Deadly Denial: Xenophobia Governance and the Global Compact for Migration in South Africa

The character, drivers, impacts and policy responses to xenophobia have been topics of recurrent research interest in recent decades, most of it focused on negative attitudes towards and the discriminatory treatment of migrants in Europe and North America. Much less attention has been paid to xenophobia in the migrant-receiving countries and regions of the Global South. This mirrors a broader research and international policy lack of interest in South-South migration and its role in the development of countries of origin and destination. At the same time, evidence of intensifying xenophobic sentiment in the South is accumulating in disparate settings including in India, Singapore, the Gulf, Latin America and the Caribbean, and several West African and Southern African countries. In the Global South, governance responses to anti-immigrant sentiment and action take three main forms: indifference, intensification and (occasionally) mitigation. In South Africa, policy on international migration suggests a fourth possibility: xenophobia denialism, displacement of responsibility onto shadowy criminals and blaming migrants for their own victimization. Here government focuses more on the perceived negative impacts of migration than any potential development benefits. As a result, negativity pervades policy discourse about migrants and their impact on the country. Migrants themselves have encountered an extremely hostile environment in which their constitutional and legal rights are abrogated, their ability to access basic services and resources is constrained, and their very presence in the country is excoriated by the state and the citizenry. Xenophobic attitudes are deeply entrenched in South Africa and xenophobic attacks have become common. This report first examines the research evidence from the last 20 years to support this conclusion and to show what government attempts to explain away through denial and displacement.