In the apartheid era, political violence in South Africa was invariably seen in black and white. But in the wave of anti-immigrant carnage that swept the country this month, all 42 of those killed were black. So were all of the tens of thousands who lost their homes. And all the mobs that beat, raped, robbed and burned them alive were also black. The hatred and violence that has shaken a country that optimistically proclaims itself a "Rainbow Nation" was not about racism; it was a symptom of globalization.
One of the defining phenomena of our age is migration. As the world shrinks and economies integrate, national boundaries become less important. At least, that's the theory. In reality, there is an elite of international professionals who do live comparable and seamlessly connected lives, whether they be in New York or New Delhi, Johannesburg or Tokyo. But among the world's poor, things do not go as smoothly.
Advocates of globalization are correct that free trade and free markets have raised average incomes around the world. The World Bank reports that the proportion of people living on less than $2 a day shrank from 67% in 1981 to 47% in 2004. But $2 still isn't very much. And other research, such as a 2004 report by the World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalization, has found that while the average person might be better off in absolute terms, he or she is also often relatively worse off: 59% of the planet is living in countries with widening inequality, while just 5% are in countries where disparity is declining. Separate studies suggest that the boom of the last two decades may be the first in which real wages failed to rise.
"Globalization might be creating rich countries with poor people," as economist Joseph Stiglitz noted. That much is apparent in South Africa, whose post-apartheid government adopted an open market economy that drew cheers from Wall Street and the international banking community. That policy helped it achieved an impressive, steady annual economic growth rate of 4%-5%. But that growth rate has done little to reverse inequality or reverse dangerously high levels of unemployment. In November last year, the South African Institute of Race Relations estimated 4.2 million South Africans were living on $1 a day in 2005, up from 1.9 million in 1996, two years after the end of apartheid. Globalization was supposed to be the tide to lift all boats, but the evidence in South Africa suggests that millions of boats are not merely missing the tide, they're in an entirely different ocean.
Your experience of globalization, then, depends on what you have in the bank. In business class, the world is your village, and you're connected with your counterparts from all corners. Those traveling in steerage, however, are not integrating. Millions of people every year seek to migrate, legally and illegally, from poor countries, either to the industrialized world or to more prosperous developing countries such as South Africa. But the poor in the developing world are determined not to diminish the little they have by sharing it with foreign migrants, and are erecting as many barriers as possible to outsiders settling in their midst.
Along with the growing cosmopolitanism of the wealthy and the professionals of the new economy, globalization has been accompanied by a surge in xenophobia. The phenomenon may have taken a graphically violent form in South Africa in recent weeks, but even in Europe the surge of populist xenophobia since the 1990s has propelled previously fringe groups such as the British National Party, Jean-Marie Le Pen's Front National in France, neo-Nazis in Germany and the assassinated Pim Fontuyn's eponymous party in the Netherlands into the political mainstream. Last October, the Swiss People's Party won the largest single share of the vote 29% in a general election using a campaign poster depicting three white sheep kicking a black sheep off the Swiss flag. Surveys show that even the United States, a nation built on immigration, is now more hostile to immigration than at any time in its history, and no presidential candidate dares oppose the plan to fence off Mexico. The 2007 Pew Global Attitudes Survey found that that a majority in every country except Japan, South Korea and the Palestinian territories wanted immigration reduced. And those most vehemently opposed were in the poorer countries: Cote D'Ivoire, a departure point to Europe for migrants from all over Africa, scored highest with 94% support for immigration curbs. At 89% were Indonesia, Malaysia and South Africa.
There are many lessons the "Rainbow Nation" can draw from its recent wave of anti-immigrant violence. Chief among them may be that xenophobia is less about color than about resources, and that the government would be well advised to concentrate less on the black-white divide of the past than on today's chasm between the haves and the have-nots. Apartheid may have made racist despots out of whites; globalization amid inequality and enduring poverty can make a bigot out of anybody.