The economics of ‘Afrophobia’ in South Africa

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This article first appeared in my weekly column with the Business Daily on April 26, 2015

Over the past few weeks, Africans have been victims of what can only be termed brutal and bestial attacks at the hand of some black South Africans. The affected were black Africans making many on the continent refer to the phenomenon as ‘Afrophobia’ rather than xenophobia.

Interestingly, economics is at the heart of the attacks; some black South Africans are of the view that many ‘Africans’ have moved into their country and are stealing their jobs.Africans is put in inverted commas because, as anyone who has travelled to or lived in South Africa can attest, South Africans often talk about ‘going to Africa’ as though they are not a part of the continent.


The argument that Africans are ‘stealing jobs’ from South Africans is erroneous. A closer look at figures reveals that in 2012, just four per cent of the working population aged between 15 and 64 in South Africa were international migrants. However, the prominence of black Africans in this international immigrant population is pronounced with 79 per cent coming from the continent. Thus African immigrants in South Africa are the most visible immigrant group and are thus an easy target. From an economic point of view, African immigrants are a drop in the ocean and do not wield any influence that can be felt in macroeconomic statistics such as unemployment.

However, it is easy to pick on black people in a country that has a history of picking on blacks. The only difference here is that it is blacks, brutalising others blacks. Understandably Africans are beyond livid asking how black South Africans, after years of anti-apartheid solidarity, funding, technical and military support from Africa, can brutalise Africans so callously. Indeed, as one commentator stated: ‘‘If black South Africans do not want to hear about any moral debt, maybe it is time to agree with them, give them the bill and ask for economic reparations.’’

Some Africans have responded to the attacks by demanding economic action calling on Africans to boycott all products and services originating from South Africa. Some South Africans retort by thumping their chests saying: ‘‘Do what you want, we have been through worse’.’


Whether that response irks you or not, it must be said that even if Africa were to boycott products and services from South Africa such action is unlikely to make much of a dent in terms of South Africa’s export profile. As it stands, of the countries that make the top 20 export destinations for South African products, only four are from Africa. Over 80 per cent of South African exports end up in countries out of Africa. Clearly, the biggest fault-line emerging in all this is a sense of separation between South Africa and the rest of Africa.

Bear in mind that South Africa has been accused of pseudo-imperialistic posturing in Africa particularly in economic engagement, patronage and down-talking the continent, just like the rest of the world. So this fury from Africans seems rooted in a deeper, longer-held bile for South Africa.

New map of africa


It will take a long time for Africans to heal from this and as a result, South Africa may now be Africa’s pariah state. Again!

Ms Were is development economist. E-mail:; twitter: @anzetse