Document Type

Migration Policy Series

Publication Date



This report compares the business operations of over 2,000 South Africans and refugees in the urban informal economy and systematically dispels some of the myths that have grown up around their activities. First, the report takes issue with the perception that South Africans are inexperienced and unmotivated participants in the informal economy. Many have years of experience and have successfully grown their businesses. Second, it contests the view that refugees enjoy a competitive advantage because they come to South Africa with inherent talent and already honed skills. On the contrary, over 80% of those surveyed had no prior informal sector experience and learned their skills on the job and after coming to South Africa. Third, the report shows that there is fierce competition in the urban informal sector between and within the two groups. However, business competition between refugees and South Africans is mitigated by the fact that they tend to dominate different sections of the informal economy with South Africans dominant in the food sector and refugees in the household products and personal services sectors. Finally, the report takes issue with recent arguments that all informal sector businesses are equally at risk from robbery, extortion and other crimes. It shows that South Africans are affected but that refugees are far more vulnerable than their South African counterparts. The report therefore confirms that xenophobia and xenophobic violence are major threats to refugees seeking a livelihood in the informal sector, especially if they venture into informal settlements.