The recent remarks by the Premier of Gauteng David Makhura on the increase of criminal offences committed by specific foreign nationals in South Africa emphasised the importance of a national dialogue on immigration laws.
The observation by Gauteng Premier David Makhura comes as a result of many South Africans being concerned with crime and victimisation committed mostly by immigrants. This doesn’t take away the role of locals in other cases. For instance in Johannesburg alone in 2017 about 25,000 illegal immigrants had been arrested for their presence in the city, but in 2018 the figure had dramatically increased to 233,000. The rate is shocking, it symbolises an increase that is almost 10-fold.
The South African reality is that our borders are porous, this then leads to a large number of undocumented illegal immigrants from various countries having access to our land. The problem with undocumented immigrants is that they tend to compete over the supply of resources that are limited and suitable for a specific number of South Africans. They also commit various crimes freely because they know that police cannot conduct successful investigations and arrest them because their identities are not known. Currently, the South African Police Services (SAPS) is sitting with a bulk of unaccounted for fingerprints obtained from different crime scenes.
There are disturbing assertions in our country, that any attempts to have conversations and policy discussions about immigration tends to be equated with xenophobia. Xenophobic acts and beliefs are purely based on hatred and fear of foreign nationals. But these do not include policy considerations on border control, migration control, skills development, and the creation of free trade zones. Such important considerations are not hatred or fear of anyone. Why are we afraid to ask what documentation the men and women we daily meet on the streets looking for any jobs have? Which skills do they bring which are essential in developing our economy? Which war in SADC are they running away from? Which refugee status do they seek in this instance?
Every multilateral organisation, including the African Union (AU), has made it clear that sovereignty of all states serves as the first priority in the international community.
South Africa is a sovereign nation with defined borders. In fact, the preamble of the South African Constitution states that: “South Africa belongs to all who live in it.” But the preamble must not be read alone, it consists of a responsibility that our country belongs to those who are willing to abide by its supreme law and various legislations. It also consists of the fact that those who live in it, must at all material times, be willing to contribute towards making it a better place for all. This means that there is a mutually beneficial relationship between South Africa and those who live in it, immigrants included. This then places a burden on immigrants to offer something to South Africa; it could be rare skills, specialised knowledge, human resources to mention but a few.
Some have argued that the historical background of our country dictates the need to always open our doors to fellow Africans. It is important to state that, South African doors were never closed. Like any other country, measures are put in place to obtain legal documentation to access our land. Instead of investing energy in calling for South Africa to open doors, it is important that this task must complement strategies and tactics put in place to assist other African countries to build their own developmental paths through the African Union (AU), the respective regional bodies and initiatives such the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and the Pan African Parliament.
The multilateral approach towards solving predominant African problems takes away the burden from the South African government to solely accommodate immigrants. In this way, the Pretoria administration does not resort to supra-nationalist mechanisms; which refers to a situation where a particular nation seeks to enhance its domination and hegemonic strengths in a region over other countries. The multilateral approach will be the authentic platform for African solutions to African problems.
The debate raised by Premier Makhura gives us an opportunity to engage and tighten our borders. It provides us with an opportunity to improve where we have gone wrong as a nation. Furthermore, those tasked to lead ought to create broader platforms for our people to air their views without intimidation and labelling them xenophobic. Failure to resolve these challenges might lead to the poor blaming immigrants instead of those elected to lead them. We can lead our people on a path of honesty towards the debate and policy shift.