Between 11 and 26 May 2008, 62 people, the majority of them foreign nationals, were killed by mobs in Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban and elsewhere. Some 35,000 were driven from their homes. The troubles were dubbed South Africa's 'xenophobic riots'. In the immediate aftermath of the riots, Jonny Steinberg visited several sites of violence in the greater Johannesburg area, and recorded the testimony of several dozen people who had fled their homes. He also interviewed people who joined the violent mobs, as well as civic and political leaders, and security personnel. This paper argues that the riots bore some of the classic features of a fight for resources driven by a patrimonial understanding of economic distribution. This has significant implications for the future of civil conflict in South Africa.