Address by Minister of Home Affairs, Malusi Gigaba MP, on the occasion of the debate on ‘Promoting harmonious co-existence and respect for the rights of all persons, inclusive of foreign nationals, as enjoined by our Constitution’ in the National Assembly on 7 March 2017
At the June 1994 OAU Summit in Tunis, President Mandela said:
“Finally, at this summit meeting in Tunis, we shall remove from our agenda the consideration of the question of Apartheid South Africa. Where South Africa appears on the agenda again, let it be because we want to discuss what its contribution shall be to the making of the new African renaissance.”
On the occasion of this important debate, which has seemed in recent years to visit these hallowed Chambers with greater frequency, and having listened to the speeches made this afternoon, I wish to pose the question, could we confidently assert that are we walking in Madiba’s footsteps!
The passage of time must not distract us from the path set for us by our forebears; and neither must the challenges of the moment obscure our vision as to what we must do to contribute towards Africa’s renaissance.
South Africa is built on the values of freedom, respect for human dignity, Ubuntu, and unity in diversity.
We also recognise our singleness with fellow African countries and peoples, and that we share together a common past and a common destiny.
For these reasons alone, incidences of negative sentiment towards foreign nationals have no place in South African society.
Ultimately, we are not judged by how we treat people in good times, but how we do so them in times of difficulty.
That we are a society preoccupied with the triple challenges of poverty, unemployment and inequality, and the frustration of so many of our people at the unfinished work of the fundamental social transformation of our society, is frankly then, no excuse at all.
As Africans, when our harvest is meagre, we do not turn our neighbours away, we divide the little we have and share it together.
This debate is an apt reminder that we must lead society in remaining true to these founding values.
As we abhor recurrent incidents of negative sentiment towards foreign nationals in some corners of our society, we should do so with perspective.
The vast majority of foreign nationals in South Africa are documented and choose to be here because South Africa is one of the most dynamic, diverse, tolerant, Afropolitan countries on the continent, in which people with differences of race, culture, gender, class, sexual orientation, live in harmony.
We are not perfect but we have a lot to be proud of.
We do not have much, yet we strive daily to make significant social progress.
Sometimes, some among our citizens misdirect their frustrations at foreign nationals.
In covering these issues, some amongst us want to fixate on whether government acknowledges that xenophobia is an issue in South Africa.
Interestingly, we never hear that Americans, Britons and Germans are xenophobic when some of their citizens attend anti-immigrant rallies or vote patently xenophobic leaders.
Whilst these are surely not the standards by which we should measure ourselves, still no, I will not accept the statement that South Africans are xenophobic, or Afrophobic.
The issues are more complicated than that, and if we are to address them effectively, we need to acknowledge their complexity.
Yes, there is anti-immigrant sentiment among some sections of our society, but these are in the minority.
But unfortunately, it is a social reality that in times of difficulty or scarcity, there are people in society who use immigrants as scapegoats for their problems.
This negative phenomenon is observable in many countries; it not unique to South Africa.
Where our people are complaining about the scourge of crime and other social and economic problems in communities, we must work with them to confront it decisively.
Government must go back to the basics of doing what government must do to deliver on people’s expectations, and politicians must refrain from seeking cheap popularity by stoking the fires of xenophobia, intolerance and conflict.
We must never attribute crime or causes of unemployment particularly to immigrants.
All crime is an ill to be fought; the effect on the victims is the same whether a crime is committed by a South African or a foreign national.
We have also observed that criminality is a factor in incidents of so-called xenophobic violence.
All of these facets of the problem must be confronted by leaders at various levels of our society without seeking to trivialise them or score political points because the cost to human lives far outweighs whatever gains one party may score.
We must firmly reject the tendency to target African immigrants and associate them alone, and altogether, with lack of documentation, crime, moral depravity, illegality, and to view them as necessary targets for abuse, exploitation and physical attacks.
International migration is one of the major issues of our time, with enormous political, social, economic and moral dimensions.
Democracies around the world are responding to it in different ways.
It is causing difficulty to much older democracies than our own, and has become a major issue in the politics of Europe and North America.
Much as we have our own problems relating to international migration, arguably South Africans are more open and tolerant of foreign nationals than citizens in wealthier countries.
It is also worth noting that most countries easily admit foreign nationals they need for economic purposes, especially those with critical skills and investment muscle.
We have recently proposed a new approach to managing international migration, which we hope will go some way to addressing these issues.
We believe South Africa must unite around a positive, pragmatic vision for managing international migration which advances our national interests and reflects our values.
We have proposed that management of international migration is not a matter for Home Affairs alone, but must follow a ‘whole of government, whole of society’ approach.
One of the most contentious areas is around managing economic migration from the continent, as this affects poor and working class communities and immigrants.
I think this has less to do with South Africans being xenophobic or Afrophobic, but more to do with poorly regulated competition for jobs and resources between locals and economic immigrants, as well as lack of enforcement of existing rules.
We should not dismiss poor and working class South Africans as xenophobic when they are raising genuine social and economic issues affecting them, especially relating to unscrupulous employers who use desperate economic migrants to exert downward pressure on wages and working conditions.
After all, the middle and upper classes are largely shielded from such challenges.
These unscrupulous businesses exploit equally South Africans whom they do not employ and immigrants whom they employ below the minimum standards as prescribed in law.
In acting this way, they demonstrate the brutality of the capitalist system which does not care for the humanity of its employees, so long as the system has the workers available in abundance and employers can pit them in fierce competition against one another and make super profits out of all of them.
In fact, research shows that it is for exactly this reason that businesses tend to lobby governments for more liberal immigration policies.
While this debate is not primarily about international migration, I think it is important to highlight several points.
Firstly, we are clear and unapologetic that the South African government must prioritise its own citizens for employment and economic opportunities.
This is true of most, if not all countries, and we are no different.
Immigration policy is inherently protectionist in all countries – outside of regional integration arrangements which are exceptions to this – and we will continue to regulate immigration in our national interest.
In this regard, we insist that businesses operating in South Africa must comply with the regulations to ensure that no less than 60% South Africans are employed in those businesses, including those owned and run by foreign nationals in South Africa.
Joint business inspections have been carried out in 56 business premises, resulting in 7 employers charged for employing undocumented migrants and 147 undocumented migrants were arrested.
As well as meeting businesses and their federations to seek a collaborative and proactive approach, we shall persist with the inspections.
However, we must emphasise that whilst we carry out these inspections, we do not blame foreign nationals for high unemployment in South Africa, but we place the blame squarely on our untransformed racialized economy.
Secondly, we must acknowledge that there are factors which limit our ability to regulate immigration such as large, porous land borders.
Despite the best intentions, few, if any countries, including those with far more means, are able to police their borders such that they can ensure that no human being crosses their border unauthorized.
We must manage our borderline and ports of entry to the best of our ability, to protect our sovereignty, security, economy, and travellers themselves, South African and foreign.
The Border Management Authority (BMA) will aid this, in providing a structure for integrated, professional, specialized border management capability.
But it is neither possible, nor desirable, to seal our borders.
Thirdly, all growing, competitive industrial and knowledge economies are enhanced by an enlightened management of international migration.
No country produces all the skills it needs all the time.
Immigrants bring skills, knowledge, experience, resources and human connections which enhance societies and economies, increasingly so in a globalized world.
To think of immigrants only in the context of taking jobs from locals is therefore a mistake and short-sighted.
By contributing to growth, they directly and indirectly create new opportunities for South Africans to take advantage of.
Fourthly, we must swiftly and emphatically reject and bury the idea underlying too much of our public discourse around international migration, that Africa is a burden.
Madiba already directed us at the very advent of our freedom to contribute towards the renaissance of Africa.
Our region of SADC and our beloved continent of Africa are our future.
They are our partners in development, fellow members of an indivisible African civilization which is in the process of rebirth.
We will not develop despite Africa, but with and because of Africa.
Africa is a continent of 1.2 billion dynamic and aspirant people, increasingly urbanized, with a large and growing middle class.
We are a young continent, whose workforce can, must and will power a social revolution, especially as the populations of industrial powers such as Europe and even China, age in the coming decades.
Our future lies in intra-African trade and regional economic integration.
The advantage of being late developers is that we are the last, exciting global growth frontier.
We must bind together to bring about a common future.
South Africa is a leader in our continent.
Our commitment to democracy, peace and stability, and common development is respected and embraced.
Our companies are leading investors and players in many African countries.
We cannot aspire to play a leadership role in Africa’s development, while closing our door to all of our fellow Africans who come to South Africa seeking economic opportunities.
Neither can we provide leadership in isolation, secluded from the rest of the continent.
Nor can we, and a handful of other countries, absorb the economic migrants of sister countries, absolving them of their own development responsibilities.
We must find a balance.
In this regard, as leading powers on the continent, South Africa and Nigeria must not fall into the trap of mutual suspicion and discord.
The development of our respective countries, and the African continent as a whole, requires that we draw closer to one another politically, socially and economically.
Let us never allow our common challenges, however difficult they may be, to cause antagonism between us, but let us rather confront them with a spirit of Pan-African and brotherly partnership and dialogue.
Finally, now and ever, we must ground ourselves in our values.
The issue of ‘Who belongs?’ has too often bedevilled African countries throughout the post-colonial period.
It has been at the heart of political divisions, violence and even civil war; and this is not unique to South Africa as many other countries, both in Africa and abroad, have been subject to political contestation based on identity, at times resulting in civil wars.
We must remember the wisdom, vision and humanity we displayed when we proclaimed in the Freedom Charter of 1955 that “South Africa belongs to all who live in it” and when we adopted a Constitution which recognizes the dignity and human rights of all persons, not only citizens or documented persons.
This is a high standard we have set for ourselves, but it is the right standard, which we need to continue to strive to live by.
We are a people of Ubuntu.
We cannot deny the human dignity of others but expect our own to be upheld.
These human values were the social genius of freedom loving South Africans who were the midwives and architects of our young democracy.
Now as ever, we must affirm those values by living them, in good times and in difficult times.
Ultimately, the most urgent challenge Africa faces with regard to migration stems not from the individuals migrating, but from our continent’s economic underdevelopment which, coupled with colonial borders, has created inequitable migration patterns.
In his Preface to Adekeye Adebajo’s book, Professor Ali Mazrui says:
“Africa, since its partition, has seen its mineral wealth exploited for the benefit of others, its fertile land left undercultivated, its rich cultures destroyed, and its brain-power ‘drained’ to other parts of the world. At the centre of this calamity is the role of the West in creating an international system that reduced proud Africans to the lowest caste of the twentieth century. How will post-colonial Africans overcome this condition in the twenty-first century?” (The Curse of Berlin: Africa After the Cold War).
Fortunately, the question Mazrui posed addressed itself not to victims any more, but to the masters of their own destiny.
It was to provide such clarity that Uncle Jack Simons said to MK combatants in Angola that African independence had concentrated on the transfer of political power but not on implementing a programme of economic and social change.
He thus concluded that:
“The tendency in many African countries has been to maintain the old economic as well as political system. There has been continuity and not revolution.”
Herein lies our answer, Honourable Members, not to fight immigrants, but to implement a programme of economic and social change that would hoist the current neo-colonial relations at their own petard and bring total emancipation to all of Africa!
I thank you.