Cape Times, 25 August 2008

PLEASE NOTE: Readers wishing to reproduce and reference this article
should contact the editors of the Cape Times for permission

A new investigation by the Southern African Migration Project (SAMP) found high levels of intolerance and hostility towards foreigners by South Africans were the main reason for the wave of xenophobic violence that took place in May. More than 60 people, mainly migrants, were killed during attacks on foreigners throughout the country, which led to the arrest of 1 384 suspects. The assaults on foreign communities left tens of thousands of migrants without homes following the destruction of their property. The report said the attacks were initially attributed to South Africa's alienating apartheid past, the daily struggle for existence and the government's failure to redistribute the fruits of the post-apartheid economic boom to the poor. However, the new research blames the prejudices of South Africans against outsiders. A total of 3 600 people over the age of 18 across all nine provinces took part in the survey that exposed the rise in intolerance since a similar analysis in 1999. The study found that 76% of those surveyed want the country's borders electrified while 65% want all refugees kept in border camps. For half of those surveyed, enclosing outsiders wasn't enough, and they preferred a policy of deportation. The report suggests that "South Africans continue to consider foreign nationals a threat to the social and economic well-being of their country". Two-thirds argued that migrants were associated with crime and used up scarce resources, while just under a half felt outsiders brought disease. Apart from the rising levels of intolerance, the investigation revealed that South African citizens want stricter restrictions on immigration. The report states "the proportion of those wanting a total ban on immigration increased from 25% in 1999 to 35% in 2006. And 84% feel that South Africa is allowing too many foreign nationals into the country". Although the report concluded that since 1999 xenophobia among citizens has soared alarmingly there have been some changes for the better. "In 2006, there was a drop in the proportion of South Africans who would deny basic rights to refugees and temporary workers and visitors." But this glimmer of hope did little to eradicate the negativity of the rest of SAMP's findings. The report concludes: "The tragic events of May 2008 should act as a major wake-up call to all South Africans. "They cannot rest on their laurels. All past and future perpetrators of xenophobic violence should be vigorously prosecuted. What is urgently required is action, not only to ensure that the disgrace is not repeated, but that South Africans can hold up their heads as they prepare to host a distinctly uneasy world in 2010."