Problematizing the Foreign Shop: Justifications for Restricting the Migrant Spaza Sector in South Africa

Small businesses owned by international migrants and refugees are often the target of xenophobic hostility and attack in South Africa. This has led various governance actors including the police, government ministers and provincial premiers to call for the stricter regulation of these enterprises. This report examines the problematization of migrant-owned businesses in South Africa, and the regulatory efforts aimed at curtailing their economic activities. In so doing, it sheds light on the complex ways in which xenophobic fears are generated and manifested in the country’s social, legal and political orders. Spaza shops are informal grocery shops that operate in most of the country’s low income neighbourhoods, and provide food and other common household items including bread, milk, canned goods and soap. This report focuses on spazas that are owned and/or operated by refugees and migrants to the country, which have been at the centre of contention in South Africa over the past decade. The report is based on qualitative field research in three field sites (Kraaifontein, Khayelitsha and Philippi) in Cape Town, and in several small towns in the Western Cape province, between 2010 and 2013. The research focused on the ability of migrant shopkeepers to access justice in the Western Cape and comprised approximately 200 interviews with migrant traders, South African residents, police, prosecutors, legal aid attorneys and local authorities. As the large majority of migrant spaza shopkeepers in the research area were from Somalia, most migrant interviewees were Somali.