On 11 May 2008, residents of Alexandra Township near Johannesburg turned violently on their neighbours, launching a string of attacks that, two weeks later, left 60 dead, dozens raped and over a hundred thousand displaced. Most of those killed were from beyond South Africa’s borders, but at least a third were citizens who, for reasons of ethnicity or political affiliation, failed to protect their space in the country’s urban core. Although not the most severe political violence in South Africa’s turbulent past, the 2008 attacks reflect an important moment in the country’s post-apartheid, post-authoritarian existence: a moment when the government’s legitimacy and the post-apartheid order were called into question. This xenophobic violence made evident cracks in the cohesion of law and society while helping to redefine both.
It is these events and subsequent consequences for the ordering of power, population and place that this book explores. Exorcising the Demons Within makes sense of recent anti outsider violence by situating it within an extended history of South African statecraft that both produced the conditions for the attacks and has been reshaped by it. Drawing on an interdisciplinary team of expert scholars and on new research, this is the first academic text to fully theorise the events that made global headlines in 2008.