Contribution By Migrants To The Economy And Society Is Simply Forgotten In Conflict Driven News Reporting


By Bongani Siziba


This week I’m back in the corridors of The Sunday Express – where we pride ourselves in seeing news differently. After I wrote about how Chinese companies are milking the Mutoko regions of Zimbabwe (link below) dry because of contentious mining – this week I’m back to talk about migrants, and migration and especially in South Africa.

Here are some key facts

⦁ South Africa hosts the largest number of immigrants on the African continent. According to official estimates, the country is home to about 2.9 million immigrants, which would account for slightly less than 5 percent of the overall population of 60 million people.

However, this number is thought to be an underestimate because of the presence of large numbers of unauthorised migrants, particularly from neighbouring countries.

⦁ Zimbabwe has the largest number of migrants, accounting for 24 percent of all immigrants in South Africa.

⦁ Zimbabweans and Nigerians are the most targeted foreign nationals as compared to other countries during xenophobic attacks in South Africa.

⦁ Between 2016 and 2021, net immigration was highest among the African (894,400) and Asian (49,900) populations.

⦁ The major source countries for refugees and asylum seekers in 2020 were Ethiopia (the origin for 25 percent), Democratic Republic of the Congo (23 percent), Somalia (11 percent), Bangladesh (10 percent), and Zimbabwe (6 percent)

⦁ According to 2017 statistics approximately 4% of people of working age (15 years to 64 years) across the whole of South Africa were born outside SA.



A brief background

South Africa is home to millions of migrants, both economic and humanitarian, making it the largest host of migrants in Africa. While this an applaudable move, however the country is struggling to resolve immigration challenges that have mushroomed to cause tensions between locals and foreign nationals.

Despite the economic challenges, exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic that has left thousands of South Africans unemployed, to many locals, their frustrations boil down to the influx of immigrants. Immigrants are vulnerable to all forms of human rights abuses.

Societal and institutionalised xenophobia, hate speech, exploitation at the workplace and police brutality are some of the challenges people from other countries endure.

Most of the challenges stem from ‘unbalanced’ or ‘false’ narratives about them by mainstream media and are sometimes fuelled by political rhetoric.

With the rise of vigilante groups in recent years, the notion of belonging, identity, where to work, where to do business for foreigners has been complex.

The animosity between South Africans and foreigners over allegations of foreigners taking locals jobs, has seen a rise in xenophobic undertones and actual violence such as we witness now and then, with the more complex one in 2018.

Primary data analysis from the 2021 round of South African Social Attitudes Survey, conducted by the Human Sciences Research Council, most South Africans regard foreign nationals as a threat.



Many people believe migrants are a major source of unemployment and other social issues

The upsurge of violence is inevitable outcome of the issue of legitimacy and locals claiming foreigners are taking what belongs to them, specifically it has raised uncomfortable questions about the notion of identity within South Africa and the way lines have been drawn between those who are from outside.

Every foreigner has been labelled a criminal in the public eye. With this context, foreigners are seen as a threat and their present has provided an uneasy scapegoat for social and economic ills.

The violence of exclusive notions of belonging, has not taken place in a vacuum, and the ongoing attacks is a sharp focus to show that national identity are complex and very critical in South Africa.

With the ongoing migration issues across the country, definitely we cannot turn a blind eye in addressing them, but there is a need to change the negative narratives by informing the public to allow people from other countries to be integrated into South African society.



Related laws and policies

The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996, protects the rights of all people in South Africa, including non-nationals.

The Immigration Act of 2002 kept an emphasis on boosting skilled labour migration while maintaining a position of prohibiting illegal migration.

The immigration regulation was subsequently updated in 2007, 2011, and the immigration regulation of 2014 and 2022 that take into account the changing nature of immigration in South Africa.

The Refugees Act of 1998 allows asylum seekers to move freely, work, and study in the country during the lengthy adjudication process.

However, partly in response to concerns that the asylum system was being used by people without legitimate fear of persecution in order to secure work status, subsequent amendments to the law in 2008, 2011, and 2017 sought to curtail these rights.



Gaps and challenges

⦁ The government of South Africa is facing challenges in enhancing and harmonising immigration management policies.
⦁ There is inadequate migration management policies and border management processes.

⦁ The Immigration Act still possesses elements of the apartheid era as it focuses on granting access to specific categories of immigrants and closing it off to others. The Act ignores most low-skilled workers from elsewhere in the SADC region, who have a very slim chance of getting documentation.

⦁ There is a need for the media to report the economic contributions by foreigners to change the narrative.

⦁ The Media should look at immigration and anti-foreign sentiments from all angles, reporting on complex issues of immigration, looking beyond sensationalising headlines and asking hard questions.



The role of media

The issue of media representation of immigrants is pertinent today, given the current anti-immigrant sentiment in South Africa. Negative attitudes towards foreigners are common in the media and the media tends to describe immigrants as illegal, undocumented or a dangerous threat to the locals.

In recent years, the media has been framing the agenda on foreign nationals and linking them with criminal behaviour. Their focus has been particularly on Zimbabwe nationals whom they claim to dominate in criminal behaviour.

This is evidenced by the Rosettenville Shooting where the headlines from the mainstream media focused on how many Zimbabweans, particularly were there on the scene but failed to provide the numbers for South Africans.

Without a doubt, the media has played a role in fuelling anti-immigrant action.

Media organisations, both local and international such as South African National Editors Forum, and Internews amongst others have been playing an important role in training journalists on conflict-sensitive reporting.





South Africa is one of the most democratic countries in Africa with sophisticated laws and policies to protect immigrants.

However, with a high number of foreign nations both legal and illegal, immigration flow management has become one of the challenges that requires joint efforts to address it.

Foreigners are brutalised on a daily basis and living fear given the rise of anti-immigrant groups across the country.

The South African media has been dominated by negative narratives about foreign nationals, their contribution to the economy and the society at large is simply forgotten.

Building positive narratives is one step towards the protection of human rights, building social cohesion and the economy at large.


[1] Relief Web. 2021. South Africa reckons with its status as a top immigration destination, apartheid history, and economic challenges. Available Online.
[2] United Nations data. 2020
[3] Vanguard. 2019. Xenophobic attacks of Nigerians in South Africa. Available Online.
[4] Stats SA
[5] IBID






See Also


Distressed Villagers Accuse Govt Of Human Rights Violations As Chinese Continue Mining Black Granite




Siziba is a Photo-Journalist based in Johannesburg. This reporting was supported by Internews

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