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Anti-Immigrant Rhetoric Shot Up Online Before South Africa Polls

Despite a lack of substantial evidence to support these claims, their supporters consistently hold foreigners responsible for socio-economic issues such as unemployment and crime.

The online conversation against immigrants in South Africa increased sharply in the lead-up to the recent national elections, reports the Centre for Analytics and Behavioural Change (CABC).

The conversations spiked from over 300,000 mentions in April to more than 450,000 in May.

According to the CABC, the conversation became more intense due to the involvement of parties such as the Patriotic Alliance and ActionSA, who are known for their strong opposition to “illegal immigrants”. Despite a lack of substantial evidence to support these claims, their supporters consistently hold foreigners responsible for socio-economic issues such as unemployment and crime.

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Posts that garnered the most attention were those criticizing the Economic Freedom Fighters’ (EFF) pan-African stance, which was seen as a factor in the party’s reduced performance in the elections. The EFF’s representation fell from 44 seats in 2019 to 39 seats in 2024.

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The Patriotic Alliance (PA) party clinched nine Parliamentary seats and joined the GNU. The MKP, under the leadership of former president Jacob Zuma, secured 58 seats but refused to be part of the GNU, instead joining an opposition alliance.

The alliance of smaller opposition parties is called the Progressive Caucus and aims to coordinate efforts against President Cyril Ramaphosa’s GNU. ActionSA won six seats in the Parliament.

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The CABC report further disclosed that some X (formerly Twitter) accounts, which had previously supported pro-EFF messaging, shifted to the uMkhonto weSizwe Party (MKP) following its launch in December last year.

The hashtag #PutSouthAfricansFirst urged the “reclamation” of the economy, #Abahambe made allegations of crimes committed by “illegal immigrants”, and #OperationDudula advocated for prioritizing South African interests over foreigners. The hashtag was also used to advocate for voters to support policies that prioritize the interests of South Africa over those of “illegal” immigrants.

The #Abahambe hashtag is associated with the Patriotic Alliance and is being used by some individuals to spread allegations that “illegal” immigrants were responsible for various forms of crimes, while “others used it to show their support for the PA, reports CABC.

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