Back to Africa Check

Still no data showing 800,000 Nigerians live in South Africa

This article is more than 4 years old

New reports of hostility and violence targeting migrants have prompted the National Association of Nigerian Students to protest xenophobia in South Africa.  

In July, the group issued a statement condemning the “unmindful killings of Nigerians residing in and or visiting South Africa.” And in August, it led protests at South African chain stores in Ogun state, Nigeria.

South Africa’s international relations minister Naledi Pandor has denied the killings. “The protests are said to be in response to alleged killings of Nigerians by South Africans,” she was quoted as saying. “As you are aware, these allegations are devoid of truth, reckless, and unwarranted.”  

But the debate continues online. Popular Twitter account Africa is a country recently tweeted that 800,000 Nigerians “live in South Africa”. 

Africa Check looked into this claim in 2017, when news reports quoted the same figure. We could not find data to support it. 

Number of 800,000 seems ‘absolutely inflated’

The tweet’s figures are attributed to NAN, the state-run News Agency of Nigeria. A senior editor told Africa Check NAN had published the figure before and called it a "conservative estimate", though "no census or official figure has been released on the number of Nigerians in South Africa".

The most recent data on how many Nigerians (and other foreign-born migrants) live in South Africa can be found in Statistics South Africa’s 2016 Community Survey. It estimated that 30,314 people, or about 2% of foreign-born people living in South Africa, were from Nigeria.

The 2011 census, the most recent, estimated there were 26,341 Nigerians living in South Africa that year. 

Both these figures are in line with the United Nations estimate of 27,326 in 2017. (Note: For more about how these estimates were calculated and why they differ, see here.) 

“Whilst there were problems in the conducting and processing of the [2016 Community Survey] the number of Nigerians seems about correct in that survey,” Diego Iturralde, executive manager of demography at Stats SA, told Africa Check. “There have been no further data collection exercises with regards to migrant origins and flows which could update this number.”

Both the community survey and census showed that the Zimbabwean and Mozambican diaspora were the largest groups of migrants in South Africa. They accounted for about half of the foreign-born population, Iturralde said. “There is no reason for that to have changed.”  

Lorena Carrasco, associate professor in the sociology department at the University of the Witwatersrand, told Africa Check while it was impossible “to establish with certainty the number of Nigerians in South Africa, as well as to do so with any other nationality”, the number of 800,000 seemed “absolutely inflated”. 

UPDATE: This spot-check was updated after publication with comment from the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN).


Further reading:

Republish our content for free

We believe that everyone needs the facts.

You can republish the text of this article free of charge, both online and in print. However, we ask that you pay attention to these simple guidelines. In a nutshell:

1. Do not include images, as in most cases we do not own the copyright.

2. Please do not edit the article.

3. Make sure you credit "Africa Check" in the byline and don't forget to mention that the article was originally published on

Add new comment

Restricted HTML

  • Allowed HTML tags: <a href hreflang> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote cite> <code> <ul type> <ol start type> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <h2 id> <h3 id> <h4 id> <h5 id> <h6 id>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.
limit: 600 characters

Want to keep reading our fact-checks?

We will never charge you for verified, reliable information. Help us keep it that way by supporting our work.

Become a newsletter subscriber

Support independent fact-checking in Africa.