Prejudice against immigrants cuts across class and race

The most common solution believed by South Africans to deal with xenophobia is to expel immigrants, research by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) found.

In a survey that was conducted in 2018, researchers from the HSRC asked more than 3 000 people — who were representative of the country’s demographics — about potential solutions to xenophobic hate crime.

It found that 31% of the respondents felt that expelling immigrants would solve the problem of xenophobia. Others (14%) felt that stronger borders or a change in foreigners’ behaviour (12%) would be solutions.

“It would appear that the majority of South Africans hold very negative views about the impact of international migrants on South African society in which a significant share of the public believes that immigrants are a major driver of unemployment and crime,” explains Dr Steven Gordon from HSRC, who presented the research findings.

The survey found that half of the general population blamed the activities of foreigners for the violence against immigrants.

Many attributed the violence to foreigners’ alleged involvement in illegal drug trafficking, perceptions of stealing jobs from South Africans and purportedly nefarious practices of foreign shop and business owners.

Gordon further points out that anti-immigration views cut across the major social and economic classes within South African society.

“When we talk about anti-immigrant sentiment, it’s not a white or a black problem.
It’s not a problem with poor people or rich people, young people and old people.
It’s a problem of very different types of South Africans. You cannot blame single demographics for this issue.”

Gordon explains that one of the main drivers for the recent riots and anti-immigrant behaviours in Tshwane and Johannesburg, is believed to be the lack of law and order within those spaces which allowed for prejudices to be realised violently.

“The underlying cause of this violence is prejudice. But the type of behaviour and the way this prejudice manifests — the violence that we see — is a product of the spatial environment that people are living in.”

Xenophobia, the study shows, is part of a broader problem of prejudice in South African society.

“We tend to find that prejudice towards international migrants are linked to other types of prejudice. People who dislike foreigners also tend to have strong views about other races for example.”

Gordon says that people who hold the most positive views of international migrants are people who have the most experience with international migrants via acquaintances and friendships.

“Internationally, integration programmes have been very successful in integrating large numbers of international migrants, which is often culturally diverse, into society. This is an area where we [South Africa] fall short. They [the government] haven’t had robust, well-resourced and clear integration policies.”

Jacques Coetzee is the Adamela Data Fellow at the Mail & Guardian, a position funded by the Indigo Trust.

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