It is with deep regret that we join the President of South Africa as well as the rest of the peoples of our country, in both condemning the violent attacks on foreign nationals in our country and in expressing our sincerest regrets to fellow African and Pakistani nationals in South Africa who have been the victims of these savage acts of violence against foreign nationals by criminals.
From the outset, we would like to make the emphatic statement that most foreign nationals in South Africa make a very positive contribution to our society and economy.
Firstly, immigrants contribute towards our country’s economic development by investing in the economy, supplying critical skills including in our health facilities, teaching our children and youth in schools and universities and thus transferring their knowledge and skills to them.
Accordingly, these people pay tax which contributes towards expanding the national fiscus whilst many still have to send remittances back to their families in the countries of origin and yet still sustain themselves and their livelihoods in South Africa.
Furthermore, many nationals of our neighbouring countries travel to South Africa daily, weekly or monthly to buy their groceries or purchase goods from our retail shops to go sell in their countries, paying toll fees on our roads and thus contributing towards revenue generation that has been so vital towards increased both social as well as economic expenditure to benefit South Africans.
Consequently, the allegation that all foreign nationals in South Africa do not pay tax is as preposterous as the assumption that all South Africans do pay tax. We have not seen hordes of armed gangs chasing down the streets the many South Africans that evade tax.
Secondly, by entering our country through our designated ports of entry as regular migrants, and by complying with both our immigration and other legislation, most foreign nationals contribute towards enhancing South Africa’s national security and ensure that we can manage the visitors in our midst, whilst we can protect both these visitors in our country as well as South Africans.
Recently, we have enhanced our legislation and regulations in order to more effectively to protect South Africa by managing and minimising the risks to our country arising out of the processes and phenomenon of international migration.
Thirdly, immigrants in our country contribute towards nation-building and enhance our social cohesion by bringing more diversity to our nation and creating more understanding of the diverse nature, not only of Africans of Africa but also of the peoples of the world.
By having new groups of immigrants in South Africa in the recent years, we have become a more cosmopolitan country and our understanding of who we are as a nation has been deepened, based on the new complex dynamics that have enriched our nation.
Today, for example, you have new entrants into the South African nation that are not rigidly part of an African majority, but who are part of both the African majority and the immigrant minority at the same time; whose home languages are none of those we have come to know over the centuries of the formation of our nation.
Fourthly, immigrants have integrated South Africa into the global community and African immigrants in particular have made South Africa an integral part of the African continent that we rightfully are.
Every country on the continent can find its nationals on our shores; and, in some instances we now have South Africans of descent in fellow African countries.
We, as a people, are better and more human than we have ever been because of these fellow Africans and peoples of elsewhere in the world that have chosen voluntarily, and mostly through regular means, to live amongst us and make South Africa their permanent home.
The children of these people do not know the countries of origin of their parents and will only relate to them as Indian and white South Africans relate to India or Europe – the countries of ancestry of their forebears; but their home is now and in the future, South Africa.
We must accordingly be very clear that immigrants are welcome in South Africa.
To what then do we owe the recent barbaric attacks on African immigrants in particular?
If it was concern about the shops owned by foreign nationals, why have human beings been attacked and ruthlessly uprooted from their homes through nothing but savage methods?
Certainly, we need to combat the negative views peddled in our public discourse with impunity, used today by criminal gangs to commit crimes ostensibly in the name of South Africa and South Africans all.
The irrefutable fact is that it is inaccurate and incorrect to claim that,
- all immigrants are undocumented and therefore so-called “illegal” in South Africa,
- all undocumented immigrants are African and that all African immigrants are undocumented and therefore so-called “illegal”,
- all immigrants do not pay tax and therefore are a drain on the South African economy, and
- all African immigrants commit crime in South Africa.
African tourists have increased by leaps and bounds in South Africa, arriving through OR Tambo International Airport and our land ports of entry.
The towns of Nkomazi, Musina, Ficksburg, and even Nelspruit, Polokwane and Mangaung benefit enormously from the revenue they generate from our neighbours.
Most immigrants in our country, particularly the African immigrants who are currently the subject of our attention, enter South Africa properly as regular migrants with documents and therefore in this country legally.
Where some have entered the country irregularly, without documents and illegally, the Immigration Services of the Department of Home Affairs have been deporting them yearly at the cost of hundreds of millions of rand per annum.
As we speak, having transferred the Border Control Coordinating Committee (BCOCC) from the South African Revenue Services (SARS) to the Department of Home Affairs, plans are afoot to establish the Border Management Agency (BMA) which will guard and protect our country’s land, sea and air borders, working in partnership with other state agencies.
Towards this effect, the BMA legislation will be submitted to the National Assembly for deliberations through the relevant Portfolio Committee and ultimately adoption by the House.
Whilst the BMA will not and must not be viewed as a panacea towards correcting the ills of our borderline, its specialised capacity will be of great import towards creating credibility for our border management mechanisms.
Whilst working on the BMA establishment, the Department will soon launch a new campaign to enhance border management which will focus on integrated approaches under the BCOCC and the BMA Steering Committee.
At the same time, in addition to the regulations announced in May last year, the Department of Home Affairs is working hard towards a new International Migration White Paper, to overhaul to 1999 policy framework, in which new framework new migration management approaches will be introduced in order to enhance our international migration management.
The new policy framework will be more clearer, amongst others, on
- how to manage economic migration in South Africa,
- how to address the question of the regulation of the shops owned by foreign nationals, and
- how to ensure that foreign nationals whose visas entitle them to work in South Africa are not employed outside the provisions of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act so that their employment does not lower wages and conditions of employment, which often tends to disadvantage South Africans.
In addition to this, the Department of Home Affairs will be spending R118m over the next three years recruiting Inspectors in order to increase its inspectorate capacity to detect and prosecute companies employing undocumented migrants, or those without work visas.
170 Inspectors will be recruited in Year One, increasing marginally over the next two years.
Furthermore, the Department of Home Affairs and National Treasury will soon announce plans to overhaul the physical and systems infrastructure of our Ports of Entry
However, all of this notwithstanding, we must reject with contempt the notion that all immigrants, particularly the African immigrants, are criminals, that all crime in South Africa is committed by immigrants as well as that crime is worse only when committed by immigrants as if it would be better if committed by South African nationals.
In addition, the fact that there are some foreign nationals that commit crime in South Africa does not justify that we should, in response, mete out collective punishment, street and mob justice style, to all foreign nationals the majority of whom, even those who are not documented, are honest people trying to eke out a living.
The fact is that there are South Africans trafficking drugs in other parts of the world and consequently are serving long jail terms in the prisons of Thailand, China, Brazil, Peru and elsewhere. This does not mean that all South Africans are drug traffickers or that the nationals of those countries must chase away South Africans on the streets of their countries.
We must all be very concerned about the repercussions of this criminality as they might spark diplomatic as well as retaliatory actions against South Africans in other countries.
This is why we have already met the Diplomatic Corps twice to express very strongly the views of the South African government, on behalf of most South Africans who detest xenophobia and Afrophobia to the core, and are due to meet them again for an update on the steps we have taken to deal with this situation.
We are working very closely with the provincial and metro governments in this endeavour.
This week, alongside the Premier, the MECs on the Inter-Departmental Task Team established by the Premier, the Mayor and Deputy Mayor of eThekwini, we visited some of the flashpoints and addressed the people on the ground, rallying them behind the peace effort.
We have also met with the religious leaders and other stakeholders towards the same objective.
We have visited the temporary shelters for displaced people and talked to them about our plans to bring the violence to an end and facilitate their re-integration.
We heard their complaints and will attend to them.
We have committed that we will assist those who wish to be voluntarily repatriated to return home safely and with little hindrance.
The Peace March held in Durban, attended even by people from as far away as Gauteng, should further demonstrate the humanity and African solidarity of the people of South Africa.
We must emphasise the point that NOT all South Africans are involved in this savagery and many of us who have friends from outside South Africa, some of whom are now naturalised South Africans and those of us who have travelled the continent a bit know just how hard-working and honest people fellow Africans are.
Article by Malusi Gigaba