Xenophobia and Migration: Adjust our urban policies towards safer cities for all – Blog
Downtown Johannesburg increasingly sounds like central London. Polish, Pakistani, Japanese and South Africans, among others, conversing in their various home languages is now organic to the city of London. Similarly, in Johannesburg Somali, Urdu, Shona, Amharic and Chichewa interweave beautifully with local languages.
It is sonically pleasing and so embedded in the fabric of the city that it is difficult to imagine a Joburg devoid of these sights and sounds. The same can be said for other major South African cities, be it Tshwane or eThekwini. In the age of migration the convergence of cultures is one of the signsof a truly global city.
This is not to suggest that xenophobic sentiments are exclusive to this demographic. However, patterns of where violent reactions are most likely to occur point to extreme economic deprivation and social exclusion as being major factors driving perpetrators to act on their prejudices.
Referring to what is termed the age of migration, the World Migration Report by the International Organisation of Migration debunks the myth of migration as just a South-to-North phenomenon. Since 1990, most countries in the world have witnessed an increase in the number of migrants.
However, since 2000, the number of migrants in the global South has been growing more rapidly than in the North. Moreover, in terms of development, major cities of the global south are positioning themselves to compete in a rapidly globalising world.
This suggests that global migration will intensify rather than reverse. It is pivotal for cities to manage well the continued influx of migrants. Cities need to have strategies in place that minimise the challenges and maximise benefits that can be drawn from the more fluid movement of persons, goods and services.
Against this backdrop, xenophobia poses a direct risk to our cities' growth and development aspirations. It exposes the failure of policies and plans to resonate with the urban poor.
For this reason, the business case against xenophobia, citing the success of South African businesses on the continent, is unconvincing to South Africans neither able to meet their own basic needs nor to directly access essential services like water and energy; which South Africa depends on parts of the African continent for. The narrative’s failure to resonate compounds the need to “manage migration for the political and socio-economic benefit” of South African cities.
In a 2013 report, the African Centre for Migration and Society called for immigration policies that are “based on objective research and full consultation with the relevant stakeholders", as opposed to “personal beliefs or anecdotes that inform commonly-held perceptions about immigration and immigrants.”
Recognising the various dimensions of creating safer cities, coupled with its emphasis on research, the USRG is well placed to advocate for domestic policies that meet these criteria and provide a framework for cities to better deal with the pressures of migration, particularly where community stability is threatened.
There is a role for, inter alia, planners, social development, and safety and security practitioners in thinking about how best to include migrant communities in social crime prevention strategies. This requires sensitivity to the psycho-social wellbeing of foreigners who often find themselves in South African cities with an unclear immigration status and suffering from traumatic experiences in their home countries.
As a result, it is important for the approach to urban vulnerabilities to encompass the aspect of humanitarian immigrants. Furthermore, preventive interventions should be aimed at the social and economic drivers of community instability.
South African cities have the potential and incentive to drive a progressive agenda around migration. Recent events demonstrate that it is a key consideration in thinking about the growth, stability and future of cities. Most importantly, it is a critical part of making South African cities safe for all who live in them.
Siphelele Ngobese works for the South African Cities Network (SACN). She is the coordinator of the Urban Safety Reference Group.
Block, D., Multilingual Identities in a Global City: London Stories. Palgrave Macmillan, London, 2005
 International Organization for Migration (IOM), World Migration Report, 2013, pp25
 United Nations, Population Facts: The Number of International Migrants Worldwide Reaches 232 Million, Dept. of Economic and Social Affairs (Population Division), No.2013/2, September 2013
 Op. Cit. IOM
 REPORT: African Centre for Migration and Society (ACMS) & Lawyers for Human Rights, Policy Shifts in the South African Asylum System: Evidence and Implications, 2013