Sunday, May 25, 2008

No one hates foreigners like we do

And our hostility to immigrants — particularly other Africans — is not confined to the poor.

South Africa is, officially, the most xenophobic nation in the world.

And the country’s wealthy have been exposed as one of the two most hostile groups to immigrants.

Building on a World Values Survey on International Attitudes to Immigration, the Southern African Migration Project (Samp) has found that South Africans held the harshest views on foreigners among 29 nations surveyed before 2002.

More than 20% of South Africans wanted all foreigners barred from entering the country on any grounds, compared with 13% holding this view in Britain, 11% in China, 4% in the US and 4% in Mozambique.

And a new, unpublished Samp survey, conducted 18 months ago , found that this intense xenophobia persists in South Africa — and has grown worse in some cases.

One-third of South Africans “(would) support the government deporting all foreigners living in South Africa, even if they are there legally”, according to the survey of 3600 respondents of both genders and all races and income levels.

Other nasty attitudes exposed include a belief among most South Africans that all HIV-positive foreigners should be deported — and the conviction held by three-quarters of the respondents that the border fence should be electrified.

Responding to the shock findings, political analyst Moeletsi Mbeki, brother of President Thabo Mbeki, blamed the government’s “failure to acknowledge the crisis in Zimbabwe, failure to control the borders, and failure to grant these people refugee status” as the “real reason” for levels of xenophobia and the past month’s violence.

He said: “Sadly, it does not surprise me that we are the worst in the world on this issue — but certainly the violence could have been avoided.”

The Samp data revealed that:

· 66% of South Africans thought a major reason for foreigners to come to the country was “to commit crimes”; one in five believed it was the sole reason. Only 11% felt they came to “have a better life”;

· 62% said people from other African countries “take jobs from South Africans” — although only 17% said they actually knew of somebody who had lost out to a foreigner;

· South Africans have virtually the same negative view of legal immigrants from Nigeria, Angola, Congo and Somalia as they have of illegal aliens;

· 16% said it was “likely” they would round up a group of individuals to force the (foreigner) to leave; 9% said they were likely to take physical action; and 4% said they were “very likely” to do so; and

· Although much greater sympathy was shown towards migrants with refugee status, 53% of South Africans believed all refugees should be housed in camps near the border.

On a 0-to-10 scale, where “10” is “not at all xenophobic”, South Africans scored a hateful 3.9.

The most xenophobic South African groups, both with scores of 3.7, were found to be the poorest, earning R499 or less a month, and the richest - those with a monthly income of more than R20000.

But all South Africans - although slightly more women than men - were hostile to foreigners.

For black South Africans, it’s personal. The 2006 World Values Survey — also not yet published — showed that 21.3% of black South Africans did not want an immigrant living next door, compared with roughly 1% of whites, coloureds and Indians.

Black South Africans were significantly more suspicious of black African migrants than immigrants from Europe or North America.

Analysts said the high levels of xenophobia “do not mean we are bad people”.

Instead, University of Pretoria Professor Hussein Solomon, former immigrants project head for the Institute for Security Studies, said attitudes stemmed from “perhaps the most lopsided regional economics in the world”, in which, per capita, Mozambicans earn 36 times less than South Africans, and Zimbabweans far less than that.

“When the economy turned sour here, it was always going to happen - inevitable, but also predictable, and the government has failed to act to counter it,” said Solomon.

Immigration experts - including Forced Migration Studies director Loren Landau - said other factors had combined with economic imbalances to trigger the attacks, including:

· An 81% food price hike in three years;

· The reaching of the “tipping point” of more than 25% of residents in informal settlements estimated to be illegal migrants ;

· “The Mbeki government’s refusal,” according to Solomon, to respond to the scale of the migration with any national policy, as well as the withholding of police statistics on the involvement of foreigners in crime;

· Widespread corruption at the Department of Home Affairs, which, Mbeki said, had spurred the perception that illegal migrants might be benefiting from RDP houses due to massive ID fraud;

an existing xenophobia – one of the most severe in the world - born of an acute nationalist pride over the “Rainbow Nation” and the fear that poorer African nations wish to plunder a rare African success;

· the sudden down-turn in the global economy – combined, according to Professor Hussein Solomon, with “a lack of understanding among the poorest that the sub prime melt down in the US and wars in the Middle East were largely behind it, leaving foreigners as the logical conclusion for why things have got worse”;

· The failure of the government to heed isolated xenophobic attacks and regular warnings from the SA Human Rights Commission, Idasa and the National Intelligence Agency; and

· “A perpetuation of negative stereotypes of migrants in the South African press” — and from public figures — according to a major report by Queens University, Canada, and Samp, which found that 52% of press reports on migration from 2000 to 2003 included negative references to migrants.

“two-thirds would support the deportation of those foreigners not contributing to the South African economy”;

· South Africans have virtually the same view of legal immigrants from Nigeria, Angola, Congo and Somalia as they have of illegal aliens – all, with a positive view of 10% or less.

· “16% said it was likely they would round up a group of individuals to force the (foreigner) to leave . . . 9% said they were likely to take (physical action), with 4% saying they were very likely to do so;

· One in five South Africans believed crime was the primary reason foreigners came into the country; and another 8% said they came to “deal in drugs”. Only 11,8% said they came primarily to “have a better life”; and

· “Greater than half of all respondents also agreed that refugees should be forced to live in special camps near the border during their stay in South Africa.”

South Africans were found to be generally tolerant of immigrants from Lesotho, Botswana and the west.

But “positive views” of Zimbabweans, at just 12%, and Mozambicans, 14% and Ghanaians, at 11%, contrasted sharply with the 44% registered for Batswana.

Analysts said the good news for South Africans was that high levels of xenophobia, in general, “does not mean we are bad people”.

Instead, it stems from the grossly and uniquely lopsided economics of the region, in which, per capita, Mozambicans earn 36 times less than South Africans, and Zimbabweans far less than that.

Batswana and Namibians earn close to the average South African wage, and showed levels of xenophobia almost as high.

Professor Hussein Solomon, former immigrants project head for the Institute for Security Studies, said the imbalance was greater even than that of some of the world’s most unequal neighbours – such as that between Mexico and the US, or Burma and Thailand.

“It’s important to realise that, without intervention from government, this was inevitable,” said Solomon. “In the 1990s, people from poorer neighbouring countries flocked into the Ivory Coast, which had a booming economy and political stability. Locals and immigrants got along fine. Then the price of coffee plummeted and the economy went into a downturn – and suddenly immigrants were being harassed and chased out. So when the economy turned sour here, it was always going to happen – inevitable, but also predictable, and the government has failed to act to counter it.”

However, the report showed South African xenophobia to be a unique brand; distinct from that in Botswana.

When citizens of SADC countries were asked why they did not want foreigners, more than a third of South Africans cited “harm the economy” as the main reason, compared with one-in-five for almost all other Southern African nations.

The questionnaire also included an apparently arbitrary category – “It’s our country – keep out!”, which recorded nominal scores of 3 and 4% for most SADC countries.

However, researchers were astonished to find that this was the most important factor for over 15% of South Africans – higher, even, than concerns about foreigners importing crime.

Worse, the report suggested that there was the “possibility that many citizens may never view foreign-born migrants as citizens”. That’s because an astonishing 65% of South Africans ignored concepts of asylum and naturalised citizenship to say it was “very important” to be born in the country in order to be considered “a true South African”.

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