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AD72: Immigration remains a challenge for South Africa’s government and citizens

9 Feb 2016

Last year’s resurgence of attacks on foreigners in South Africa gave renewed urgency to long-standing questions about the security of foreign nationals, the prevalence of xenophobic attitudes, and the government’s commitment to dealing effectively with immigration issues.
Deadly and widespread attacks on foreigners in April and October 2015 echoed well-publicized violence in the 1990s and early 2000s that led some observers to see xenophobia both as endemic to South Africa and as worsening since the country’s democratic transition (Neocosmos, 2010; Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, 2008).

New findings from the 2015 Afrobarometer survey suggest there has been little change in South Africans’ unwelcoming attitudes toward foreigners. The Rainbow Nation remains divided: Four in 10 citizens (42%) say that “foreigners should not be allowed to live in South Africa because they take jobs and benefits away from South Africans,” whilst the same proportion disagree. Attitudes toward political asylum seekers are similarly divided. And about three in 10 citizens say they would dislike having a foreigner as a neighbour (32%), whilst a similar proportion (28%) say they would like it and 40% say they would not care.

Whilst South Africans are somewhat more welcoming to exceptionally skilled migrants and foreign investors, their stated attitudes make the country one of the most intolerant, with respect to foreign immigrants, among African countries surveyed by Afrobarometer. Though divided in their attitudes toward foreigners, citizens are largely united in disapproving of the government’s efforts to address immigration challenges.

Figure: Attitudes regarding immigration | South Africa | 2011-2015