Soft Targets: Xenophobia, Public Violence and Changing Attitudes to Migrants in South Africa after May 2008

"The post-apartheid history of antipathy towards migrants and refugees is pronounced and well documented. A study by SAMP in 2006 of citizens’ attitudes to migrants reached the gloomy conclusion that South Africa continued to be a society in which xenophobia remained well entrenched. The research allows us to gauge public sentiments at a particular point in time, identify possible areas of concern in which intervention may be necessary and indicate changes in these views. The main objective of this survey was to understand shifts in views and perceptions of migration, migrants and refugees since 2006. The 2010 SAMP survey of South African attitudes to migrants and refugees reaches two major conclusions, one encouraging, the other deeply discouraging. First, in comparison with attitudes in 2006 it is clear that across a wide range of attitudinal questions and variables, levels of ignorance, intolerance and hostility in South Africa were not as intense in 2010 as they were in 2006. This is a very positive sign. The second general conclusion from the Survey is more depressing. Despite the positive shifts, South Africans remain amongst the most anti-foreign and xenophobic populations in the world. Across a wide range of variables, they still display high levels of ignorance, intolerance and hostility. They feel threatened by the presence of migrants and refugees, want to deny them various basic rights and prefer draconian policy options such as electrifying all borders, requiring migrants to carry identity documents with them at all times and (in the case of a third) forcing refugees to live in border camps."