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Glossary print
by  Joshua Schoonover

Afrikaans     Language derived from 17th-century Dutch. Spoken mainly in South Africa and Namibia.

Afrikaner     A descendant of South Africa’s earliest white settlers, primarily Dutch, who arrived in the 17th century to set up a post for the Dutch East India Company. Though these Afrikaans-speaking people have a long history in South Africa, their most prominent contemporary legacy is as the group that inherited England’s racist political policies in the early 20th century and emboldened them through the apartheid system from the 1940s until 1994. They are sometimes called Afrikaanses by those who feel the name Afrikaner harkens back to apartheid-era intolerance.

Alexandra     A large, impoverished township in northern Johannesburg with a population estimated at between 350,000 and 700,000. The xenophobic violence in May and June 2008 flared up in Alexandra before quickly spreading to other areas throughout South Africa.

ANC (African National Congress)     South Africa’s governing political party since the end of apartheid in 1994.

Apartheid     A government policy of segregation and political and economic discrimination against non-Europeans in South Africa. Ended with the first democratic election in 1994, when people of all races could vote.

Asylum seeker     A person who has lodged a formal claim for asylum with South Africa’s Department of Home Affairs and is waiting for the claim to be processed and a decision to be made.

Asylum seeker’s permit     Documentation that allows people seeking asylum to live and work in South Africa while the Department of Home Affairs processes their request.

Bishop Paul Verryn     Bishop of Johannesburg’s Central Methodist Church, which provides shelter for the homeless and refugees, especially Zimbabweans. Bishop Paul became the topic of controversy after the South African Police Service raided the church in January 2008, looking for undocumented foreigners.

Black     In South Africa an accepted member of an African tribe or race whose mother and father are both black. The term “black” also now encompasses Chinese South Africans for the purposes of retributions for apartheid.

Bloemfontein     Judicial capital of South Africa.

Cape Town     Legislative capital of South Africa.

Central Methodist Church     Largest Methodist church in Johannesburg. Currently led by Bishop Paul Verryn, this inner city church houses as many as 2,000 refugees and the homeless.

Colored     In South Africa one who is not black or white but comes from parents of different races.

Congolese     Citizens of the central African country of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Third largest group of refugees in South Africa, after Zimbabweans and Mozambicans. War and political violence have plagued the country for decades, accounting for the deaths of as many as 6 million people in the last ten years.

Cross-border traders     Men and women who cross into South Africa from their home country to sell or trade goods and services to earn money to take back to their families.

Department of Home Affairs     A government agency responsible for determining and confirming the legal status of people emigrating or traveling from countries outside South Africa.

Diepsloot     An overcrowded, crime-ridden township of shacks and homes located in Gauteng Province, just north of Johannesburg. A rapidly growing population estimated at 150,000 is estimated to be 50 percent South African citizens and 50 percent foreigners. In May 2008 xenophobic violence spread to Diepsloot after originating in Alexandra Township.

Displaced persons     People forced to flee their homes or places of residence, especially to avoid the effects of armed conflict, violence, human rights violations or natural and human-made disasters.

Displacement camp     A camp set up by the United Nations to provide shelter, food, water and protection for internally displaced persons.

Economic migrant     A person who has come to South Africa mainly for economic reasons. Many economic migrants are legally in the country, with work permits, corporate permits or as traders or shoppers.

Emigrate     To leave one’s country or place of residence to live somewhere else.

Extension     A neighborhood in the township of Diepsloot. Diepsloot is divided into Extensions 1 through 13.

Foreigner     For the purposes of this Web site, a person born outside South Africa. Xenophobia in South Africa is targeted at foreigners of African and Asian origin.

Immigrate     To enter and seek permanent residence in a country where one is not a native.

Internally displaced persons     People forced to flee their home or place of residence but who have not crossed an internationally recognized state border.

Johannesburg     South Africa’s largest city and the country’s financial capital.

Limpopo River     Border between Zimbabwe and South Africa. Despite the barbed-wire and razor-wire fences, crocodiles and hippos, Zimbabweans continue to risk their lives by crossing the river into South Africa.

Malawians     Citizens of the Republic of Malawi, a country in southeastern Africa. A shaky economy has forced many to venture to South Africa to pursue what they hope is a better life.

Mbeki, Thabo (pronounced “TAH-bo”)      President of South Africa.

MDC (Movement for Democratic Change)      Main political opposition to ZANU-PF in Zimbabwe.

Mugabe, Robert     President of Zimbabwe since 1987; prime minister from 1980 to 1987.

Pretoria     Administrative capital of South Africa. Located just north of Johannesburg.

Rainbow Nation     A term coined by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and adopted by South Africa after apartheid ended in 1994. After more than 50 years of racial inequality and segregation of blacks, whites and coloreds, South Africa labeled itself the Rainbow Nation to encourage the notion of multiracial and multicultural acceptance.

Rand     South African currency. At the time of reporting, the exchange rate was U.S. $1 = 8 rand.

Refugee     A person living outside his homeland because he fears persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group.

Reintegrate     To reintroduce displaced foreigners back into the communities they were forced from.

Rembrandt Park     An all-male displacement camp located in Rembrandt, northeast of Johannesburg. The camp is surrounded by middle- to upper-income houses.

Remittances     Money earned and goods traded or purchased in foreign countries that nationals send or bring home to their families as a source of income.

Repatriate     To return to one’s own country.

Rifle Range Road Displacement Camp     Largest camp for displaced persons in Johannesburg. Set up to house foreigners forced from their homes by the xenophobic attacks in May and June 2008.

Shantytown     See squatter camps or township.

Somalis     Citizens of Somalia, a country in East Africa. Many fled to South Africa in hopes of starting a life without the threat of violence from an oppressive government. Somalis have experienced a turbulent past riddled with violence and government corruption.

Soweto     A sprawling township in the southwest Johannesburg. An anti-apartheid protest march on June 16, 1976, sparked riots in the township. Clashes with police over the weeks that followed led to the deaths of nearly 700 people, many of them youths. The events inspired Youth Day, a national holiday celebrated yearly on June 16. None of the xenophobic violence of May and June 2008 spread to Soweto. 

Squatter camps     Informal settlements of wooden, cardboard and metal shacks where many of South Africa’s poor live.

Township     An underdeveloped area consisting largely of shacks, usually situated on the outskirts of a city. During apartheid, blacks, coloreds and sometimes Asians were forcibly moved to townships. Today, residency in townships is mostly voluntary, with the exception of some people whom the government forces to move from one shantytown to another. While most townships are low income or poverty level, some are middle income and more developed.

Tsvangirai (pronounced “CHANG-guh-rye”), Morgan     President of Zimbabwe’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and rival of Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe.

University of the Witwatersrand     A leading South African university. Known as Wits (pronounced “Vits”).

Veld (pronounced “felt”)     Open grasslands and/or shrubs characteristic of southern Africa.

White      White-skinned individuals of European descent.

Xenophobia     Fear and hatred of strangers or foreigners.

ZANU-PF (Zimbabwe African National Union–Patriotic Front)     Current ruling political party in Zimbabwe. Headed by Robert Mugabe, the party has been in power since the country gained independence from Great Britain in 1980.

Zimbabweans     People from Zimbabwe, which borders South Africa on the north. Zimbabweans face social persecution, political chaos and hyperinflation that rival the worst in the world. An estimated 3 million Zimbabweans have fled to South Africa seeking asylum.

Zulu     Largest ethnic group in South Africa and the language spoken by the Zulu people.

Zuma, Jacob     President of the African National Congress (ANC) and presumptive successor to Thabo Mbeki as president of South Africa. Recently acquitted of rape charges, Zuma is awaiting trial on charges of corruption.

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