session of the UN's Commission for Human Rights Archbishop Desmond Tutu said:

Any ideology of the "natural inequality" of people, argued from the acknowledged reality of pluralism, cannot be justified from a biblical perspective. (45)

* Salvation. The scope of the salvation given in Christ also depicts the unity and equality of mankind. Christ as the living God became flesh in order to reconcile humankind with God. Reconciliation has no social preconditions. Todt states: "Theologically, God's turning to us in Christ sets in a basic equality that is primarily spiritual and that must express itself in a practical regard for human dignity." (46) In a culture of deep social divisions Christ preached salvation irrespective of these social divisions; his message was in fact highly revolutionary.

* The example of Jesus. Biblical principles regarding the intrinsic unity of humankind can also be derived from the example set by Jesus himself. He treated the lame, the sick, the prostitutes, the tax collectors, the government officials, rich, poor, men and women, all as equals. He extended his love to all, irrespective of social class or gender.

* Pentecost. At Pentecost the Holy Spirit is given to people irrespective of nation or culture. The events described in Acts 2 illustrate that the diversity of nations finds its unity in the one Spirit and the one message of salvation (Acts 2:4, 10:45-46).

* The all-encompassing glory of the Christian church. The New Testament is the story of the divine ingathering of nations into a single international and intercultural society. This Christian unity does, however, not mean that our new membership of Christ and his church obliterates nationality, any more than it does our masculinity or femininity. It means rather that, while our racial, national, social and sexual distinctions remain, they no longer divide us. They have been transcended in Christ (Gal. 3:28). (47) The church should therefore express this unity and must act in a divided world as an example of equality and humaneness, as a multi-racial, multicultural and multi-national body. Equality and dignity should find its full expression in the Christian church, if it is to be the church.

* The great commandment (Mark 12:28-31). God commanded his people to love their neighbour and to honour and respect the rights of the poor, the strangers and the oppressed.

* The second coming of Christ. The basic unity and equality of mankind is also proclaimed in the renewal of humankind and all reality, to come with the full manifestation of the kingdom of God. There the only division will be the division between those who loved Christ by extending his love to their neighbour in need and those who rejected him by rejecting the needy (Matt. 25:31-46).

Thus racism, in whatever form, cannot be justified from a biblical perspective as the theology of apartheid sought to do.


The biblical perspective regarding racism obliges both the church and the Christian to protest, in their involvement in social life, against any form of institutional racism and the prevailing attitudes of racism. In this process, an ethic of social reconstruction and education should be developed. Social reconstruction starts with the deliberate attempt to de-institutionalize racism in its direct and indirect forms. Traditionally, this was done by introducing an "assimilationist" model (the "melting pot solution"). In a world with a growing number of pluralist societies, this solution is not always and in every situation feasible. In fact, an assimilation model where minorities are disregarded breeds new forms of racism and subsequent violence. (48)

It seems more responsible to choose some form of an equalitarian pluralist model, because minorities can be adequately protected in such a system. In this way both national interests and minority fears can be addressed. (49) In a divided society a constitution should be a "contract" between groups which specifies, among other things, the rights and responsibilities, political privileges and access to resources of every group. (50)

South Africa gained its present peace through a transition from an inequalitarian pluralist system, to an equalitarian pluralist system where cultural diversity is not regarded as a stumbling block but as enrichment of the overall unity. This was achieved by negotiating a constitution with a bill of rights. In this bill of rights the interest of the broad community and the expectations of groups are well balanced. (51) What happened in South Africa is surely possible in any troubled community, because nowhere else in recent history has a more explosive potential for civil war existed than in the "old" South Africa.

In cases of genocide, the international community has the responsibility to intervene--due to the immorality of such acts, and their potential to enflame regional conflicts. Sometimes active opposition by the world community is necessary. Institutionalized racism, and violations such as genocide and ethnic cleansing, can no longer be hidden behind the "right of self-determination". When action is called for on behalf of an oppressed group that does not itself have the means of effective opposition, peace itself is at stake; and when methods such as economic sanctions do not work, state sovereignty may have to be infringed. In all cases of intervention, the international community has the obligation to assist in a way that promotes social reconstruction of racist societies.

Looking to the future, the following steps seem necessary for the eradication of de facto racism:

* Educational reconstruction. This is the most important way in which the attitude of racism and prejudice in a community can be phased out. The following quotation from Gottstein stresses the value of education:

* Social integration. Purposeful social integration and contact where people can listen to each other's stories and experiences reduces collective fears and bias.

* Development. Development of an economic system where economic polity and activity provides sustainable growth is important. Where a community experiences growth, fear is reduced and the potential for conflict diminishes. (53)

* Own identities. The development of a positive experience of own-group identities without the belief of superiority. A pluralist community must be educated to see and appreciate the richness of diversity, understanding pluralism as an asset rather than a liability.

* Stereotyping. A sensitivity for the detrimental effects of stereotyping must be nurtured.

* For a Christian this culminates in applying and promoting all the ethical principles of the Bible in both daily life and in society as a whole.

* Idolization. A community should be educated to resist the inclination to "idolize" its own identity and to the temptation to find religious grounds for discrimination against others.

* Symbolic acts. Symbolic acts to promote reconciliation are of great value. Gottstein refers to the impact of the symbolic act by the German leader Willy Brandt in which he went down on his knees before the Warsaw ghetto memorial, and of the French and German leaders Mitterand and Kohl visiting the Verdun battlefield. (54)

* Focus on the real enemies of a nation. These are not other people or groups but challenges such as poverty, HIV/AIDS, criminality, malnutrition, ecological disasters and illiteracy.

Xenophobia and human rights

Many of the issues that are important in the eradication of racism are also important in the handling of xenophobia. The declaration of the South African Human Rights Commission condemning xenophobia is a good example of a positive approach to the problem. Due to its current relevance I quote the complete text of the statement:

Racism and Xenophobia: A Violation of Human Rights

1. The movement of people within and across boundaries of states and communities has become a feature of modern societies. In the global society, states can no longer live in isolation from one another. The movement of people across boundaries has caused and continues to cause problems between nationals of recipient states and non-nationals because of competition for scarce resources, ignorance and prejudice. For states, migration raises questions of security, economic management and sovereignty.

2. Xenophobia is the deep dislike of non-nationals by nationals of a recipient state. Its manifestation is a violation of human rights. South Africa needs to send out a strong message that an irrational prejudice and hostility towards non-nationals is not acceptable under any circumstances. Criminal behaviour towards foreigners cannot be tolerated in a democratic society.

3. Our constitution states that we seek to construct a society where "human dignity, the achievement of equality and the advancement of human rights and freedoms" are abiding values. The bill of rights confers certain rights to "everyone". These are the rights to equality, human dignity, the right to life, freedom and security of person and the right not to be subject to slavery, servitude or forced labour.

4. Our international obligations have both a legal and a moral force. South Africa is party to international human rights and humanitarian treaties especially on refugees and asylum-seekers.

5. No one, whether in this country legally or not, can be deprived of his or her basic or fundamental rights and cannot be treated as less than human. The mere fact of being an alien or being without legal status does not mean that one is fair game to all manners of exploitation, or violence, to criminal arbitrary or inhumane treatment. Foreigners in our midst are entitled to the support and defence of our law and constitution.

6. Despite the above provisions, in practice, there is an increasing level of xenophobia in our country. Xenophobia is thus a blight on our democratic values and should be eradicated.

7. The consultative conference adopted the following programme of action:

-- There should be a coordinated approach between various government departments to address xenophobia and the manifestation thereof.

-- Migration and refugee policies should be clear, coherent, and implementable and reflect South Africa's constitutional and international obligations.

-- South Africa should take steps to sign the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families and other relevant treaties. This should be done in order to signal South Africa's commitment to abide by international standards in her treatment of resident non-nationals.

-- Factors that encourage the manifestation of xenophobia such as poverty, unemployment, crime, corruption in the immigration and police services and ignorance about the role and significance of non-nationals in our country should be addressed. The rights and responsibilities of non-nationals should be taken into account,

-- As part of the Southern African Development region, South Africa should play her part in the development of the economic policies in the region in order to enhance peace and prosperity in the neighbouring states and ensure opportunities for betterment of life for its citizens.

-- A nation-wide public awareness and information campaign on racism and xenophobia and the effects should be organized.

-- Public-service officials should undergo training on racism and xenophobia, the theory and practice of migration and refugee policies, on the understanding of international human rights and humanitarian instruments, as well as develop an awareness of the social and political situation in the countries responsible for the influx of migrants to South Africa.

-- South Africans are urged to practise African cultural values like ubuntu, hospitality and solidarity in their relations with others in their midst.

-- The South African Human Rights Commission assisted by a steering group drawn from the departments of home affairs, justice and provincial safety and security were mandated to monitor the implementation of these proposals. (55)

This statement provides a sound plan of action against xenophobia that can be of value in other parts of the world. Certain ethical issues, however, still need further reflection.

The most important question is whether the socio-economic rights of the constitution should also be granted to illegal immigrants. Commenting on the South African situation, Pieterse says that such aliens "should be entitled to socio-economic rights, because it is inherent to the nature of human rights that people are entitled to them solely on account of their humanity." (56) The fact is, however, that South Africa finds it difficult to provide adequately for all its citizens. A large proportion of the population is unemployed. Many people are homeless, and a large proportion of the population lives in self-made informal housing. The same situation occurs in many countries with the problem of xenophobia. Of course, where a country can afford it, socio-economic rights should be granted to aliens as well. Where it cannot be afforded, my own position is that citizens should be favoured above non-citizens. Here I apply the ethical principle of doing what is reasonable and possible in a given situation with all its complexities.


It seems that racism and xenophobia will occupy ethical, political and sociological reflection for quite some time to come. In the process of dealing with these pressing issues, it is vitally important to keep in mind that education is of no use if it does not create a sensitivity and desire for tolerance and respect for others. But tolerance and respect are of no use if they do not lead to the recognition of rights. And rights are of no use if they cannot be applied legally and effectively, in order to protect and empower the victims of racism and xenophobia.


(1) M.N. Marger, Race and Ethnic Relations: American and Global Perspectives, Belmont, Wordsworth, 1994, p.7.

(2) See in this regard D.A. Lake and D. Rothchild, "Spreading Fear: The Genesis of Transnational Conflict", in D.A. Lake and D. Rothchild eds, The International Spread of Ethnic Conflict, Princeton, Princeton UP, 1998, p.4; G. Schutte, What Racists Believe: Race Relations in South Africa and the United States, London, Sage, 1995, p.2; M. Robinson, Statement, United Nations Office at Geneva, press release, 19 March 2001, HR/CN/01/2, p.3.

(3) Statement by Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, minister of foreign affairs of the Republic of South Africa, t the 57th Session of the UN Commission of Human Rights, United Nations, Geneva, 2001, p.2. See also statement by Hon. Ugo Utini, deputy minister of foreign affairs of Italy, Geneva, United Nations, 2001, pp.4-5; and statement by H.E. Mr. Jozias van Aartsen, minister of foreign affairs of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, 57th Session of the Commission of Human Rights, Geneva, United Nations, 2001, p.2.

(4) For an exposition of the contents and social effect of Hansen's Law see R. Ueda, "American National Identity and Race in Immigrant Generations: Reconsidering Hansen's Law", Journal of Interdisciplinary History, 21, 3, 1992, p.483.

(5) G. Modiamo, "The Old and the New Concept of Race", in S. Bekker and D. Carlton, Racism, Xenophobia and Ethnic Conflict, Durban, Indicator, 1996, p.146. Modiamo defines a race as: "Reasonably large groups of individuals which differ from each other (from group to group) for a `sufficient large' number of independent `mayor' anthropological markers (inter-groups, discontinuous, inherited self-evident characteristics) which in spite of being independently determined lead to a `strongly concordant' subdivision."

(6) Marger, op. cit., p.27. Over the years since its inception the United Nations was engaged in a long struggle against racism, especially apartheid in South Africa. In this process a thorough study was made of racial discrimination and its effects. See The United Nations and Apartheid 1948-1994, Geneva, UN, 1994, pp.8ff.

(7) Schutte, op. cit., p.18.

(8) Marger, op. cit., p.28.

(9) Ibid., p. 15.

(10) Schutte, op.cit., p.89ff.

(11) See in this regard the work of the Dutch theologian B. Wentsel, God en mens verzoend: Godsleer, mensleer en zondeleer, Dogmatiek, deel 3A, Kampen, Kok, 1987, p.649.

(12) D.A. Lake and D. Rothchild, "Spreading Fear: The Genesis of Transnational Conflict", in Lake and Rothchild, The International Spread of Ethnic Conflict, p.4.

(13) M. Monshupouri and R. Motameni, "Globalisation, Sacred Beliefs and Defiance: Is Human Rights Discourse Relevant in the Muslim World?", Journal of Church and State, 42, 4, 2000, p.712.

(14) Ibid., pp.715 and 715. See also Y.N. Soysal, "Citizenship and Identity: Living in Diasporas in Post-War Europe?", Ethnic and Racial Studies, 23, 1, 2000, pp.1-15.

(15) J. Vernooy, "Volksreligie in Surename", in Oecurence in de praktyk. 29, 4, 2000, p.56.

(16) H. Wiberg, "Identity, Ethnicity, Conflict", in Bekker and Carlton, Racism, Xenophobia and Ethnic Conflict, p.13.

(17) The United Nations defines "ethnic cleansing" or genocide as follows: "actions committed with the intent to destroy in whole or in part a national, ethnic, racial or religious group as such" (see R. Melson, "Genocide" in E. Fahlbusch et al., The Encyclopaedia of Christianity, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2001, p.381). Melson himself defines genocide as a public policy mainly carried out by the state whose intent is the destruction in whole or in part of a social collectivity or category, usually a communal group, a class or a potential faction. Melson, op. cit., p.382.

(18) See H. Marcuse, One Dimensional Man, London, Sphere Books, 1968.

(19) Marger, op. cit., p.70.

(20) See Schutte, op. cit., pp.68ff.

(21) K. Gottstein, "Violent and Peaceful Settlement of Ethnic Conflicts", in Bekker and Carlton, Racism, Xenophobia and Ethnic Conflict, p.24, referring to the research done by Volkan and his colleagues at the Centre for the Study of Mind and Human Interaction (CSMHI) at the University of Virginia.

(22) The following survey of racial laws in the history of racism in South Africa is a clear example of social stratification: Asian Laws amendment Act (47/1948); Prohibition of Mix Marriages Act (55/1949); The Population Registration Act (41/1950); Immorality Amendment Act (21/1950); Internal Security Act (Suppression of Communism Act) (44/1950); Reservation of Separate Amenities Act (49/1953); Bantu Education Act (47/1953); Black Labour Regulation Act (48/1953); Riotous Assemblies and Suppression of Communism Act (15/1954); Blacks Resettlement Act (19/1954); Industrial Conciliation Act (28/1956); Prohibition of Interdicts) Act (64/1956); Native (Urban Areas) Amendment Act (69/1956); Sexual Offences Act (23/1957); Native Laws Amendment Act (36/1957); Native Laws Further Amendment Act (79/1957); Extension of University Education Act (45/1959); Aliens Control Act (40/1973); Separate Promotion of Self Government Act (30/1956); Representation of Voters Amendment Act (Sabotage Act) (76/1962); General Law Amendment Act (37/1963); Criminal Procedure Amendment Act (96/1965); Industrial Conciliation Further Amendment Act (61/1966J; Terrorism Act (83/1967); Affected Organisations Act (31/1974); Prohibition of Political Interference Act 6 (51/1968); Bantu Laws Amendment Act 19/1970) and the Internal Security Act (74/1982).

(23) The question may indeed be asked whether President T. Mbeki of South Africa is not on this course with his "two nations theory" regarding the South African society. He has explicitly expressed the view that the South African community consists of two nations: one white and rich and the other black and poor. Irrespective of the invalidity of this statement, the division has the potential to cause reverse "anti-white" racism in South Africa. thus repeating the pattern.

(24) Marger, op. cit., pp.90-1.

(25) Ibid., p.258.

(26) The same questions were asked by Jews in the US after the promulgation of the General Allotment Act of 1887. A system of quotas was used to limit Jews in colleges and professional schools, occupations and neighbourhoods. Not only did the Jewish community regard this system as "a kind of reverse discrimination" but it has also been proved to be detrimental to the economic development of the country (see Marger, op. cit., p.223). Exactly the same fears are raised in the white community of South Africa with the current application of affirmative action, and the threats by the government of quota systems for educational institutions.

(27) Marger, op. cit., p.452.

(28) Ibid., pp.74-75.

(29) E. Cashmore, "Xenophobia", in E. Cashmore, et al., Dictionary of Race and Ethnic Relations, London, Routledge, 1994, p.346. See also anon., "Xenophobia Won't Go Away", The Economist, 324, 7775, 1992, p.27.

(30) M. Pieterse, "Foreigners and Socio-Economic Rights: Legal Entitlements or Wishful Thinking?", Tydskrif vir hedendaagse Romeins-Hollands Reg, 63, 1, 2000, p.51.

(31) The German minister of foreign affairs has expressed grave concern about the emergence of xenophobia in Germany in his statement to the recent Human Rights Commission of the UN at Geneva. See speech by Josckha Fischer at the 57th session of the Commission on Human Rights, Geneva, UN, 2001, p.5.

(32) See in this regard the illuminating article by C.T. Husbands, "Racism, Xenophobia and the Extreme Rights: A Five-Country Assessment", in Bekker and Carlton, Racism, Xenophobia and Ethnic Conflict, p.99, and D. Welsch, "Book Review: S. Bekker and D. Carlton, eds., "Racism, Xenophobia and Ethnic Conflict", Politikon, 24, 2, 1997, pp.76-78.

(33) J. Bhabha, "`Get Back Where You Once Belonged': Identity, Citizenship and Exclusion in Europe", Human Rights Quarterly, 20, 3, 1998, p.617.

(34) J. Klaaren, "Current Developments: South African Human Rights Commission Report on the Treatment of Persons Arrested and Detained under the Aliens Control Act", South African Journal of Human Rights, 15, 1, 1999, p.31.

(35) United Nations, United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, 28 July 1951, art. 1.2, Geneva, UN.

(36) M. Pieterse, op. cit., p.52. See also M. Stravropoulou, "Displacement and Human Rights: Reflections on UN Practice", Human Rights Quarterly, 20, 4, 1998, p.516.

(37) H. Solomon, "Strategic Perspectives on Illegal Immigration into South Africa", Institute for Defence Policy, 5, 4, 1996, p.4ff.

(38) H.P. Muller, "Encountering Recent African Migrants and Immigrants to South Africa: Towards Under standing the Role of Religion and Culture in the Reception of Recent African Migrants and Immigrants to South Africa", Scriptura, 64, 1, 1999, p.410.

(39) See in this regard F. Webber, "Governing Racism: The Corruptions of the Executive", Race and Class, 39, 1, 1997, pp.22-23.

(40) A. Morris, "`Our Fellow Africans Make Our Lives Hell': The Lives of Congolese and Nigerians Living in Johannesburg", Ethnic and Racial Studies, 21, 5, 1998, p.1120.

(41) B. Maharaj & R. Rajkuma, "The `Alien Invasion' in South Africa: Illegal Immigrants in Durban", Development South Africa, 14, 2, 1997, p.258.

(42) Morris, op. cit., pp.1127-28.

(43) See in this regard the theological exposition of Wentsel, op. cit., p.651.

(44) D. Tutu, Statement, United Nations Press Release, 26 March 2001, HR/CN/01/12, Geneva, UN, 2001, p.2.

(45) See in this regard the theological exposition of Wentsel, op. cit., p.651.

(46) H.E. Todt, "Equality", in Fahlbusch, The Encyclopedia of Christianity, p.177.

(47) J.R.W. Stott, Issues Facing Christians Today, Hants, Marshalls, 1984, p.208.

(48) See in this regard Wiberg, op. cit., p.10.

(49) See M. Phillips, "The National Debt", New Statesman, 126, 1997, p.31.

(50) Lake and Rothchild, ibid.

(51) The notion of Schutte, op. cit., p. 101 ff., that any form of recognition of groups in South Africa denotes a heritage of the ideology of apartheid is not founded and is unrealistic. Apartheid was unacceptable not because it was group-oriented but because it was inequalitarian and thus unjust. Homogenous communities in the world are diminishing because of migration, and pluralism must be addressed by identifying the expectations of groups. Without a sense for this reality in South Africa, the transformation would have led to just another oppressive system.

(52) Gottstein, op. cit., p. 28-29. See also J.A. van der Ven, J.S. Dreyer and H.J.C. Pieterse, "Attitudes Towards Human Rights Among South African Youth", Religion and Theology, 7, 2, 2001, p.113.

(53) C. Kaysen, "Are Nations Natural Economic Units?", in Bekker and Carlton, Racism, Xenophobia and Ethnic Conflict, p.32.

(54) Gottstein, op. cit. p.35.

(55) South African Human Rights Commission, "The Braamfontein Statement: Racism and Xenophobia: A Violation of Human Rights", South African Journal of Human Rights, 15, 1999, p.133ff.

(56) Pieterse, op. cit., p.61.

J.M. Vorster is professor in Christian ethics at the Potchefstroom University in South Africa and leader of a research programme with the title "Ethical perspectives on human rights".

COPYRIGHT 2002 World Council of Churches
COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group

Return to Xenophobia
Home Contact Resources Exchange Links ebay