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Opinionista

The DA has a plan to end xenophobic violence

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MP Jacques Julius is DA’s Team One South Africa spokesperson on immigration.

The scourge of xenophobic violence has claimed more lives in the past week, and once again left many families devastated in its wake. We have not lived up to Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu’s promise in 2008 not to repeat the violence, but we can.

South Africans are frustrated. They have not seen the improvement in their standard and quality of life that the dawn of democracy promised to deliver. This frustration has not expressed itself only in xenophobic violence. We are the protest capital of the world. We top crime indices. We have seen the rise of a morally bankrupt nationalist populist movement as disillusioned young people are lured by bigger bolder promises. South Africans are angry at politicians as well as the private sector. This accumulation of grievances has turned South Africa into a loaded gun.

Adding to the frustration is the ease with which disinformation is disseminated. We have too many claims floating around our society that find no basis in truth. For example, the xenophobic violence in South Africa is often based on the claim that foreign nationals are taking jobs from South Africans. This is despite the fact that research suggests that, on balance, foreign nationals are net creators of employment. The ANC government has made no attempt to dispel this false information because this might refocus the public’s attention on the failure of ANC economic policy to grow the economy significantly, boosting job creation.

And finally, exacerbating the false information, has been the outright scapegoating of foreign nationals by the ANC government for its failures. In Gauteng in particular, the Provincial ANC government has been on a concerted campaign to blame the collapse of the healthcare system on an influx of foreign nationals. Minister Aaron Motsoaledi has not missed the opportunity to hop on this bandwagon, going so far as to claim that the admission of foreign nationals in large numbers causes overcrowding and the failure of infection control.

The scapegoating of foreign nationals is useful when you want to obscure two critical factors: ANC mismanagement of the healthcare system and ANC mismanagement of border control and immigration policy. One absurd example is the persistent shortage of doctors at the same time as we have medical students complaining every year of government’s failure to place them in hospitals for internships. It is therefore convenient for the minister to blame foreign nationals than to explain this discrepancy.

In this context, the leadership of President Cyril Ramaphosa has been woefully inadequate. First, the President decried foreign nationals setting up businesses without licences and permits, ignoring the failure of his own administration to ensure enforcement of the laws in this regard. Then, no sooner had the attacks taken place, the President sought to remind South Africans of the economic benefits to the country of our trade and investment relations in Africa.

Reading between the lines, foreign nationals appear to hit the President’s radar only insofar as they affect the bottom line. Xenophobic attacks are thus framed as an impediment to our economic interests rather than as a matter of enforcing the rule of law and treating foreign nationals in accordance with their right to life, human dignity and equality as enshrined in our Bill of Rights.

Living up to the promise of our acclaimed Constitution is not a pipe dream. We can set our priorities as a nation to align government policy with the obligations imposed on the state by the Constitution.

We can mandate and resource a unit in the Hawks to target corruption at border posts, Refugee Centers, Lindela Repatriation Facility and Home Affairs Immigration Services. And to ensure that corrupt officials do not return in different positions within the system, we must blacklist officials who have been found guilty of involvement in immigration corruption and fraud from working for any state agency or government department.

The advantage of prioritising the fight against corruption will be to restore the faith of the public that the state has control over immigration, removing the fundamental mistrust of foreign nationals stemming from perceptions of the state’s loss of control.

In addition to restoring faith in immigration control, the state needs to proactively spread the right information about the positive impact of immigration. This will serve us well as we move towards a system of free movement of goods and people on the continent. In the same way that the ANC government has been intentional in its scapegoating campaign, we will have to be equally diligent in our efforts to integrate foreign nationals into communities, and to diffuse the social tensions currently prevailing.

Most importantly, we must provide the South African National Defence Force with adequate resources to secure the border. As the loopholes opened by corruption at border posts are closed, some chance takers will see our porous borders as alternatives to the official channels into the country. Clean administration at the border posts will not have the desired effect of ensuring regular migration into the country if the borders remain a channel for irregular migration as well as cross-border crime.

We can quell the suspicions of illegality that follow foreign nationals around by restoring public faith in clean governance and strong border control.

We can change the narratives about foreign nationals taking South African jobs by spreading correct information, and by implementing economic policies that actually create jobs and diffuse the frustrations that naturally follow when 10-million people are unemployed and stuck in poverty.

We can ensure proper service delivery through corruption-free governance, and through immigration control systems that allow for accurate population figures and therefore adequate budget planning for efficient delivery of basic services.

By leading the charge on immigration reform, we can turn the social tensions that breed xenophobia on their head. We can keep Archbishop Tutu’s promise – we can end xenophobia so that no more lives are needlessly lost. The DA stands ready to do this. DM

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