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16 October 2020

HSRC and IPSOS look at drivers of ant-immigrant sentiment in South Africa

Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC)
Press Release

Pretoria, Friday 16 October 2020 – The Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), together with market research partner, IPSOS, has looked at anti-immigrant sentiment in South Africa. This survey was conducted with a view to understanding how refugees, asylum-seekers and cross-border migrants are viewed in the country.

All relevant documents are available for download below:

The survey is crucial to assisting government and civil society to develop and implement amongst others, effective public communication campaigns and other initiatives, which can reshape attitudes, behaviours and perceptions, towards foreign nationals. Importantly, this survey aimed to fill an gap in the lack of data which is often a deterrent to effective and targeted initiatives aimed at combatting anti-immigrant sentiments. This is in line with the National Action Plan to Combat Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance.

Reflecting upon the significance of the survey and the implications for South Africa, Dr Steven Gordon from the HSRC’s Developmental, Capable and Ethical State (DCES) research division said, “As South Africa recovers from the economic challenges which have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is increasingly important to implement initiatives that address anti-immigrant sentiments, behaviours, attitudes and perceptions which are likely to increase amidst more competition for jobs and scarce resources.”

The methodology, findings and recommendations resulting from the survey are detailed hereunder.


The survey was conducted between October – November 2019 in the four South African provinces where most refugees and cross-border migrants live: Limpopo, KwaZulu-Natal, Western Cape, and Gauteng. Over the period 2004 adults over the age of 18 participated in face-to-face at the respondent’s home. The data was weighted to ensure representativity at the provincial level which enabled an accurate picture of public attitudes in the sample population.


· Negative stereotypes about cross-border migrants and refugees are common in many towns and villages with people describing these groups as violent and dishonest.

· Anti-immigrant sentiment is fuelled by the implicit (and explicit) link that is made, in public discourse, between migration and social problems or jobs.

· Despite its well-documented nature (by the World Bank and others), many people do not understand that immigration is economically beneficial for the South African economy.

· The more contact people have with a migrants or refugees, the less likely they are to hold xenophobic sentiments.

· About two-fifths of the population agreed that, according to their faith, they should help provide for the needs of those entering South Africa as foreigners. Twenty-five percent (25%) disagreed with this.

· South Africans who hold anti-immigrant sentiments get most of their information about immigration from the broadcast media, particularly the medium of radio. Most trusted the media’s reporting on migration related matters.

· Notwithstanding concerns about the role of social media in promoting hate speech, internet sources (including Twitter and Facebook) were not the most trusted source of information about immigration.


· The media is a highly influential platform which can help change public opinion on migration.

· A communication campaign requires cooperation from prominent leaders who have the trust of South Africans, and prominent South African celebrities.

· Religious institutions to take a stand as these organisations can have a significant effect on how the anti-immigrant people see refugees and asylum-seekers. Religious leaders need to be more strongly involved in campaigns and initiatives to reshape the views, attitudes and beliefs on foreign nationals in South Africa.

· Integration policies to be urgently implemented to ensure full participation by non-citizens in the social, civic and economic life of a South African society. This could include:

· Induction programmes (language and cultural classes)

· Blended job creation programmes (that harness the economic benefits of migration and help stimulate the local economy, for South African citizens, too) and pathways to employment

· Improved access to documentation for non-citizens, so that they are able to integrate, be better protected, less vulnerable, and can also formalise their contributions to South Africa.

1. Detailed briefs are attached herewith.

2. The data is unpacked in the attached infographics.

About the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC)

The HSRC was established in 1968 as South Africa’s statutory research agency and has grown to become the largest dedicated research institute in the social sciences and humanities on the African continent, doing cutting-edge public research in areas that are crucial to development.

Our mandate is to inform the effective formulation and monitoring of government policy; to evaluate policy implementation; to stimulate public debate through the effective dissemination of research-based data and fact-based research results; to foster research collaboration; and to help build research capacity and infrastructure for the human sciences.

The Council conducts large-scale, policy-relevant, social-scientific research for public sector users, non-governmental organizations and international development agencies. Research activities and structures are closely aligned with South Africa’s national development priorities.

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