Opinionista Jacques Julius 5 October 2018

Xenophobia vs effective border management: distinguishing fact from fearmongering

South Africa can become a model of development in Africa and the rest of the world. This vision will be impeded by the country’s inability to implement effective border management, allowing it to accurately record and monitor the movement of people and goods across its borders as well as ensure the safety and security of all who choose to live, work and play here.

The opinion piece by Stephen Grootes in Daily Maverick opens with the following words:

In a country like South Africa, facing the problems that we do, there are issues that politicians should mention, discuss and handle with extreme care. The issue of citizens from other countries, who are often referred to as ‘foreign nationals’ or ‘illegal immigrants’ is certainly one of them.”

Yet while presuming to police the manner in which various political parties address this issue, Grootes fails to acknowledge the central piece of this puzzle: the failure of the ANC government to address the issue at all to the detriment of South Africans and foreigners alike.

South Africa’s landward border stretches 4,862km. We have only 15 SANDF sub-units to patrol the border instead of the 22 sub-units needed. This poses a serious threat to those living in this country in the form of cross-border crime, human trafficking, loss of customs revenue, drug smuggling and other negative issues.

Grootes and others cannot be naïve enough to not understand the crucial role that the SANDF must play in ensuring that we root out cross-border crimes which take place way too often at key border posts.

In July this year, the Minister of Defence indicated that the number of troops would increase to 2,500 by year end, which represents a fully capacitated 15 sub-units, and would remain so in the medium term. We may never have the full 22 sub-unit deployment we need under an ANC government.

This is compared with the 2,600 troops we have deployed outside the country. This demonstrates that our government’s priorities are skewed and there is no clear understanding of the magnitude of the issue that is caused by porous or even non-existent border control. No country in the world, can have a free-for-all where anyone can simply walk across a border unchecked.

The extent of the ANC’s failures in this regard is clearly demonstrated by the fact that there are no reliable estimates of the number of undocumented immigrants in South Africa. In 2013 Africa Check reported that “[w]orryingly, South Africa’s Department of Home Affairs seems unwilling or unable to provide access to its data.”

This is a incredible indictment on the Department of Home Affairs because they clearly have no grasp of this issue, and thus fail South Africans and foreign nationals alike.

In response to parliamentary questions, Home Affairs claims they are able to provide only the number of people recorded coming into the country and the number recorded exiting the country. These numbers are of limited value. Minister Malusi Gigaba himself noted, at his 26 September 2018 press conference on changes to visa regulations, that there were sections of the border fences in such a state of collapse that people simply walked across the border undetected.

In addition, by Home Affair’s own account, we have a backlog of about 140,000 asylum claims which have yet to be finalised. Civil society organisations argue that this number is inaccurate because it does not account for claims which “fall out” of the system for various reasons, for example, permits not being renewed timeously.

What is often not considered is how this has been exacerbated by the failure of Home Affairs, with the Department of Public Works, to timeously give effect to Constitutional Court orders to re-open Refugee Reception Offices in Cape Town and Port Elizabeth, rather than any lawlessness on the part of asylum-seekers.

The department is foisting undocumented status on law-abiding immigrants who want to regularise their stay, but are unable to because their nearest office has been shut down or because the overburdened office they travel hundreds or thousands of kilometres to visit has no capacity to attend to them. This leaves millions of people vulnerable to exploitation and various forms of abuse.

In the face of such circumstances, pointing out the scale of undocumented immigration is not fearmongering or xenophobic — it is the truth about the abject failure of the ANC government to ensure the safety of all within our borders, documented or undocumented, visitors, residents and citizens alike. Evidence yet again of the failing ANC’s inability to manage the real problems that South Africa faces.

The DA has been clear that there is no place for xenophobia in South Africa. Any form of xenophobia is unacceptable and has no place in our diverse society. While the ANC has ignored the issues of undocumented immigration and porous, insecure borders, the DA is ready to confront those issues head-on in order to shore up the legal status of immigrants in South Africa, thereby reducing the negative perceptions of unchecked immigration which fuel social tensions in our communities.

The DA has travelled the length and breadth of the country bringing attention to the sorry state of our Refugee Reception Offices. To date our officials have been denied entry to the Desmond Tutu Refugee Reception Office — formerly known as Marabastad — where corruption is so bad that the portfolio committee was compelled last month to call in the Minister of Home Affairs, along with other stakeholders including the South Africa Police Service, to account for the state of affairs at that office.

The DA does not believe in draconian immigration laws, but we believe in improving current immigration processes to attract the best and the brightest from the continent and the rest of the world.

The DA is firmly committed to protecting the rights of all immigrants and specifically refugees who flee from dangers in their own homes, seeking safety and security within our borders. Instead, too many refugees and asylum seekers are victimised in the process of trying to present themselves to Home Affairs in order to be properly documented and to have their cases fairly, lawfully and timeously adjudicated.

During multiple visits by the DA to border posts, we saw first-hand the results of the government failing to understand its crucial mandate. We know that officials at our border posts are inadequately trained to use the scant technology available to them.

Officials at various border posts are reported as being unable to operate drug testing equipment due to lack of training, and there is a lack of truck scanners to detect contraband entering the country. This means our borders are vulnerable to cross-border crimes including drug and human trafficking.

Grootes is also unlikely to experience first-hand the hardship of standing in long clinic queues, being unable to access housing opportunities or competing for scarce jobs, in many instances against people who may not be in South Africa legally. This is the genesis of the tensions in some communities.

To harness trust and reassurance that those who are here, are here legally, we can ensure that tensions in our communities are dealt with. No other political party is showing leadership on this matter. We cannot simply hide behind denialism.

The DA believes that South Africa can become a model of development in Africa and the rest of the world. This vision will be impeded by our inability to implement effective border management, allowing us to accurately record and monitor the movement of people and goods across our borders, as well as ensure the safety and security of all who choose to live, work and play in our beautiful land.

We are committed to ensuring that we have a well-functioning immigration system that builds One South Africa for All. DM

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