As in other parts of the world, immigration has taken a centre stage in the life of the nation. On the global stage, immigration has proven to be an emotive and contentious issue. It has been used to divide global citizens, with the view that it poses a serious threat and socio-economic challenges for receiving countries.
South Africa is not unique in this regard. Many countries are wrestling with anti-immigrant sentiments. Its manifestations may be seen in some of the issues affecting communities, and are discernible also in the issues exploited to perpetrate criminal activities.
This is to a large measure a complex and delicate matter. Reckless abandonment of the core values of Ubuntu will only lead us into a clumsy and irresponsible reaction. We must respond in a humane and lawful manner, taking into cognizance the genuine frustrations of communities, while remaining mindful of tempers likely to spark violence and other acts of criminality.
There will be no progressive and sustainable victory in xenophobic violence. Opportunistic individuals who partake in it erode the human face we have struggled very hard to acquire. While a more measured approach may not make me the most popular politician, I believe it is the right thing to do.
Our democracy enshrines our hard-earned human rights. We are first and foremost humans. This reality cannot be diluted by your country of origin or what documents you hold, or lack thereof. Humanity, within the context of our Constitution, is not only a cultural prescription of Ubuntu, it is also about legal compliance, and respect for rights of all persons.
Law and order are therefore critical factors when we talk about migration. We must address matters raised by communities, in a legal framework, while ensuring, at all times, they also raise matters within the confines of the law.
Unfortunately, xenophobic violence is not new in South Africa. The country first experienced xenophobic violence in 2008, with attacks on foreign nationals mainly in Gauteng (Alexandra, Diepsloot and Tembisa) and the Western Cape.The 2008 attacks were investigated by the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC). According to the SAHRC, among the reasons for the violence were the following:
• Poor relations between local residents and key officials dealing with informal settlements,
• Corruption and indifference of leaders,
• Police unable to deal with attacks, and,
• Capacity problems, for those providing effective remedy and promotion of access to justice.
In 2015, another wave of attacks was seen in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng. It was sparked by a labour dispute over the employment of foreign nationals at the KwaJeena Store in Isipingo. Among the recurring themes had been contestation over scarce resources in a climate of unemployment, poverty and other socio-economic challenges. Currently, in 2017, there are renewed incidents of violence against foreign nationals in Rosettenville and Pretoria West.
There are also communities agitating against foreign nationals. In this regard, a protest march is planned for the 24th of February 2017, in the Pretoria CBD by the Mamelodi Concerned Residents. Disgruntlement raised by communities is around competition for jobs, access to economic opportunities and alleged criminal activities involving foreign nationals; these include drug peddling and prostitution.
I have met with protest organisers and have appealed to them to express themselves responsibly. Government responded speedily to the latest outbreak of violence. We have directed all security officials to be visible in communities and to objectively deal with criminality, regardless of whether it is committed by a South African or a foreign national.
We led a government delegation, with the Gauteng MEC for Community Safety, to Rosettenville on Monday 13 February, to make sure that law enforcement agencies are responding to issues raised by communities, and to encourage dialogue between communities and the authorities. Arrests have been made, among others, for alleged drug peddling and acts of public violence.
We called for visible and effective policing, precisely because, failure to respond would be irresponsible in the extreme, as it would serve further to fuel tensions among communities.
We called for compliance with the Constitution and other laws of the Republic, by citizens and foreign nationals. We prioritised documentation of persons in South Africa, and deportation of those who are undocumented. This message to act responsibly, had been conveyed also to businesses in the country, starting with those in the hospitality sector, pointing to the folly and dangers of failing to comply with the laws of the Republic. Business is a critical partner in managing anti-immigrant sentiments and more will be expected of them.
In many cases business incentivises irregular migration, and those contributing to questionable labour practices must be held to account. It is far easier and convenient for some to target desperate and vulnerable migrants than the unscrupulous employers who deliberately fuel tensions in the labour market. It is easier and convenient to target dwellers of rundown buildings than irresponsible buildings’ owners.
In this regard, a paradigm shift has been adopted, we will now target unethical businesses that employ illegal practises. Government is working with business on these issues, to ensure compliance, employment of locals and harmonious relationships desired for development, economic growth and empowerment of citizens. This work started before Rosettenville. As explained, businesses are a critical factor in some of the challenges. They should not fuel tensions, playing locals against foreigners, but should be on the side of the law.
We have a commitment of the hospitality sector on the need to comply with SA’s labour and immigration laws, especially the requirement to employ a minimum 60% of local people. This is the message we are taking to the rest of business, and will feature strongly in our upcoming meetings. There will be workplace inspections and penalties for employing undocumented foreigners will be imposed.
We are making inroads, also in this respect. A total of 63 people who were employed by the Spar without documentation were arrested at 3 Spar supermarkets. Of these, 19 females are detained at Pretoria Noord SAPS and 36 males plus 9 females are detained at Kameeldrift SAPS. The breakdown for these arrests is as follows:
•19 females and 28 males arrested at Montana Spar, and the Manager was charged,
• 6 females and 9 males were arrested at Zambezi Spar, the Manager will be charged,
•1 arrest at Doornpoort Spar, here the Manager was not available,
I have directed my office to set up a meeting with the management of Spar to discuss labour issues.
Government is deeply concerned about outbreaks of violence, which may result in loss of life and/or damage to property. This is why Cabinet has firmly pronounced on this matter, and has expressed full support to ourselves and the Justice, Crime Prevention and Security (JCPS) cluster to move speedily in resolving these issues to the satisfaction of communities.
Plenty of work has been done to improve our management of migration and this is not a mere knee jerk reaction to sporadic xenophobic violence. We have been diligently, and perhaps quietly, improving our management of migration. Our measured rhetoric on our immigration work is a deliberate attempt at avoiding populism that may be misconstrued and fuel tensions.
We communicated our interventions and approach to Mayor Mashaba. I directed the DDG of immigration to be available to the mayor following our first meeting, I pressed upon him the importance of allowing our technocrats to do the work without the sensationalism we politicians may bring to issue.
While I have been critical on the approach, I must commend him for his more measured statement condemning xenophobia. While we have different approaches, I am confident that none of us want to be responsible for any public violence or loss of life. I hold the view that we can better manage migration in a humane and responsible manner.
It is important for the Department of Home Affairs, and law enforcement agencies, to understand the matters raised and make communities aware of how we are tackling them. I will share with you interventions we have undertaken since 2008.
We have documented, through the Zimbabwe Special Permit (ZSP) and the Lesotho Special (LSP) Permit dispensations, those who were in South Africa without documentation. This is helping in knowing who is in the country. As a result of the special dispensation, it is possible to get to higher levels of documentation in the country. Documentation also reduces the possibility of labour exploitation and abuse, which in turn facilitates fairness in the labour market.
We have made improvements at Marabastad Refugee Reception Centre, now called Desmond Tutu Reception Centre. This was to combat corruption and bribery, and we are also turning the tide against those people who are not supposed to go to the centre, as they burden the asylum system.
President Jacob Zuma launched Desmond Tutu on Friday, 17 February 2017, thus opening to the world its cutting-edge technology featuring an automated booking system that’s already transforming the way South Africa receives and processes asylum applications, with less queues and extremely constrained breath-line for bribery, fraud and corruption.
We have initiated a comprehensive review and development of a new policy of international migration, to replace the outdated 1999 White Paper. A new White Paper is being finalised and will be presented to Cabinet in March 2017. This is a bold move forward.
Bearing in mind timelines for completing the legislative process, we have taken the Refugee Amendment Bill to Parliament. Its benefits are to ensure protection of genuine asylum seekers, and to curb exploitation of the system by economic migrants who capitalise on loop-poles in legislation.
We have initiated the establishment of a border management authority, for coordinated, secure and efficient management of the borderline and ports of entry. It is important to move beyond stumbling-blocks and speedily establish this Border Management Authority.
Our department is pushing aggressively to have capacity boosted and systems developed, including in Immigration Management Services. This is an issue we are raising with the Portfolio Committee and the National Treasury.
The capacity of the inspectorate unit is far too low, with only 750 inspectors nationally compared to the city of London, in the UK, which has 3000 inspectors.
The inspectorate has to ensure persons in South Africa are correctly documented, reside in the country on a lawful basis and acquire documents and status lawfully. It has standardised systems relating to the detection, detention and deportation of illegal foreign nationals. A total of 33 339 persons were deported during the 2015/16 financial year. We are working with the police to synergise resources.
We have worked closely with the Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC) on Migration, established after the 2015 incidents and chaired by the Minister in the Presidency, Minister Jeff Radebe. IMC intervention strategies have included intensive crime-combating and prevention operations planned and executed in all provinces, targeted at hot-spot areas.
These operations were inter-departmental in nature. They focused, among other pillars, on illicit drug trafficking and contraband, undocumented migrants, human trafficking and prostitution, hijacking and illegal occupation of buildings, unlicensed businesses, illegal firearms and management of RDP houses.
I have listed the work our government is doing to better manage migration, I seek to dispel the sensational narrative that government is doing nothing.
Migration matters should be handled delicately. Members of the public must be responsible, not to undo the work we are doing. We are of the view that the implementation of the strategic framework of the IMC on Migration is still relevant, and, if implemented, would help prevent outbreaks of attacks on foreigners as it goes to the root causes of the violence.
The dynamics of migration, crime, drugs, prostitution, fraud and unfair labour practices are too serious to be turned into populists politicking. It is important always to be careful in the narratives we push in the public space. A democratic state bears the responsibility to save lives and to protect rights of persons. I wish to appeal to all South Africans to desist from rhetoric or actions that are xenophobic. I also want to commend the many responsible South Africans who have been a living testament to Ubuntu and tolerance.
South Africa is amongst the most diverse countries in the world, we are a host to multiple nationalities from the world. I reject any insinuation or assertion seeking to cast us as mere xenophobes. We have challenges, South Africa remains the most diverse country on the continent and is by many measures a beacon of tolerance and human rights.
By Malusi Gigaba
Home Affairs Minister, Republic of South Africa.