Let’s make this point very clear: immigrants are welcome in South Africa. South Africa does not intend to build walls between her and neighbouring states. While we are mandated to protect our citizens from harm and loss of property, this protection will not be carried out in violation of our domestic and international laws. The fundamental part of this mandate is its extension to non-citizens alike. As government, we take this mandate as an inviolable commitment.
It is also important to understand that South Africa has committed herself to protect immigrants who enter or seek to enter our borders, in particular for noble reasons. In many instances immigrants bring needed economic benefits to our country.
While we must admit that some immigrants are in our country illegally, having entered the country illegally or simply overstayed their allowed duration, it must not be said that immigrants in general and continental immigrants in particular are criminals or commit commercial sabotage on our sovereignty.
Presidents Nelson Mandela, Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma have in the past reminded South Africans that the freedom we enjoy today come from deep sacrifices from our continent. Many of the nations in our continent sheltered political refugees from apartheid South Africa.
From our frontline states up to the Horn and beyond, African nations stood firm against superpowers in support of the ANC and others, at great risk to their economies, and resolved at the Organisation for African Unity (OAU) – in particular the Resolution adopted on 25 May 1963 by the Conference of African Heads of State and Government on “the problem of apartheid and racial discrimination” – that apartheid inhumanity had to be stopped. This led to the establishment of a Bureau of Sanctions against South Africa within the General Secretariat of the OAU.
Great African leaders of states such as Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Julius Nyerere of Kenya, Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, Sékou Touré of Guinea and our dearest Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia sheltered South Africans, giving material support to our struggle for human dignity – a struggle that ended the racial discrimination of the majority of our people. Our struggle movement did not confine itself to non-racialism – all other forms of discrimination including xenophobia formed part and parcel of our people’s struggle for a united Africa, an African Renaissance.
I dare say, human dignity has no nationality. Our Bill of Rights enjoins us all to confirm that there shall be no moment where we deliberately attack human dignity or not protect it.
Here at home we boastfully talk of, “we liberated ourself, I’m my own liberator”. This, tested against the sacrifices of these great leaders aforementioned, becomes a lie. This boastfulness discounts the blood of those who were raided and killed on their soil while keeping us safe.
Warm bodies liberated South Africans, together with our selfless cadres of the liberation movements who the paid ultimate price to see black South Africans liberated from the yoke of racial oppression, part of which endures today as we march towards economic liberation.
South Africa does have a challenge of a great number of foreign nationals who are in the country illegally and who turn to commit serious crimes and remain untraceable by our South African Police Services because of their hidden status. Our love and welcome of our brothers and sisters from the continent does not mean inertia over the challenges of our border management and related immigration policies.
When an illegal foreign national commits a crime, they do not ask for the nationality of the would-be victim. Foreign nationals themselves are constant victims to crimes committed by criminal illegal immigrants.
As government we have now instituted a new agency, the Border Management Agency, which will be seized with a focused mandate to protect our borders and our economy.
Instead of castigating certain communities, South Africans should be developing practices that can capitalise on the immigrant dividend to the country. Those in leadership should protect the security and livelihoods of all of South Africa’s residents. Our Constitutional Court has made several pronouncements in this regard. Leaders should not stoke immigrant phobia, this will only give our overstretched police added burdens should violence come as a result of reckless statements like those that seek to blame foreign nationals for economic problems faced by the nation.
South African Police Services are vigilant over these matters.
South Africans are not a xenophobic society, we do not have a fear of foreigners; what we need is to value the human rights of our resident foreign nationals as they valued ours in the time of our greatest need. Our value should not be seen as payback for what was offered to us but as a part of our promise to live under the principles of ubuntu.
From various Witwatersrand University research papers on xenophobia in South Africa it is found that; “many South Africans’ disquiet with non-nationals is based on an assumed link between the presence of foreigners and threats to their property and physical security. Nationally, 48% of South Africans feel that foreigners are a criminal threat (Crush and Williams 2003). In Johannesburg, the country’s ‘crime capital,’ Legget (2003:52) reports that 63% of inner-city Johannesburg residents mentioned ‘foreigners’ as the group committing most of the crime in their area. Similarly, among 70% of Johannesburg residents who thought crime had increased in recent years, almost three-quarters identified immigrants as a primary reason (Landau and Jacobsen 2004:45). Clearly, if our leaders do not send the correct messages and factual data, these perceptions will remain to the detriment of all.”
This also means we must work with law abiding resident foreign nationals to put an end to lawlessness amongst them. Our policy of community policing must cut across all societies and these residents must have recognised Community Policing Forums to work with our police. There is a direct responsibility for foreign nationals’ communities to take a direct part in changing minds about them. As government we must keep promoting integration of communities and eradicate ghettos or Somali this and Ethiopia that.
Human dignity has no nationality and legal immigration with self-determination under South Africanness is welcome here.
South Africa is a nation built on the rule of law. We are not to be arbitrary in our dealings or statements. The South African Police Service will not use xenophobic profiling methods to maintain the rule of law as such; rest assured that should I say a particular Zimbabwean national was involved in a particular crime, such will always be based on our concrete findings as a department of government and will only be used for purposes of identification and not discrimination. DM
Fikile Mbalula is Minister of Police.