Cape Town - Following a tirade of xenophobic tweets under the hashtag #PutSouthAfricaFirst movement, the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) has released research measuring public attitudes towards migrants and refugees.
According to the HSRC and market research partner Ipsos, there were negative stereotypes about cross-border migrants and refugees in many towns and villages, with people describing these groups as violent and dishonest.
The research was conducted between October and November last year in the four South African provinces where most refugees and cross-border migrants live: Limpopo, KwaZulu-Natal, the Western Cape, and Gauteng. Over the period, face-to-face interviews with over 2000 adults were held at their homes.
The data was weighted to ensure representativity at provincial level, which enabled researchers to form an accurate picture of public attitudes in the sample.
Other findings included that anti-immigrant sentiment was fuelled by the implicit (and explicit) link made in public discourse between migration and social problems or jobs.
It was found that despite it being well documented (by the World Bank and others), many people did not understand that immigration was beneficial to the South African economy.
Dr Steven Gordon from the HSRC's Developmental, Capable and Ethical State research division said: “As South Africa 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 which are likely to increase amidst more competition for jobs and scarce resources.”
The research comes a few weeks after a march, under the banner of #PutSouthAfricaFirst, by a small group of people to the Nigerian embassy in Pretoria. They were protesting against human trafficking and illegal foreign nationals. The Put South Africa First movement has become the first organised group to openly spew hatred against foreign nationals.
SA Human Rights Commission commissioner, Chris Nissen, said: “The research is very concerning because what we have observed during the nationwide lockdown is that many foreigners have lost their jobs and they are fighting for employment. We need to defend our borders. We are looking into the research.”
Advocacy and communications officer at the Scalabrini Centre, Lotte Manicom, said: “This research brings to light some interesting correlations following the Ipsos poll. For example, it found that the more contact people had with ‘non-nationals', the less likely they were to hold anti-migrant sentiments.
“So relevant and sensitive integration programmes and careful communications are vital if this is to be combated effectively. Xenophobia is highly complex and its roots stretch beyond the usual reasons of resources and employment."