Pretoria News , 16 June 2008

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Last month's spate of xenophobic attacks, in which children often played an active role, shouldn't have come as a surprise. A new Wits University study has found South African children are intolerant of social groups they don't belong to. Professor Philip Frankel selected 20 schools in Gauteng, including schools directly affected by xenophobic violence, schools that service areas affected by the attacks and schools that weren't affected in any way. The study assessed the attitudes of children aged 12 to 19. "We wanted to see what the attitude was towards people that are not 'your people'. And whether this differs across national, cultural, religious or racial groups." The findings so far aren't encouraging. "I am concerned about South Africa," Frankel said. "We have too many deeply entrenched differences. "The most serious has been the xenophobic violence, which resulted in the displacement of tens of thousands of people. That is a small proportion compared to the number of foreigners in the country." Frankel said although there was no reliable data on how many foreigners there were in the country, political scientists suspected it could be as high as 5 million. Frankel said he believed the only way to deal with intolerance was through children because they were the only group outside the labour market; they had highly impressionable minds that were able to accept new ideas; and school environments were small and easily manageable to implement programmes for change. Frankel said while the study wasn't completed yet, he anticipated that diversified schools, mainly in the inner cities, would be the least xenophobic because pupils came into contact with people from all cultures. "Kids have very strong opinions about who belongs and who doesn't. They tend to cling together. But the groups that are disliked will depend on who you're speaking to." The one interesting finding, said Frankel, was that 90 percent of children believed South Africa was becoming a worse place to live in. "There are very few good comments from children; most of them are negative," said Frankel. Frankel found that there were very few effective diversity programmes aimed at children. Through his study he aims to design a programme for schools that will cater for all age groups. "The only problem is that schools are so different, so we will need to customise a programme for every school," he said.