Why we hate: New research into SA's anti-immigrant attitude

16 October 2020 - 19:25
Supporters of the Action for Change grouping marched through Pretoria to the Nigerian embassy last month to protest against the alleged involvement of foreign nationals in SA's high levels of crime. According to a recent study, negative stereotypes about cross-border migrants and refugees are common in many towns and villages in SA with people describing these groups as 'violent' and 'dishonest'.
Supporters of the Action for Change grouping marched through Pretoria to the Nigerian embassy last month to protest against the alleged involvement of foreign nationals in SA's high levels of crime. According to a recent study, negative stereotypes about cross-border migrants and refugees are common in many towns and villages in SA with people describing these groups as 'violent' and 'dishonest'.
Image: Shonisani Tshikalange/TimesLIVE

Violent and dishonest. A survey on anti-immigrant sentiment found this to be a common view among South Africans regarding cross-border immigrants and refugees.

The survey was released on Friday by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), and global market and opinion research partner IPSOS. The purpose was to understand how refugees, asylum seekers and cross-border migrants are viewed in the country.

The findings were bleak, with only a fifth of the surveyed population found to be welcoming to migrants, 26% were strongly opposed to migrants and the remainder, 54%,  had somewhat mixed feelings on refugees, asylum seekers and cross-border migrants.

The survey found that South Africans who hold anti-immigrant sentiments get most of their information about immigration from the broadcast media, particularly from radio. Most people trusted the media’s reporting on migration-related matters but internet sources — including social media — were found to be distrusted sources of information.

The survey was conducted in October and November last year in the four provinces where most refugees and cross-border migrants live: Limpopo, KwaZulu-Natal, the Western Cape, and Gauteng. It was conducted face-to-face at the homes of over 2,004 participants over the age of 18.

Dr Steven Gordon from the HSRC’s developmental, capable and ethical state research division said: “As SA recovers from the economic challenges which have been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, it is increasingly important to implement initiatives that address anti-immigrant sentiments, behaviours, attitudes and perceptions which are likely to increase amid more competition for jobs and scarce resources.”

According to the HRSC, the survey is crucial to assist the government and civil society to develop and implement, among other initiatives, effective public communication campaigns.

“This survey aimed to fill a gap in the lack of data which is often a deterrent to effective and targeted initiatives aimed at combating anti-immigrant sentiments. This is in line with the National Action Plan (NAP) to combat racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.”

The action plan was set out in March last year.

According the SA Human Rights Commission, SA is a signatory to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action adopted by the UN in 2001.

The SAHRC said that during the worst recent xenophobic attacks in 2015/16 it received 505 race-related complaints.

Other findings of the latest survey were that:

— Anti-immigrant sentiment was fuelled by the implicit and explicit link made, in public discourse, between migration and social problems or jobs;

— Many still did not understand that immigration was economically beneficial for the SA economy;

— The more contact citizens had with migrants or refugees, the less likely they are to hold xenophobic sentiments; and

— Around two-fifths of the population agreed that, according to their faith, they should help provide for the needs of those entering SA as foreigners. 25% however disagreed with this.

The survey also came up with recommendations to amend public opinion on migration which included using media and prominent or influential people in campaigns to help change these perceptions.  

“Religious leaders need to be more strongly involved in campaigns and initiatives to reshape the views, attitudes and beliefs on foreign nationals in SA.”

It suggested that integration policies be implemented urgently to ensure full participation by non-citizens in the social, civic and economic life of SA society.

This could include:

  • Induction programmes (language and cultural classes);
  • Blended job creation programmes (that harness the economic benefits of migration and help stimulate the local economy, for SA citizens, too) and pathways to employment;
  • Improved access to documentation for non-citizens, so that they are able to integrate, be better protected, less vulnerable, and can also formalise their contributions to SA.

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