On 18 May 2008, a Mozambican national was beaten, stabbed, then covered with his own blankets and set alight. His crime? Being an African migrant. 

“The violence began in Alexandra in Johannesburg after a local community meeting at which migrants were blamed for crime and for ‘stealing’ jobs,” The Guardian wrote. “Within days the attacks had spread around the country, with Ramaphosa settlement on the East Rand becoming one of the areas that witnessed inhumanity on an unthinkable level.”

The violence left 62 people dead, 1,700 injured and 100,000 displaced. 

On 24 May 2008, following the attacks, the Mail & Guardian ran an article headlined “The 21st century pencil test.” In the article it reported an incident in which a Zimbabwean woman was asked what an elbow is in isiZulu before she was attacked by the marauding mobs that targeted foreign nationals:

“They took my money and my passport and asked me what is the name of this [elbow] in Zulu and I did not know and they started attacking me,” the woman said.

7 years later, on 11 April 2015, xenophobic violence erupted again, extending from KZN to Gauteng and resulting in 7 deaths – both foreign and South African alike. 

In October of the same year, similar attacks were reported in Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape, where more than 500 people were displaced.

With the re-emergence of xenophobic sentiment in South Africa in recent years, a Daily Maverick article noted: “Attacks or incidents of xenophobia are becoming more frequent and immigrant children are hyperaware that, at any given moment, their family could be next.”

This article was published on 5 September 2022.

This is the context in which this work was conceived; and this is the issue it aims to address by inviting all South Africans to come together and to say, “Not in my name!” Those old enough will remember the pain that was inflicted in this country at the dawn of Democracy where language was used to pit us against one another to perpetuate the murderous ends of the Apartheid regime. That these very same tactics are being used today to further the aims of those who would like to see us (Africans) divided should not be tolerated by anyone.

We want to make it clear that this work is not aimed at pointing a finger at a specific group or identity. This is not our intention. Our intention is to make us aware what is being done in our name, in our languages, and in our culture. 

Following the 2008 xenophobia attacks, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu, said: “Those who have been victims, we want to tell them we are sorry and we will not repeat this.”

By bringing awareness to this critical issue, we hope that this work will inspire all of us to live up to those words.

We are aware of the sensitivities that such work might elicit and we do sincerely apologise to those who might be affected negatively. It wasn’t an easy job. But when our very children are at risk (South African and foreigner alike), is an uncomfortable truth (that might save lives) not preferable to a comfortable lie that might have devastating consequences for us all, including our children?


  • The 21st century pencil test
  • The torment of being a questionable South African
  • Nightmare at the end of the rainbow – migrant teens describe life in South Africa’s anti-foreigner crossfire:
  • No justice for burning man
  • Documenting violence against migrants in South Africa


  • From May 2008 to 2011: Xenophobic Violence and National Subjectivity in South Africa


  • The tale of the flaming man whose picture woke the world up to South Africa’s xenophobia


About MullenLowe Group

MullenLowe Group is a creatively driven integrated marketing communications network with a strong entrepreneurial heritage and challenger mentality. We are a global creative boutique of distinctive diverse agencies, rich in local culture with both intimacy and scale, present in 65 markets. With a hyper-bundled operating model, global specialisms include expertise in brand strategy, and through the line advertising with MullenLowe; customer experience with MullenLowe Profero; media and communications planning and buying with Mediahub; brand and corporate PR, social influence, purpose and sustainability consulting with MullenLowe Comms. We are focused on delivering an Unfair Share of Attention for clients’ brands and are consistently ranked among the most awarded creative and effective agency networks in the world. For nine years, MullenLowe Group has topped the Effie Index as the most effective global network in terms of points per dollar revenue, in 2018 was named to the Ad Age Agency A-List and in 2019 was ranked in the top ten ‘Top Agency Networks for Creativity’ in the WARC Creative 100.

MullenLowe Group is part of the Interpublic Group of Companies (NYSE: IPG).

For more information, visit us at www.southafrica.mullenlowe.com
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