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Claim that 13 million international migrants live in SA wildly incorrect

This article is more than 7 years old

Xenophobic violence is again uprooting foreigners in South Africa.

Foreign-born migrants’ homes and shops have been set on fire and looted in Pretoria West in recent days. A “march against illegal immigrants” is planned for Friday in the city of Tshwane.

The founder of a new political party in South Africa, Mario Khumalo, told Times LIVE that there are too many foreign nationals in the country. The article added that “according to his research‚ there were more than 13 million foreign nationals living in South Africa”.

Usually, we save the verdict for the end of our reports. But we’re going to spell it out early: this claim is wildly incorrect.

Party founder says it's 'just an estimate'

Khumalo didn’t want to be pinned down to a specific number when we spoke to him.

He told Africa Check the figure of 13 million foreign nationals he provided to TimesLIVE “is not even accurate. It is just an estimate.”

“If we had to talk about the correct number, I am nowhere close to that. The statistics people in the country are not revealing the correct numbers because it is embarrassing. It’s shocking,” the founder of the South African First party claimed.

Khumalo told Africa Check that he did not have any background, training or experience in demography or statistics.

But then how did he reach this very specific estimate?

“You see the numbers… it’s a lot of numbers,” he told us. “One-third of Malawians are living in the country, okay. If you watch[ed] Carte Blanche they will attest to what I am saying. In fact, they did last week, if not two weeks back.”

The investigative television programme’s claim - that “one-third of Malawians” live in South Africa - was debunked by Africa Check last month.

Official numbers from South Africa’s statistics agency and the United Nations - that are not without problems - estimate the numbers of Malawians in the country at under 100,000. This is less than 1% of Malawi's population - a world away from Carte Blanche’s claim that it is 33%.

Official estimates under 3.2 million

Khumalo’s figure “doesn’t make sense in terms of the latest available data”, University of Cape Town demographer Professor Tom Moultrie told Africa Check.

South Africa’s 2011 Census estimated that 2.2 million people living in South Africa were born outside the country. Last year, the country’s 2016 Community Survey estimated that the figure had dropped to 1.6 million. This is a substantial decline and South Africa’s national statistics agency, Statistics South Africa, has indicated that they would be investigating the matter.

Figures from the United Nations also debunk Khumalo’s claim, although their estimate is higher than South Africa’s official estimates. The international organisation estimated that there were 3,142,511 international migrants living in South Africa in 2015.

Conclusion: Party founder’s number is way off

South Africa’s statistics agency and United Nations’ estimates are significantly lower than the “estimate” cited by Khumalo.

Khumalo was unable to substantiate his claim or provide any evidence to support it. The one statistic he did cite turned out to be a claim by investigative television programme Carte Blanche, which Africa Check has recently debunked. This is an unfortunate example of how one, seemingly small, untruth can become the basis of much larger mistruths.

Chief director for demography at Statistics SA, Diego Iturralde, has previously advised caution when estimating migrant population sizes: “Migration is at the best of times a complex thing to measure, and I would advise the public at large to desist from making headline-grabbing claims without substantiating it with data that is robust, credible and has passed the scientific test for rigour.”

When it comes to claims about migration in South Africa, spreading false numbers could cost someone their livelihood - or even their life.

Additional reporting by Jacquiline Chapoloko & Gopolang Makou

Edited by Anim van Wyk


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