UJ Institute for the Future of Knowledge

Scapegoating in South Africa

Busting the myths about immigrants
Public officials and politicians routinely blame immigrants for a range of social and economic problems in South Africa. This reinforces negative, xenophobic sentiments among many people. The research and analysis presented in this report tests the validity of these widely held beliefs. It shows that they are largely false and can only have detrimental consequences for South Africa’s economy and people.


The issue of cross-border immigration is often the subject of contentious and emotive debate in the host country. A disturbing trend emerging globally is that governments and right-wing conservative groups tend to blame and scapegoat immigrants for socio-economic problems like crime, disease, unemployment and poverty. The blaming and scapegoating of immigrants as a cause of socio-economic ills is not unique to South Africa.This was the case in the United States of America with former president Donald Trump and especially Mexican immigrants, in Turkey with the Recep Tayyip Erdogan-led Turkish government and Syrian refugees, as well as in England and France. This ‘attitudinal orientation of hostility against non-nationals in a given population’ is defined as xenophobia.

Since democracy in 1994, anti-foreigner sentiment has been growing in South Africa, with more than 936 violent xenophobic incidents recorded. These have resulted in more than 630 deaths, the displacement of 123 700 people and the looting of about 4 850 shops. The most widespread xenophobic attacks, negatively affecting thousands of people and making international headlines, occurred in 2008 and 2015. Unfortunately, the country seems unable to learn important lessons from this violence to prevent it from reoccurring.


The scapegoating of immigrants as a cause of socioeconomic ills is not unique to South Africa, and is part of a disturbing global trend

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