BOKAMOSO SPECIAL EDITION | Xenophobia is both immoral and irrational

The DA strongly condemns xenophobia and xenophobic violence, and we urge all South Africans to do the same. The hatred and intolerance towards foreign African nationals that has flared up in areas of Gauteng is morally contemptible and self-defeating. It stands in direct conflict with our highest hopes for Africa.

Our vision for Africa is a prosperous, peaceful continent whose democratic nations thrive on individual freedoms, constitutionalism and the rule of law. It is a continent characterised by free trade and willing collaboration, in which knowledge is easily shared and diversity is celebrated. In the next decade we must swim against the international tide, uniting where others are dividing, opening out where others are closing in, sharing where others are withholding. We must build a connected continent with integrated infrastructure that facilitates trade. We must promote not just the free movement of goods and services but also of people, within a legal framework characterised by effective border control and efficient immigration management, so that legality can be enforced. Leaders too must be accountable and respect the rule of law.

This is the Africa we must choose. The future reality will be profoundly influenced by the direction that Nigeria, Kenya, Ethiopia and South Africa take. Our attitude to other Africans must be one that promotes rather than obstructs this vision. We must unite economically for the benefit of the continent, just as so many African states united against apartheid for our benefit. Xenophobia stands in direct conflict with this vision.

South Africa owes a great deal to the generosity of spirit of so many other African nations that aided us in the struggle for democracy and constitutionalism, even as that fight is not yet won in many of those countries. We must recognise the fraternal bond we share with our neighbours, and the responsibility we bear as an economic giant in Africa to drive the development of the continent. We also cannot shy away from our responsibilities under international law to accommodate refugees. This does not mean that South Africa should have open borders, or must be willing to accept all who wish to come here. The DA does not support illegal immigrants. It is entirely reasonable for South Africans to expect that borders should be properly controlled and policed. Effective border control must be coupled with efficient immigration management that processes applications rapidly in a fair and consistent manner, so that all immigrants in South Africa are legal and subject to our rule of law.

The DA’s position is that anyone who meets the legal criteria, is prepared to play by the rules of our Constitution and who seeks a better life for themselves, should be welcome in South Africa. We recognize and celebrate the many benefits that migrants confer on our country and we would make it far easier for people with skills and drive to enter South Africa legally. Doing so would help drive economic growth and restore the trust and goodwill between South Africa and other African countries that has been so eroded by xenophobia here, and that is so important for realising our vision for Africa.

The real cause of mass migration is the social collapse and constant conflict in so many countries to our north. South Africa must play its part in placing immigration front and central on the African Union’s agenda, so that we can build a continent that operates on the rule of law and accommodates refugees in a fair and compassionate manner while actively opposing oppressive, undemocratic leaders and promoting constitutional democracy.

In last week’s xenophobic eruption in Gauteng, foreign-owned shops were looted and destroyed and houses were set alight. Non-nationals were intimidated and threatened, both on the ground and on social media. On Friday protesters petitioned the Department of Home Affairs to put an end to immigration, in a march that turned violent.

Initial intelligence reports suggest that the violence was planned and coordinated, rather than spontaneous. The Department of State Security’s claim that they had no idea about the fomenting of violence shows either incompetence or dishonesty. It is tempting for those who wish to politicize the violence to suggest that the DA-run local governments in Tshwane and Johannesburg have some culpability. But state intelligence and policing (SAPS) are both national government functions. The metro police are tasked to enforce mainly municipal by-laws and traffic laws. They have neither the mandate nor the resources to maintain law and order, let alone to collect state intelligence on co-ordinated and planned attacks.

Research shows that immigrants are a net force for good around the world, including in SA. Immigrants bring valuable and scarce skills, often plugging gaps in our economy. Many of the best teachers in SA’s poorest schools are foreign migrants. Migrants tend to be dynamic and strongly entrepreneurial, creating economic opportunities for locals and other migrants.

Unfortunately, the benefits of immigration are intangible in that they tend to accrue over the long-term and to the broader population. But immigration has local, short-term social costs. The immediate perception is that new arrivals “take” jobs and resources. This perception, whether true or false, and the resentment and violence it brings, is greatly aggravated by a number of government failures. The first is our massive and growing unemployment due to our stagnant economy. When life is hard and getting harder, it is natural to look for scapegoats and to close ranks on “them”.

Secondly, some take their cue from ANC leaders, many of whom espouse nationalist, and xenophobic, sentiments (as evidenced by Small Business Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu’s comment in 2015 that foreign business owners cannot expect to co-exist peacefully with local business owners unless they share their business secrets) and a blatant disregard for human rights (as evidenced by their protection of Sudanese President Al Bashir wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity).

And finally the government is failing to deal fairly and competently with immigration itself. South Africa, rightfully, has a fairly friendly immigration policy. But our borders are poorly managed and thus porous. Also, refugees are not processed efficiently, resulting in little legal distinction between those who are here legitimately, and not. This breeds further resentment.

The ANC government has lost its vision for Africa as a united continent of shared prosperity. The xenophobia we see today is a direct consequence of poor leadership. South Africans must embrace new leadership with a constructive attitude to Africa. Because opening our hearts to other Africans is both the morally right and most rational thing to do.

Mmusi Maimane

DA Leader

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