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Assessment for Xhosa in South Africa

Publisher Minorities at Risk Project
Publication Date 31 December 2003
Cite as Minorities at Risk Project, Assessment for Xhosa in South Africa, 31 December 2003, available at: [accessed 28 November 2015]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
South Africa Facts
Area:    1,219,912 sq. km.
Capital:    Pretoria
Total Population:    42,942,000 (source: unknown, 1998, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

The Xhosa seem unlikely to rebel or even protest. They do have the organizational capacity to do so in terms of general territorial concentration, a sense of group identity, and unified support for the ANC. However, the regime is stabile and democratic and interested in reform making more mainstream solutions to problems more likely. In addition, there has been no repression or restrictions to incite activity nor has there been transnational support to abet it.

Analytic Summary

The Xhosa of South Africa are largely located in the former Ciskei and Transkei regions (now part of the Eastern Cape), but they are also present in major urban centers. They have migrated throughout the state for a variety of reasons. The Xhosa are one of several ethnic groups in the country that speak a Bantu language. Together, these groups make up 66% of the African population in South Africa. The Xhosa are culturally distinct from the majority black population.

Like other African ethnic groups, the Xhosa fought a series of wars against the Europeans in the 18th and 19th centuries. They were finally brought under white rule in 1878 and they were the first ethnic group with whom missionaries worked in the 19th century. With the establishment of the Republic of South Africa and the continued repression of blacks to the advantage of whites, the South African Native National Congress was created in 1912 (renamed ANC-African National Congress in 1923). It advocated greater black rights and drew support from the Xhosa and other ethnic groups. As policies for blacks become more and more restrictive with the implementation of apartheid, the ANC gained momentum beginning in the 1950s and different kinds of protest took place. These included peaceful protest, civil disobedience, and finally armed conflict in the 1960s after the ANC was banned. The civil conflict culminated in the dismantlement of apartheid and transition to black majority rule with the first all-race elections being held in 1994.

The Xhosa do not face any political, social or economic discrimination (POLDIS03 = 1). While they benefit from the affirmative actions policies in place, the group has yet to significantly alleviate its economic position (ECDIS03 = 1). They do not face any significant disadvantages compared to other blacks; they are however far less wealthy than whites or Asians. The group also does not face repression. The Xhosa's main demands pertain to seeking better economic opportunities.

The Xhosa are represented by umbrella organizations. Most of the group supports the ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC). There have been no instances of group protest or rebellion.

Barring a small skirmish with members of Shangaan community, in 2001-2003, there was no instance of intergroup or intragraoup conflict (COMCON01 = 3). The Xhosa do, however, have a conflicted relationship with Zulus. During the 1970s, the ANC broke with the leader of the Zulus over strategies for resisting the white government. The Zulu leader Buthelezi advocated working within the system and was seen as less radical by the government. Evidence has since surfaced that the Zulus collaborated with the government against ANC supporters and that the government supplied funds to the Zulu Inkatha party. The Xhosa-Zulu rivalry continued into the 1990s, and the Zulus are largely seen as the instigators of the violence that has plagued South Africa since the mid-1980s. The situation has improved since 1998. The violence has declined and now seems to be centered more on political divisions between ANC and Inkatha rather than on ethnic division


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