Johannesburg - Collective violence in communities was often the last resort for citizens trying to bring attention to their grievances, according to a joint research report released on Tuesday.
Communities who tried to change their situation through peaceful means were often left feeling excluded, marginalised and deprived, the Society, Work and Development Institute (Swop) at Wits University, and the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation found.
The report, entitled "The Smoke that Calls; Insurgent citizenship, collective violence and the struggle for a place in the new South Africa," was based on eight case studies in Mpumalanga, North West and Gauteng.
Researchers found that both community protests and xenophobic violence were a last-resort strategy to obtain power and express grievances, particularly over inadequate service delivery.
The conclusion was that marginalised communities did not feel like they had full social and economic citizenship.
A central feature of these communities was the youth contingent, mostly young men but also women, who were unemployed, lived in poverty and saw no prospect of a change in these circumstances.
They were found as primary participants in xenophobic attacks as well as engaging in battles with police and destroying public property in community protests.
According to findings, their participation provided them with an opportunity to express their masculinity through violence and to experience themselves as community representatives fighting on its behalf.
The report concluded that unless wide-scale strategies could be found for social and economic inclusion, social fragmentation and violence were likely to continue.
The police would also need to play a more active role in preventing attacks and protecting foreign nationals in the early stages of xenophobic violence.
Part of the solution to collective violence could be found in community work programmes, as in the case of Bokfontein, a town near Brits in the North West.
By working on improvements to the community, residents could focus their energies on making positive changes together.