Abstract: Assumptions surrounding the origins of Covid-19, the relationship between human mobility and the spread of the virus, and the pressure that the pandemic has placed on communities, have exacerbated xenophobic tensions globally, including in South Africa, a country long-associated with xenophobia. Previous research exploring how the South African media frames migration, and research investigating the framing of migration during Covid-19 in other contexts, has found that the media tends to frame migrants in terms of (un)deservingness and blame them for the spread of disease. Our findings, however, identify different concerns. This article discusses findings from a 12-month study exploring how migrant and mobile populations in South Africa were framed in the media as the pandemic developed during 2020. A news aggregator—Meltwater—was used to scrape the internet for English language text-based media published globally in 2020 that met a search with key terms Migration, Covid-19, and South Africa. A total of 12,068 articles were identified and descriptively analysed. Informed by previous approaches, a framing analysis was then undertaken of a sample of 561 articles. Findings illustrate how articles published by outlets based in the US and UK have a far greater reach than locally or regionally produced articles, despite local and regional outlets publishing far more consistently on the topic. Consistent and sympathetic engagement with issues of migration by South African publications was seen across 2020 and suggests that those writing from the region are aware of the realities of migration and mobility. Findings show that rather than centring migrants as the locus of blame for failures of the South African state—as has been done in the past—the state and its failure to adequately respond to both Covid-19 and migration are now being clearly articulated by media.
Keywords: Covid-19; media; migration; South Africa; xenophobia