Xenophobic, anti-immigrant sentiment has been mobilised in recent years to make political gains in countries around the world. Scapegoating has proved to be an effective tool in exploiting socio-political, cultural and ethnic divisions, deepening societal fault lines and disrupting democratic processes. These populist agendas have resulted in an escalation of authoritarian, anti-democratic political sentiment, often through ‘strong-man’ styled campaigns.
In 2020, the Centre for Analytics and Behavioural Change detected, exposed and intervened upon a coordinated online network that drove up anti-immigrant sentiment in South Africa. More recently, in the 2022 local elections, South Africa witnessed a push towards smaller parties who exploited anti-immigrant sentiment rhetoric to make gains, often on the basis of the very same mis- and disinformation that proliferates online.
The dangers of anti-immigrant taking centre-stage in South African politics is self-evident:
• It fuels tensions towards immigrants who have been targeted in devastating country-wide violence before;
• it distracts from the real reasons for deepening unemployment, poverty and failing service delivery in the country
• thereby preventing accountability from being directed towards those in power who are responsible,
• and it has done permanent damage to South Africa’s reputation as a beacon of Constitutional democracy on the African continent.