ISSN: 1550-7521

All submissions of the EM system will be redirected to Online Manuscript Submission System. Authors are requested to submit articles directly to Online Manuscript Submission System of respective journal.

Xenophobia in South Africa: An Insight into the Media Representation and Textual Analysis

Quatro Mgogo1* and Oluyinka Osunkunle2

1Department of Corporate Communication and Marketing, Heritage Building, Walter Sisulu University, East London 5201, South Africa

2Department of Communication, University of Fort Hare, Private Bag X1314, Alice 5700, South Africa

Corresponding Author:
Sadia Abbas
Institute of Communication Studies, University of Punjab, Lahore, Pakistan
E-mail: [email protected]

Received date: January 06, 2021; Accepted date: January 20, 2020; Published date: January 27, 2020

Citation: Mgogo Q, Osunkunle O. Xenophobia in South Africa: An Insight into the Media Representation and Textual Analysis. Global Media Journal 2021, 19:38

Copyright: © 2021 Mgogo Q, et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

Visit for more related articles at Global Media Journal


This paper examines print media coverage of xenophobicrelated behaviours and its possibility to incite xenophobic violence in South Africa considering the fact that the press has had accusations of publishing unbalanced and inconsistent stories about xenophobic-related violence. The method adopted was textual analysis of the selected South African newspapers’ headlines. Thus, this paper has made use of headlines from the Daily Dispatch, The Citizen, Sunday Times, Business Daily, and Independent Online news (IOL), between the period of May 2008 to August 2018. Interestingly, most of the selected newspapers in this paper have published vastly during this period, and they have been accused of misrepresentation, biasness, unbalanced reportage mostly on xenophobic-related violence. The findings of this paper revealed that these headlines are capable to putting readers on the edge and thus incite xenophobic violence across the country. In an attempt to discourage xenophobic behaviours, this paper has therefore recommended peace journalism and Ubuntu journalism as alternative models for reporting xenophobic violence and conflict.


Xenophobia; South Africa; Media Presentation; Textual analysis; Peace Journalism; Ubuntu Journalism


It appears the South African media is shifting focus from their basic functions to pandering to commercial interests. Many scholars and researchers have been tracking and analysing the way in which media reports on xenophobic violence. However, some scholars have developed concerns on the manner in which media covers xenophobia with the view that sometimes, provocative words are being used by media. Some have argued that the text read in some media, more especially the print media, is manipulative and incites more xenophobic-related violence [1,2]. In this view, points out that most information usually gets manipulated just to have a "commercial success". In our view, the reason for the increasing commercialisation of media products especially news may be due to competition, which sometimes lead journalists to use extreme words in their xenophobic reports. Thus, this paper attempts to examine media coverage of xenophobic-related behaviours and its possibility to incite xenophobic violence in South Africa by adopting textual analysis.

Media’s portrayal of foreign nationals in derogatory terms

Some sections of the South African media continue to receive criticisms for their penchant in using offensive and sometimes, pejorative language to describe foreign nationals especially Africa immigrants during incidents of xenophobia [1] . Notes that the South African press tends to cover reports on some nationalities using the generalised stereotypes. For instance, the portrayal of all Nigerians as drug dealers and as fraud stars, engaging in the marriage of conveniences with SA nationals in order to acquire permanent residence. For example, one newspaper headlines read: “Pretoria Mayor singles out Nigerians as drug dealers and pimps” (IOL, 26 May 2017). In this, most people don’t read the whole news piece, but just the headline. Therefore, for headline readers, this could imply that all Nigerians in South Africa are drug dealers. When many people don’t read the whole story but just believe what happened, taking from the headlines, this could lead to more xenophobic behaviours towards Nigerians living in South Africa, with accusations of drug-dealing. Furthermore, in our view, this means that the media wants to set the agenda and frame Nigerians as drug-dealers and pimps. As a result, there have been cases of Nigerians killed after being accused of drugdealing, even the innocent ones. For instance, according to the article published on News24 on 05 October 2018 by Chabalala Jeanette “8 cops arrested, charged with torturing and killing Nigerian man”. According to Chabalala, in this news article, these officers were arrested for the October 2017 and murder of Nigerian national Ibrahim Olamilekan Badmus. This is a good example of where the media, instead of promoting peace, incite conflict and violence based on generalised information. The public often make decisions based on these sensational and gory headlines often resulting in violent tendencies.

Researchers like Hermann and Cornelius [2] have always been critical of how the media reports news items and how it conceptualises its news bulletin. In this view, the media are also being blamed for perpetrating xenophobic-related attacks by the way it reports the issue. Hermann and Cornelius [2] note that “xenophobic offences can be seen as a consequence of reporting and reporting can be seen as a reaction to offences”. This means that the extent of xenophobic violence can increase significantly after the media reports, solely because of the way the media would have contextualised and conceptualised the news. A case in point is the incident in 2015, when King Goodwill Zwelihini was quoted by the media as saying "we urge all foreigners to pack their bags and leave" [3]. However, the King argued that he meant that "foreigners are changing the nature of the South African society. He further blamed the media for misquoting him and disseminating false information.

From these examples, one can note that, the way media reports news about other African nationals often promotes xenophobic violence, or it reproduces xenophobic behaviours, whether by the way it conceptualises headlines or using cultural stereotypes. This, therefore, calls for concern, as people are expected to coexist and live in harmony legally so. The implication for the South African government is that it needs to tighten public security to protect and fight against the killing of each other by the issue of xenophobic-related violence.

Portrayal of foreign nationals and xenophobic perpetrators in the South African print media

Current research reflects that the media do not just transmit information to the public, but rather, they also reproduce certain ideologies and discourses that support specific relations of power [4]. Therefore, one should not only look at the media as a means to measure South African public perceptions of other African nationals, but also the way in which perceptions are created. Moreover, Smith [4] further argues that "it is not simply about whom the press quotes or gets to comment on migrant issues but it is also the way in which these comments are framed and presented that is also significant”. Thus, in this regard, there is a notable unbalanced media representation, especially with immigration issues.

The media deeply rely on society for information gathering and universities are also considered to be one of the social institutions [5]. Bird and Fine in Smith [4] observe the interdependence between the media and society. Smith further suggests that the press responds to the news and reports on incidents as they occur, thereby reflecting issues pertinent to the broader societal context, the press also shapes and influences social issues in the ways in which news are chosen, highlighted and covered. On the other hand, xenophobic victims are mostly represented through a dependency frame (as desperate), however not to the extreme of helplessness, which is most common in the representation of refugees in conflict or civil war areas in some parts of Africa [6]. Moreover, in terms of economic status, the victims are usually presented as employed, while the perpetrators are usually the ones with the "unemployed" status and that aligns with representations of class struggle which is common in the dependency image. This can be directly linked to the fact that in South Africa there is a high rate of unemployed graduates, which are also part of South African youth.

Touwen [6] points out that most of the media tend to struggle with defining the word “foreigner”. Usually, the main focus is on the nationality as the larger part of the broader spectrum of the victim’s origin, whether from Zimbabwe and/or Mozambique. But in due time, it becomes clear through the media like the Daily Sun (tabloid newspaper) and Daily Dispatch which almost report news on a daily basis, that a foreigner is actually a translation of the isiXhosa word Amakwerekwere (derogative), meaning somebody speaking an unfamiliar or a strange language. In this view, it is important to note that tabloid newspapers, like the Daily Sun, have been known for exaggerating information and emphasizing more than the story truly deserves, which has been named as ‘Yellow Journalism’ [7]. Hence, its portrayal and perpetration of violent xenophobic attacks through the adoption of derogative words like Amakwerekwere. The term ‘AmaKwerekwere’ has gained popularity amongst many South Africans. Evidently, in our previous research on intercultural communication challenges and its effect on students’ interpersonal relationships at a South African University as findings showed that the term is also used by students, even in institutions of higher learning which implies that the media also played a role in disseminating this term.

Touwen [6] also emphasises that it is much easier for the media to refer to foreigners using their nationality (for example, a Nigerian, Zimbabwean etc.), than saying a ‘non-South African’, which then create a bad image for these countries by generalizing negative stereotypes. However, a careless representation of this nature might even result in some South African minority ethnic groups being victims of xenophobic attacks. Whilst the names ‘foreigners’, ‘strangers’ and ‘Amakwerekwere’ are familiar in the South African media, there are other names like “Alien” which have also been used by South African media, more especially the print media. For example, Smith [4] notes that:

“In conjunction with several other partners, the MMP (Magellan Midstream Partners) complained to the Press Ombudsmen that the Daily Sun, in its reporting of the events of April/ May 2008, had not only contributed to the xenophobic climate by it consistently referring to foreign nationals as “aliens”, but that it also portrayed violence as an understandable and legitimate reaction to this state of affairs. However, whilst the MMP received extensive support from those across civil society and within government for pursuing this matter, the original charges against the Daily Sun were not proved and the case was dismissed” [4].

The commonly used and most neutral word for the instances of xenophobia is ‘violence’ and xenophobia is the most commonly used indication of the violence, with racial and tribal violence coming in third [8]. Moreso, xenophobic attacks “are represented within the colonial frame of tribal conflict, but at the same time the dependency image is present. Not only in the way the victims are portrayed but most of all, in the explanations for the violence” Touwen [6]. Hence, we have mentioned that most of these xenophobic events are framed as a class struggle between the haves and the have-nots (economic status/class). The main difference between perpetrators and victims is believed to be employment, as perpetrators are presented as people without jobs, hungry and angry, while victims are people having jobs. It is noticeable that some newspaper articles commonly name the xenophobic event as ‘crisis’, also using words such as anarchy, chaos and even war. On the other hand, most media report just accurately paints a picture of crisis and conflict in an environment of racial or ethnic violence [6].

Another enthralling media representation of xenophobic events is the location and the different concepts that are used in the western media to describe the scene of xenophobic violence. Furthermore, different concepts do not only have different meanings within the African context but also in the western representation of Africa. As a result, in most of the articles, the scenes are described as squatter camps or slums. Moreover, in the West, most readers have pictures of squatter camps from aid promo’s and documentaries, portraying shacks built of cardboard with no facilities and crowded by disadvantaged, poor and desperate people. In the West, they do not commonly use the South African concept ‘township’. Hence, “some newspapers try to avoid stereotyping and simply call it poor neighbourhoods, but the majority use the words squatter camp or slum” [6]. Thus this paper is of the view that this is an absolute misrepresentation.

Black people from other African countries, are portrayed in different ways. They are commonly portrayed as ‘foreigners’, ‘foreign residents’, ‘foreign nationals’ and ‘aliens’. This language is very common in media, more especially the print media like the Daily Sun newspaper. In this view, Mbetga [9] argues that most African foreigners in this context have and share a common characteristic of being ‘outsiders’ and alien people who do ‘not belong here’. Black foreigners living or staying in South Africa for a long or short period are considered as not belonging to South Africa, regardless of the notion that “South Africa belongs to all who live in it, Black and White” [10].Therefore, this statement and the principle of a rainbow nation in South Africa has not been accepted by the South Africans after all. In other words, South Africa as a nation is not ‘walking the talk’, which can set a bad picture to international relations.

The media commonly portray xenophobic victims as harmless but hard-working (mostly male) black immigrants from the bordering states, who fear for their lives due to xenophobic violence [11]. We want to agree with this argument. The fact that in the media (mostly print) xenophobic victims are commonly portrayed as helpless and are all generalised to be illegal immigrants oftentimes without verification of each victim’s documents. Nationality is often used to differentiate the victims. Whereas, ethnicity seems to be side-lined. Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Nigeria are most frequently mentioned as countries of origin. Hence Africans are no longer represented by their ethnicity, colour or tribe but by their nationality.

To the Afrikaans readers, for instance, these differences are hardly relevant and only make sense if the story is properly contextualised. Most newspapers in South Africa do not have space or the priority to do so. In a nutshell, most Afrikaans media (especially newspapers) use the presumed neutral word such as “Africans”, which is apparently another problem, as it sidelines the differences among people. One can note that most South African journalists are not aware of how much ethnicity is important in almost all African cultures. Moreover, the portrayal of victims against perpetrators is very much directed to a frame of economy class and not of through the racial frame. Furthermore, stereotypes are a common issue on the media’s reporting of xenophobic violence. For instance, Somalians are mostly represented as shopkeepers, Nigerians as drug dealers, while Zimbabweans as cheap labour. Hence, we also want argue that regarding media reports on xenophobia and racism, foreigners are often criminalised because the media usually report on them when they are arrested or deported. The fact that they are arrested for illegality and not for other crimes makes a huge difference [12]. The contact with the police represents them as criminals. Below is a list of some headlines from selected newspapers from 2008 to 2018, highlighting the different names given to foreign nationals;

• “Pretoria Mayor singles out Nigerians as drug dealers and pimps” (IOL, 26/05/2017).

• “War declared against ‘my friend’ spaza shops selling expired products (The citizen, 22/08/2018),

• “‘Kill thy neighbour” (Sunday Times, 19/04/2015 p.1)

• “Kenyans evacuated as attacks on foreigners spread in South Africa (Business Daily, 17/04/2015 p.1)

• “I know that thug!” “Do not rob thy neighbour! Nine alien thugs robbed a Metrorail security man… they did not know he had recognized one of them” Daily Sun (08/04/2008 p1)

• “Flames of hate engulf Durban” (The Times, 15/04/2015 p.1)

• “Durban chaos as mobs and foreigners battle in street” (Daily Dispatch, 15/04/2015)

• They wait for dark before they attack! Aliens use muthi to steal our cattle!” (09/05/2008 p. 11)

• “Alex aliens want to go home” Daily Sun (15/05/2008 p. 2)

Most media, as suggested by Touwen and Khoza [3,6] represent perpetrators as people who are “angry, unemployed, poor young South African men, predominantly of Zulu origin”. Moreso, the representation of the perpetrators is highly distinctive from that of the victims. Moreover, it is one-sided and ethnic. For instance, most newspapers usually generalise the perpetrators to be of the Zulu ethnic group. However, this representation is not factual, although there are many Zulu speakers in Johannesburg, there are also other ethnic groups which also partake in xenophobic activities. Sometimes the media employ a neutral representation, using words like ‘inhabitants’. However, this is somehow confounding, as in some cases, the rest of the text clearly indicates that these inhabitants are groups of young violent males and sometimes they are even referred to as gangs.

During the apartheid era, the violence was mainly about the issue of race superiority, which was ‘Whites against Blacks’. However, at the present time, especially with regards to xenophobic violence, it is mainly about the issue of economic status, hence, now it is “Black-On-Black violence” [6], what can also be called ‘horizontal violence’ [13]. The contemporary presentation of perpetrators is nearly similar to the primordial image of the colonial era where perpetrators were not represented as murderers, in spite of the deaths of almost 60 people in June 2008 during xenophobic attacks, as those acts could be classified as criminal offences. We have also noted that the collection of the picture put on the newspaper headlines (mostly, Daily Sun) has an impact on the representation of perpetrators. For instance, in most media, it is very common to see burning houses, looting, perpetrators carrying weapons like knives and so forth. In view of this, Touwen [6] notes that “the photographs of perpetrators in all newspapers show them either as a group of young men on the warpath or indirectly represent them as savages by showing their burning victims and burned down houses”.

Having highlighted the media’s coverage of xenophobic violence, this paper argues that the media should rather think of the overall multicultural society of South Africa, thereby being sensitive in terms of their coverage and representation of people. Moreso, there is a need for the media to desist from using generalized stereotypes to represent people. Perhaps there are more interesting and positive information and knowledge about other African national that is not known to the South African public. In the context of local universities, there are international students from all over the continent; hence, the media’s fair representation and reporting on xenophobic violence are very critical. To some extent, people learn about cultural stereotypes from media reports on xenophobia. For instance, media representation of Somalians as shopkeepers/spaza shop owners, Nigerians as drug dealers, as well as Zimbabweans as cheap labour. This becomes very important because, in situations where there is such misrepresentation of immigrants, there is a possibility of the local citizens being influenced to show xenophobic behaviours towards the foreign nationals. This can also pose a threat to the universities which enrol large numbers of international students every year.

Xenophobic language in the South African print media

One major concern about the coverage of xenophobia by South African print media is the tendency of the media to originate and perpetuate xenophobic language. Crush [11] noted that several studies have shown how the media have severally and uncritically reproduced xenophobic language and statements. Therefore, one can argue that the media (more especially the print) have certainly been complicit in encouraging xenophobic attitudes and behaviours among the public. In this view, Smith [4] summarises what many studies have found in this regard.

• The media are anti-immigration, or at least make negative references to migrants and immigrants;

• The media use more of an un-analytical/ simplistic approach, with little in-depth analysis of xenophobic violence;

• They persist in using certain labels when referring to migrants, such as “illegal immigrants”; and

• They perpetuate negative stereotypes about migrants, using such terms as “job stealers”, “criminals” and “illegals”.

Therefore, there is a concurrence in the literature, that the South African press paints migrants in a negative manner, even though this may not always be in a flagrant manner. Vonyoro argues that despite the existence of analysis on the representation of migration in the South African popular press, there is so much little representation of xenophobia. Authors like Monson [14] on the other hand, explored the media reporting of xenophobia in 2008. Amongst their writing, they denounce press reporting and press coverage that is highly decontextualized and ignorant of the fact that xenophobia is a frequent practice in informal settlements. They add that media present the xenophobic violence as “an explosion of organic fury” or an “eruption”.

These extensive studies of English writing press convincingly portray that for more than a decade, newspapers have been publishing stories that are anti-immigration or xenophobic and un-analytical. Smith [4] provides two examples of this, emphasising that, in the first example; “Fine and Bird argue that their extensive monitoring of the media has led them to conclude that the media does indeed place prominence on incidents of a racial slant. Moreover, that the media provides an incomplete picture of incidents, coverage is both simplistic with minimal indepth discussion of the issues raised, and that the media persists in their patterns of labelling the majority of immigrants from Africa as illegal immigrants, even though their only crime is a lack of appropriate documents” Smith [4].

In the second example, Smith [4] argues that it “speaks to the manner in which the press routinely perpetuated certain myths with regards to migrants”. In this regard, the emphasis is on the widely reported idea that South Africa is overcrowded by foreigners. For instance, to show how much the statistics have grown from ten years ago (2008), Blank [15] illustrates below:

“According to estimates, a large number of the African migrants living in the country came to South Africa without valid documents. However, there is no reliable data on exactly how many such migrants there are. Nonetheless, officials and academics seem happy to quote statistics. For example, one study in 1994 concluded that there were about nine million foreigners in the country, the equivalent of 20% (twenty percent) of the population. Academically accurate research, however, puts the number of foreigners at closer to 6 (six) to 12% (twelve percent). Nor is there empirical support for the claim that about 3 million Zimbabweans have fled to South Africa. That would amount to one-quarter of Zimbabwe’s population. Therefore, from these examples, one can conclude that it is easy for South African media to publish based on some unreliable statistics, figures or information and turn them into sensational headlines selection conceptualizing on words like “invasion, hordes, waves and floods”[15].

In light of the above, it is common knowledge that the number of foreign nationals living in South African has tripled since then. Looking at more recent statistics, Magnus et al. [16] argues that, in 2015 there were about “3.2 million” foreign nationals living in South Africa, while in 2018, it is estimated that the number had increased to “5 million”. Furthermore, looking at the above example, Smith [4] emphasises that studies conducted prior to 2008 do however suggest that it is possible to discern an improvement over time, in both the quality of the reporting and in the anti-immigration/ xenophobic nature of the stories. This decrease in xenophobia or what is referred to as “an increase in the polarization of coverage on migration” suggests that “there also appears to be a growing professionalism on migration issues, at least in some newspapers”.

Literature Review

This paper has made use of headlines from five selected South African newspapers namely the Daily Dispatch, The Citizen, Sunday Times, Business Daily, and Independent Online news (IOL), between the period of May 2008 to August 2018 and these newspapers have been selected for the fact that they reported vastly on xenophobic violence between these periods. Furthermore, some of these newspapers, like Sunday Times and Daily Sun have been, so many times, accused of biased reportage and misrepresenting foreign nationals when reporting on xenophobic violence [9]. Moreso, some of these newspapers, like Daily Sun and Online Independent News, have been mentioned to twist stories and xenophobic-related propaganda [6,9]. In light of these arguments, this paper has used qualitative textual analysis to critically analyse the selected print media’s coverage of xenophobic-related violence. Below is the discussion of textual analysis.

Data Analysis

Textual analysis

Textual analysis is a qualitative analysis method that studies and analyse media content using critical cultural approach [17]. This was a relevant method of analysis, as suggested by Potter [17], that in textual analysis “the text is easily available since they are designed for circulation and reproduction. Also, textual analysis allows one to contextualize and highlights both latent and manifest themes. Therefore, to successfully analyse the selected print media’s coverage of xenophobic-related behaviours and their possibility to incite further xenophobic violence, this paper employed textual analysis method. Below is the ephemeral textual analysis on what other meanings the audience can possibly make out of the text from some headlines of news articles. In this analysis, this paper made use of two categorized themes: A pejorative representation of immigrants and propounding violence and war. Furthermore, the examples of the news headlines are given in each of the themes. Each theme is discussed separately below.


The representation of Black African Immigrants as ‘alien’ in some newspapers: Black immigrants from neighbouring countries within the African continent have been represented in many ways by both media and the general citizens of South Africa. In most cases, negative representations out-weigh the positive representations. Among negative names that have been used to represent black African immigrants include the word ‘Alien’. Essentially, the term ‘Alien’, beside the way it has been defined in fictional films, carries a negative stereotype. Historically the term has always been used to represent outsiders, people who do not belong in a particular area and, who are associated with negative stigma from the in-group. For example, during the Golden Age in Greek, people who were speaking the Greek language were viewed “as ‘eloquent’ and cultured people, while those who did not speak the language of Greece were labelled as ‘barbarikos’ or ‘barbarians’ (i.e., those ‘’Aliens’’, whose language was incomprehensibly and sounded like a repeated babbling or noise)”. From 2008, some South African media houses (mostly print) adopted the term and used it to represent black African immigrants. Since then, it has injected negative stigma on every African immigrant, whether they are legal or illegal. Furthermore, this has also strengthened the idea that all African immigrants are outsiders and do not belong in South Africa in spite of their scarce skills and economic contribution to the country. The media has been successful in perpetuating the narrative that South Africans are somehow different from their brothers and sisters from the African continent despite their blackness and sharing similar cultural values. This, in our view, has contributed adversely to the on-going xenophobic attacks around the country.

Below is a list of media headlines where immigrants were represented as ‘Aliens’ (appeared mostly in the Daily Sun):

• “I know that thug!” “Do not rob thy neighbour! Nine alien thugs robbed a Metrorail security man… they did not know he had recognized one of them” Daily Sun (08/04/2008 p1)

• They wait for dark before they attack! Aliens use muthi to steal our cattle!” (09/05/2008 p. 11)

• “Alex aliens want to go home” Daily Sun (15/05/2008 p. 2)

• “63 Aliens bust in crime drive” (9/04/2008 p. 13)

• “Aliens: We’ve lost faith in cops” (15/04/2008 p. 2

• “Alien girl (9) dies in attack! (16/04/2008 p. 5)

• “Alex aliens want to go home” (15/05/2008 p. 2)

• . “Rampage! 13 aliens dead as angry flames of hatred spread!” (19/05/2008p. 1)

• . “Blood and flames! Aliens killed and injured as new attacks stoke flames of hatred” (19/05/2008 p. 3)

• “Destruction rages in Diepsloot! Looters wage war on cops as alien attacks spread”

• “Aliens who live in the area were dragged out of their homes by groups of armed men”. Daily Sun, (22/02/2008: 5)

• “SA farmers recruiting and exploiting illegal aliens from Zimbabwe had a surprise visit from labour inspectors in a twoday operation that ended yesterday”. Daily Sun, 22/02/2008: 11.

Daily Dispatch representation of black African immigrants as ‘foreigners’ and South Africans as mob

During xenophobic violence in Durban, a number of newspapers reported about the violence using strong and catchy headlines. The term ‘foreigners’ was used to represent black African immigrants while the term ‘mob’ represented Black South African citizens. In essence, the term ‘foreigner’ has been used to refer to the person who is not native from that particular country. However, in the South African media context, this term has been used negatively to label black immigrants as outsiders who invade the space. For instance, Mbetga [9] notes that “the term ‘foreigner’ is used to identify, classify and categorize an outsider in opposition to an insider, as a stranger in opposition to a local, who is familiar or used and known to the group”. Therefore, this further means that Black African immigrants do not belong to South Africa despite that some have acquired permanent citizenship. This, therefore, negates the idea of the constitutional that South Africa belongs to all who live in it. In the same news article South Africans were represented as ‘mob’ during xenophobic attacks in Durban. The term ‘mob’ in its original use usually refers to a barbaric and uncivilized behaviour from a group of people who usually take justice into their own hands. Moreover, the word ‘battle’ gives an idea that it is a fight between two parties, whereas, in our view, the immigrants are caught up and attacked in a fight which they know nothing about. It appears this news headline is unintentionally inviting other members to join in a battle between the locals and foreigners or ‘us’ and ‘them’. They could have constructed a news headline that condemns and discourages the violence. We want to also argue that the media could focus on promoting civilization, nation building and peace building in their construction of news instead of reporting only what is happening at at that moment. Thus, this could be achieved through Ubuntu Journalism (as discussed in the later section of this chapter). Below are two extracts (news headlines) showing how these terms were used in the construction of news headlines;

“Durban chaos as mobs and foreigners battle in street” (Daily Dispatch, 15/04/2015)

“Thousands mob KwaMashu police as xenophobic attacks continue” (Mail & Guardian, 13/04/2015).

Propounding violence and war

Sunday Times: ‘Kill thy neighbour’: On the 19 of April 2015, the Sunday Times published a news article titled ‘Kill thy neighbour’. This was an imperative sentence that appeared to command people to do something sinister. The news headline received strong criticisms from the public who felt that that the way the headline was constructed was capable of inciting more xenophobic violence. There was also condemnation for the picture (now removed) that was used to illustrate the story. Critics said the picture was obscene, disturbing and traumatizing for the public. The term ‘neighbour’ literally means someone living next door. However, in this instance, the Sunday Times used the term to depict immigrants from the neighbouring countries. The Daily Sun also published a news article with the same term; “Do not rob thy neighbour!” [9]. The danger of casting this kind of headlines is that they could be misconstrued by readers especially by people who may not understand the pun intended in the headlines. South Africa has a high rate of illiteracy. Therefore, there is a possibility for some illiterate readers seeing a news article with a headline “Kill thy neighbour’ to mean they should kill their brothers and sisters from the neighbouring countries. Besides, many newspaper readers only gloss through the headlines and may not have the time to go through the full content to see that the headlines do not correspond with the body of the story. Therefore, this is a concern given the fact that in most South African schools, there are black international learners and students from the other African countries. Below are some news headlines from the cited newspapers;

‘Kill thy neighbour: Alex attack brings home Sa shame” (Sunday Times, 19/04/2015)

“Do not rob thy neighbour! Nine alien thugs robbed a Metrorail security man Daily Sun (08/04/2008 p1)”

The Citizen: ‘War declared against ‘My Friend’ spaza shops selling expired products” (The citizen, 22/08/

The term ‘war’ was used by this newspaper to describe the xenophobic attacks on foreign spaza shop owners. In the African context especially among the Nguni languages, like IsiZulu, the term war can be translated as ‘impi’. Therefore, the textual representation of the attacks on foreign spaza shops as ‘’war’ is inciting and inviting more xenophobic violation. Furthermore, the term ‘war’ is followed by the word ‘declared’ which implies that it has already been decided that the war will go on. Thus, more attacks spread across the whole nation. Ordinarily, the phrases ‘my friend’, means someone dear or close. However, in this instance, the use of the word ‘my friend’ conjures the derogatory name for African immigrants, particularly Somalians, Indians, and Pakistani. During the course of this paper, it was found that some participants find it offensive to be called ‘my friend’ as they feel the meaning in the South African context, has changed. Thus, it is a concern when it is also being adopted by the media. News headlines like these, whether intentionally or unintentionally, are used to incite more xenophobic violence against the immigrants. Furthermore, the selection of and usage of these expressions, tend to divert the media from focusing on peace building and nation building. Thus, this paper recommends the adoption of Ubuntu Journalism, as aligned to the African principle, which will enforce Ubuntu among journalists and encourage peace and nation building.


Peace Journalism: An alternative model for reporting conflict and violence

Lynch and McGoldrick [18] define peace journalism as a process “when editors and reporters make choices, about what to report and how to report it, which creates opportunities for society at large to consider and to value non-violent actions and develop positive responses to conflict”. Peace journalism is further perceived as “an alternate professional paradigm for the journalists, editors and reporters to enable them to view, interpret, source and narrate conflicts, war or violence in a manner that seek non-violent responses in society” [17]. Hence this paper proposes peace journalism as an alternative model for reporting conflict and violence, because, in the case of xenophobic violence, reporters and editors will choose to report xenophobia in a way that will allow an opportunity for the conflicting parties to discuss the roots of their conflict and come to understanding of one another. This also means that the media will finally report xenophobia in a way that attempts to achieve a non-violent society and advocating for peace. Another alternative model for reporting conflict and violence is Ubuntu journalism, hence it is discussed below.

Ubuntu Journalism: An alternative model for reporting conflict and violence

The concern with most South African journalists is that they practice the Western professional norms which are considered to be individualist, in a way that it is no longer about the society but the self-service kind of journalist. However, most African cultures are collectivist which means that for one to survive they are dependent on the community they are growing in. This is how Ubuntu as a value is born. In light of this view, Fourie [19] emphasizes that “person is defined with reference to the community”. When combined with journalism, it means that journalists, editors and reporters would highlight the need for unity of humanity and highlight the importance of constantly referring to the principles of empathy, cooperation, peace building and sharing to seek to resolve common problems, like xenophobic-related violence in this case [20] Hence, this paper also proposes Ubuntu journalism as an alternative model for reporting xenophobic-related violence.


This paper wants to emphasize that, although the media are expected to entertain, inform and educate, they also have the power to initiate social chaos. This is because if some stories with sensitive topics like xenophobia get manipulated, a catastrophic social chaos could take place. More so, it is also our view that journalists have now replaced reporting news with making news and this is because the number of media houses has grown extensively hence the competition for news presentation is at its peak. Moreso, African journalists have adopted the Western style of reporting which is based on the individualistic value and selfserving rather than sticking to the collectivist way of reporting news, which is aligned with Ubuntu journalism, where the focus is to bring peace, unity and conflict resolution in the society. With reference to the literature reviewed, as well as the data analysed in this paper, one can conclude that whether intentionally or unintentionally, the South African media are believed to have contributed to the spread of xenophobic attacks in South Africa. Thus, xenophobic offences can be seen as a consequence of media reporting.


Copyright © 2022 Global Media Journal, All Rights Reserved