Association pour l’anthropologie du changement social et du développement
Association for the anthropology of social change and development

“What it is that makes it possible for them to be successful”: Cultural capital, business and development in the African diaspora in South Africa

Auteur(s) : Mlotshwa Khanyile ;

Most often the narratives on postapartheid migration between South Africa and the rest of the African continent border on xenophobia. This xenophobia is seen as located in the country’s mostly poor townships (Tafira, 2018). In these narratives, ordinary black South African citizens are portrayed as violent; beating, burning and killing black foreign African migrants whom they accuse of stealing their jobs and business opportunities. On the part of the African migrants, there is over-emphasis on remittances and development in countries of origin. What the black South African citizens and the foreign African migrants do together to develop their communities in townships and other impoverished spaces like inner city Johannesburg is often neglected. The communities that migrants live in alongside South African citizens in townships and other impoverished inner city spaces in Johannesburg are characterised by diverse cultures (Owen, 2016). This diversity, which can be observed in churches, hair salons, beauty parlours, tailor shops, eating places like restaurants, and in intangible cultural practices such as dances, food practices and language spoken in the streets, is both cultural and economic. In a country where unemployment is slowly surging towards 30 percent, both black South African citizens and migrants, rely mostly on running small businesses that vary from running tuck shops or independently providing services such as plumbing and electrical engineering to big construction consortiums. This Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) sector, reportedly contributing 36 percent to the economy, is characterised by creolisation and diversity, which is at once cultural and economic (Smit, 2017). These businesses are at once cultural and economic development imaginaries. However, this burgeoning small business sector is at times the source of xenophobic conflict as local citizens accuse foreign nationals of grabbing the lion’s share of the business opportunities. A cabinet minister was once accused of contributing to the animosity when she said foreign nationals should share their trade ‘secrets’ with locals (Mbatha, 2015). In the context of a diaspora community, this paper maps the circulation of this cultural capital and its implications in business success among the African diaspora community in Johannesburg, South Africa. This is done through analysing newspaper articles, field notes and in-depth interviews transcripts in order to build a narrative of the articulations of cultural capital, business and development in postapartheid Johannesburg, South Africa.


Mbatha, A. 2015. “Foreigners told to share their secrets.” IOL, 28 January 2015. Available in: (Accessed on 17 February 2020)

Owen, J. 2016. “Xenophilia in Muizenberg, South Africa: New potentials for race relations?” City and Society 28 (3): 365 – 386

Smit, W. “SMMEs contribute 36% to economy.” Independent On Line, 20 March 2017. Available in:  (Accessed on 17 February 2020)

Tafira, H., K. 2018. Xenophobia in South Africa: A history. Cham: Springer International Publishing AG

Mot-clé : Circulation. Cultural capital. Diaspora. Diversity. Economic development. Xenophobia.

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