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What happens when foreigners are more successful than South Africans? 

South Africa has been rocked by a renewed outburst of xenophobia as mobs (frequently watched or even abetted by police) looted the contents of small foreign-owned shops. Images of people running from stores carrying whatever they could lay their hands on, including deep-freezers has produced outraged responses from many South Africans who feel deeply shamed by the behaviour of looters.  

Busi Kheswa of the Gauteng Community Safety, writing a letter to The Times (28 January 2015) stated that: “The recent xenophobic attacks stem from a bloated sense of entitlement”.  futurefact 2014 reveals that this may arise from the finding that 65% of South Africans (68% of black South Africans, and 70% of those in the working class and LSM5-6) believe that people from South Africa are superior to those from other parts of Africa. 65% see themselves as South African but not African and 45% (up to half those in LSM 9-10) are of the view that South Africa is more like America or Europe than Africa.

Myth of superiority

62% of respondents (this represents around 14-million adults) believe that “immigrants are a threat to jobs for South Africans, they should not be allowed into the country”. Those more likely to agree with this are people from LSM 5-6 who classify themselves as working class, who are undoubtedly being left behind in terms of their limited skills and resources. They feel that as South Africans they are superior to these foreigners, that they deserve more and hence doubly resent it when outsiders come into their areas and succeed. Their response is to blame, to feel that this success is gained unfairly, that local spaza owners cannot compete in terms of price and service. Link their sense of superiority to their belief that we shouldn’t be allowing foreigners into South Africa and the likelihood is that xenophobic attacks will continue.

 futurefact has been surveying the attitudes and beliefs of South Africans since 1998. The findings presented above are from the futurefact survey conducted in late 2014, based on a probability sample of 3,048 adults aged 18 years and over, living in communities of more than 500 people throughout South Africa and representing 22,8 million adults. If you would like to find out more about futurefact and its extensive attitudinal databases please contact Jos Kuper 082 904 9939 or check out www. futurefact.co.za