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On Wednesday 18 April 2018, Dr Melissa Tandiwe Myambo presented a seminar at the Centre for Indian Studies in Africa at Wits University on ‘Class, xenophobia and xenophilia: Migrant experience in Jo’burg’s diverse Cultural Time Zones’.

Dr Myambo is an Honorary Research Fellow of the Wits City Institute, a Visiting Researcher at the Centre for Indian Studies in Africa, and a past JIAS Writing Fellow. The seminar was held under the auspices of the Wits City Institute.


In 2008 and 2015, South Africa’s most deadly and violent xenophobic attacks erupted. Dozens of people were killed, and thousands displaced. The dominant storyline in the media and the academy cast the figure of the migrant as the perpetual victim of xenopohobia. There was not enough emphasis on nuancing that statement to indicate that it is not all migrants who run the risk of deadly xenophobia, even if xenophobia is pervasive at all levels of South African society. Deadly attacks only took place in specific microspaces, or Cultural Time Zones (CTZS). Those living in the CTZ of the informal settlement were most vulnerable. Few migrants who live and work in economically privileged CTZs like the suburbs became victims of violence.

In this presentation, I examine the relationship between (micro)space and migrant experience. Through an analysis of Jo’burg as a cluster of radically different CTZs where language, skin colour, race/ethnicity, education, socio-economic class, etc. function in different ways to impact the migrant experience, I try to uncover the nuanced reasons why working-class migrants who work and live in socio-economically deprived CTZs may experience intense xenophobia, while middle-class professionals, especially those from Western countries, often enjoy high levels of xenophilia.

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