Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Criminal Justice


Diana Gordon

Subject Categories

Criminology | Criminology and Criminal Justice


Migration; Violence; Xenophobia


Since South Africa's heralded democratic transition in the mid-1990s, ongoing patterns of violence specifically targeting people on the basis of their race and nationality have been observed throughout the country. This dissertation study examines the spatial nature of violent incidents against foreign nationals in the Republic of South Africa and the effect of structural conditions on the occurrence of anti-foreigner violence.

While international migration has been historically accompanied by resentment and ill-treatment of migrants worldwide, this phenomenon is inadequately studied in developing countries such as South Africa. Since nationwide riots targeting foreign nationals in townships in 2008, there has been increased awareness of anti-foreigner violence but limited empirical academic research on its causes. This study takes advantage of improving access to crime data and examines incidents of anti-foreigner violence occurring between 1994 and 2012 with spatial/geographic information on locations and surrounding structural characteristics.

The study is guided by two central research questions: (1) what is the spatial nature of violence against non-nationals? and (2) what is the relationship between social structural conditions and the occurrence of violence? It uses geographic information systems to establish the spatial distribution of violent anti-foreigner incidents across South Africa, demonstrating that most anti-foreigner incidents occurred within Gauteng and the Western Cape, where they also significantly clustered in and around urban areas, informal settlements and townships.

This research study utilizes the social ecological framework to examine the spatial nature of anti-foreigner violence and interpret the influence of structural factors on its occurrence. Focusing on contextual effects, the study examines whether social structural conditions indicating economic deprivation and social marginalization in areas have a direct impact on the occurrence of violence against foreign nationals. For this purpose, the study estimated a multilevel, multivariate model in which the rate of violence was predicted by several structural variables believed to be linked to anti-foreigner violence. Findings highlight the influence of population size, racial heterogeneity, unemployment, education levels and access to basic services on the occurrence of anti-foreigner violence. Furthermore, this study calls attention to the relevance of spatial context in attempting to understand this phenomenon.