Thursday, 06 October
Immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than South Africans, the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) has found in a report.
The new report explored the claims fuelling anti-foreigner sentiment, which has seen immigrants blamed for a range of social and economic problems in South Africa and reinforces xenophobic sentiment.
The ISS report found that the immigrant population is much smaller than commonly believed and does not place a burden on government services such as healthcare and education. In addition, the report found that instead of taking jobs from South Africans, as is widely believed, immigrants are more likely to create jobs.
“South African socio-economic problems are not caused by immigrants, but by poor governance and corruption. Many politicians, public officials, and other high-profile people regularly make anti-immigrant statements that fuel xenophobia. The number of migrants in South Africa is grossly exaggerated,” the ISS report found.
Since 1994, anti-foreigner sentiment has been growing in South Africa, and 936 violent xenophobic incidents have been recorded, according to the report. The attacks killed 630 people, displaced 123 000, and saw 4 800 shops looted.
The report read:
“In 2020, various community-based groups started to mobilise around an anti-immigrant agenda. These include Operation Dudula, which started in Soweto and has since opened branches across the country, and the unrelated Dudula Movement, based in the Johannesburg township of Alexandra.”
Both groups blame immigrants for a range of socio-economic challenges, including high levels of crime and unemployment.
Limpopo Health MEC Phophi Ramathuba recently sparked a storm of controversy after the emergence of a video showing her telling a woman that migrants from Zimbabwe were a “huge strain” on the provincial healthcare system.
Similar sentiments were expressed by Patriotic Alliance leader Gayton McKenzie.
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The South African Social Attitudes Survey (SASAS) for 2021 found that almost half of the population believed there were between 17 and 40 million immigrants in the country.
However, there were less than four million immigrants in the country, which made up 6.5% of the population. This percentage was in line with international norms.
The report found that this population group also positively contributed to the country. They had a positive impact on the government’s fiscus because they generally paid income and value-added taxes, the report found, and contributed about 9% to the GDP.
In addition, there was no evidence to suggest that immigrants took employment opportunities away from South African workers.
“Rather, there is evidence that the opposite is true – that immigrants often create employment for South Africans,” the report found.
Immigrants were generally more likely to be self-employed, and each immigrant generated around two jobs for locals, according to a World Bank study. Immigrants also make up only 5% of the labour market, according to Statistics South Africa data. Around a third of immigrants were employed in the informal sector.
Another common rhetoric around immigrants is that they contribute to crime in South Africa. However, the report found that immigrants were less likely to commit crimes than South Africans.
According to the Human Sciences Research Council’s (HSRC) SASAS data, two-thirds of South Africans believed that immigrants increased crime.
“There is no statistical relationship between international migration in South Africa and crime. There is also no evidence that most immigrants commit crimes or are responsible for most crimes in the country,” the report found.
READ | Ramathuba’s rant against immigrant patient could have been handled ‘in another way’ – Ramaphosa
Based on data provided by the Department of Justice and Correctional Services, immigrants made up only 8.5% of convicted cases in 2019, and 7% in 2020.
Only about 2% of inmates incarcerated per year are undocumented foreigners. The report found that immigrants were less likely than South Africans to be convicted of serious crimes such as murder and rape, yet they were disproportionately targeted in police operations and caught for minor crimes such as drug possession or use.
The report also tackled the assertions that immigrants were a burden on government services.
The report found:
It also found that although the blame for overpopulated and overwhelmed schools was incorrectly placed on immigrant children, it should rather be assigned to “the poorly managed education department”.
“While politicians often publicly denounce and condemn violence against immigrants and prefer to link it to criminality, not xenophobia, there are no effective mechanisms in place to address it.
“This lack of political will to address the scourge is most likely because it is easier to blame others for governance failures,” the report said.
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