Situating the District.

District 9 is an extremely interesting film, one which, naturally, everybody has tried to co-opt for their own purposes and nobody has attempted to honestly politically analyse. (If anyone is capable of honest political analysis, they are hiding the fact remarkably well.)
Broadly speaking, the movie is about some aliens who are stranded in Johannesburg by the breakdown of their gigantic spacecraft. For some reason they can neither help themselves nor seek help from elsewhere, so they throw themselves upon the mercy of the humans, which proves to be somewhat strained in its quality.
In the movie, it is twenty years after the aliens were dumped in a slum called District 9; following massive public protests and violent clashes, they are to be forcibly moved to a distant resettlement camp, District 10. The aliens are slightly mysterious; they have enormous technical powers, but they choose not to exercise these, or perhaps they cannot (at one point it is hinted that the aliens who survived the breakdown of their spacecraft are the inferiors and hence are incapable of independent action).
The ambiguity of the affair is that the aliens arrived in 1982 and the movie is set in 2002, although filmed in 2008. Meanwhile, the aliens are under the authority of an apparent state bureaucracy, but the real power lies with the mysterious Multi-National United, which has its own private army (the First Battalion). These forces are almost all white; even the mercenary troops are mainly whites, apart from a couple of ineffectual Africans. Has the arrival of the aliens prevented the liberation of South Africa?
That’s not clear at all. On the other hand, the ill-treatment of the aliens by the locals (and vice-versa) is almost invariably shown through images of blacks. The whites are safe from the aliens, safe rather to exploit whatever they have to offer (which is purely military). Blacks have to deal with the aliens. This makes the whole affair seem rather like immigration, and to relate to the “xenophobic” violence of 2008.
Perhaps to take the curse off this, the bulk of the trouble is blamed on the “Nigerians”. This is a bit odd, since South African shacklands are not exactly overpopulated with Nigerians. For fairly obvious reasons, the Nigerians who have come to South Africa tend to be fairly affluent people. On the other hand, Nigerians are probably the only African grouping about whom South Africans feel real xenophobia, attributing to them a massive degree of criminality (very obvious in the “Madam and Eve” comic strip, where references were made to “District 419” and to Nigerians being willing to drop their hostility to the movie in exchange for PIN numbers and banking details). This xenophobia is not normally based on personal experience (though admittedly some Nigerian gangsters have arrived in South Africa and are undeniably extremely scary people). It is possible that the South African government, which must have helped in the making of the film (dozens of South African military armoured vehicles, as well as military and police helicopters, all resprayed with Multi-National United’s logo, are employed) insisted that the bad guys not be South Africans — but of course this only complicated the problem.
So how to analyse what all this really means behind the hype? Is it a reflection of apartheid activities, or xenophobia, or the post-apartheid state’s behaviour? Conceivably it is a conflation of all of these.
The premise of the movie is not plausible. Granted it is an interesting notion (a poor nation flooded with desperate alien refugees) but for one thing, what would the aliens eat? Mercifully they breathe air, and presumably drink water, but their biochemistry would surely be different from ours. (Hence their capacity to get high on cat food.) But even if they could eat our food usefully, how would they obtain it? If the government were to provide them with food and shelter, it would certainly have demanded something in return, and all that the aliens have in the movie is labour. But it is nowhere suggested that they are doing anything — there are no “prawn” sweatshops or workfarms. All they have to trade is guns, which for some reason they have immense amounts of (but seemingly cannot replace). It is as if refugees come to a country and then just sit there, absorbing but not producing.
So the movie is mystifying the refugee situation, and simultaneously mystifying xenophobia (as the term itself does). The assumption is that the locals will hate the aliens because they look funny. They certainly look funny enough, with their barnacle heads and crayfish hands, and they are intimidating and irritating (grabbing whatever they can get from humans and bounding around like jackrabbits, since they come from a high-gravity planet). This is not, by and large, the reason why South Africans dislike foreigners (since we all look rather similar) although it is very much a part of the reason why white South Africans discriminated against black South Africans (funny-looking people who jumped around and did not respect our property rights). So maybe the movie is more about apartheid than about xenophobia, and therefore District 10 becomes something like moving the inhabitants of Crossroads out to Khayelitsha.
That helps to explain the whiteness of the rulers of the country. Interestingly, this erases black South Africans almost absolutely. They exist only in the background of the central character, a caricatured Afrikaner bureaucrat. It also virtually erases politics. The aliens have no objective; apart from one alien who has the mysterious substance which wi

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