South Africa: Xenophobic Narratives Surge Ahead of South Africa's Elections

The Electoral Commission of South Africa's campaign theme for the 2024 National and Provincial elections.
15 May 2024

As South Africa's general elections on May 29th draw near, anti-immigrant rhetoric is intensifying across social media platforms, according to a new report from the Centre for Analytics and Behavioural Change (CABC).

The report's first monthly analysis of online conversations about immigrants found over 311,000 mentions from more than 61,000 authors in April 2024. Key narratives criticized politicians' promises to crack down on illegal immigration and condemned alleged crimes purportedly committed by immigrants.

"This speaks to the need to 'be first' on social media, which in reality translates into a large amount of mis- and disinformation proliferating online because these sources don't have adequate journalistic protocols or screening processes in place," the CABC report stated, referring to the amplification of unverified stories from self-proclaimed news sources.

The hashtag #PutSouthAfricansFirst remained among the top three trending tags, featuring "condemnation of crimes committed by immigrants, hateful content adopting a 'proud xenophobe' stance boasting about holding a negative attitude towards immigrants," according to the report.

Various narratives and hashtags have emerged, reflecting diverse social issues and tensions in South Africa.

In the case of #Diepsloot, attention has been drawn to a three-year-old missing child in the area. While some have utilized social media platforms to spread awareness and aid in the search for the child, others have seized the opportunity to scapegoat immigrants, attributing the disappearance to their presence.

Similarly, #Abahambe gained traction earlier this year as Patriotic Alliance leader Gayton McKenzie and associates conducted patrols along the Beitbridge border. This hashtag has resurfaced to highlight the arrest of Zimbabwean migrants allegedly involved in criminal activities, fueling discussions around border security and migrant integration.

The #Zabalaza narrative stems from an alleged altercation between students and bouncers at a Stellenbosch establishment. Online discourse has shifted towards questioning the immigration status of the bouncers, with calls for the prioritization of economic opportunities for South Africans, particularly in sectors like hospitality and security.

Lastly, the controversy surrounding "She is South African" revolves around a segment on SABC's Morning Live featuring host Leanne Manas interviewing Zimbabwean commentator Rutendo Matinyarare. Criticism arose when Manas questioned Matinyarare's choice to remain in South Africa despite purported opportunities in Zimbabwe. This sparked a debate, with some condemning Manas for her remarks, arguing that her status as a white woman in Africa undermines her authority to dictate where black individuals should reside.

"Others defended her, saying she is South African and remarked that as a journalist she asked relevant questions," reports CABC.

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