Regionalizing Xenophobia? Citizen Attitudes to Immigration and Refugee Policy in Southern Africa

The negative attitudes of South Africans towards non-citizens, migrants and refugees have been documented in several recent studies. Xenophobia has been officially recognized as a major problem by the state and steps have been taken by government and the South African Human Rights Commission to “roll back xenophobia.” Since anti-immigrant intolerance is a global phenomenon, should South Africans be singled out in this regard? This paper seeks to contextualize the South African situation by comparing the attitudes of South Africans with citizens from several other countries in the SADC; namely, Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland and Zimbabwe. In practical policy terms, xenophobia undermines social cohesion, peaceful co-existence, good governance and human rights observance. In addition, SADC is a region composed of 14 states committed to greater integration and cooperation. To encourage or allow citizens of one member state to think and act in xenophobic ways about citizens of another, is ultimately extremely destructive of regional cooperation and harmony. This study therefore aims to show (for the states studied) which are the “rogue states” in which citizens have not yet come to terms with a basic requirement of regional cooperation: tolerance and acceptance of people from neighbouring SADC countries. This, in turn, should help identify those governments who have an actual or potential problem on their hands and which therefore need to take the task of “rolling back xenophobia” far more seriously than they do at present. The paper is based on a SAMP Project implemented in 2001-2 called the National Immigration Policy Survey (NIPS). The survey, of a representative sample of urban residents, was implemented simultaneously in 5 SADC states. A comparable data set was extracted from a 1999 SAMP survey in South Africa. The survey was designed to measure citizen knowledge of migration, attitudes towards non-citizens, and immigration and refugee policy preferences.