Xeno attacks haunt us

2018-01-21 05:43
Residents of Rustenburg embarked on burning houses of foreing nationals accused of being involved in drugs which is affecting the community. Picture: Rapula Mancai

Residents of Rustenburg embarked on burning houses of foreing nationals accused of being involved in drugs which is affecting the community. Picture: Rapula Mancai

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Attacks on foreigners in Rustenburg give South Africans a chance to look at why we aren’t protecting all the residents in the country, write Steven Gordon, Gilbert Fokou, Yul Derek Davids and Narnia Bohler-Muller.

Violence erupted again in Rustenburg, North West, recently and news reports carried descriptions of homes being burnt and shops looted. The riots were sparked by rumours in the community that the police were involved with foreign-born drug dealers.

Such rumours are common in townships, where this type of crime is often attributed to the presence of foreigners. This recent violence brought back memories of last year’s anti-immigrant riots in Pretoria and the burning question of whether this collective mayhem was motivated by hatred of international migrants.

This recent unrest forces South Africans to ask questions about the state of social cohesion in our country.

Police Minister Fikile Mbalula condemned the violence, asked communities to work with police and told them not to take the law into their own hands. He emphasised that “people must know we are a democratic state, with competent institutions to resolve these matters”.

In such moments of violence, our natural predisposition is to advocate the return of law and order. We ask the authorities to punish and curtail the activities of those responsible for the violence.

Obviously, lawlessness cannot be tolerated and the lives and property of the country’s foreign-born population should be protected by the police. But a socially cohesive society is not maintained solely through law and order.

There are about 3 million migrants living in the country and the government’s National Development Plan has mapped out a future in which the size of the migrant population increases.

The Constitution, as well as the country’s national social cohesion strategy, commits our government to protect migrants from discrimination and help integrate them into our society. But South Africa has not adopted a clear and coherent policy for the integration of foreigners. As a result, many migrants are isolated from their host communities, which makes them vulnerable to discrimination. This failure was acknowledged by the July 2017 white paper on international migration for South Africa.

The authors attributed this to the country’s lack of a common vision on the value of international migration.

The challenge of how to integrate international migrants into a host society is one that many nations face. For instance, the prospect of integrating migrants is opposed by a number of politicians in North America and western Europe who often base their opposition on reactionary prejudices towards people of colour.

Despite this negative trend, it is still possible to learn positive lessons from these countries about integration. Since 2007, for example, Germany has had a national integration plan that provides local and state officials with a framework for conducting immigrant integration programmes. These programmes include language, civic and cultural courses which help migrants assimilate into their host communities.

The Canadian model of integration, based on coherent immigration selection, settlement, citizenship and multiculturalism policies, has been largely successful in terms of integrating newcomers to that country. The Canadian approach towards integration in which various social groups coexist, conserving their characters, features and values, has evolved over time to reflect shifting needs and considerations.

One of the lessons other experiences can teach South Africa is that integration is not assimilation and various programmes must be developed across all layers of government and must not just be the responsibility of one department or agency. An integration strategy must involve a holistic approach that incorporates multiple factors and sectors (including, for example, education or awareness, law enforcement, service delivery, housing and labour markets). Moreover, different levels of government must work with civil society organisations (such as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees) to manage the integration of migrants. Ultimately, the goal of integration is to encourage newcomers to contribute to the country’s economic, social, political and cultural development.

But, of course, integration is a dynamic two-way process that requires citizens of host nations to learn to be more tolerant of international migrants.

Obviously one of the central tasks of an integration policy in South Africa is to prevent anti-immigrant violence. But such a policy must not focus only on violence prevention. By concentrating only on extreme types of anti-immigrant behaviour (like violence) we lose sight of the harmful potential of anti-immigrant sentiment. Many people hold prejudicial opinions about foreigners, but do not act on these opinions. Rather they merely pass these opinions on to their friends, family and co-workers. Such opinions become a fertile soil which, under the right conditions, can reap a crop of prejudicial antagonistic behaviour. To resolve the problem, programmes to promote attitudinal change must be buttressed by the formation and maintenance of specially designed, community-based conflict resolution structures and processes.

The white paper on international migration has identified integration of international migrants as one of the country’s immigration policy priorities. For integration programmes to be effective they will require significant investment from the public purse. But spending public money on integration programmes may be toxic in the current climate of public opinion. Politicians must show courage in the face of such opposition and support integration policies. In the long term such policies will benefit the country both economically as well as culturally. The government has a crucial role to play in promoting a multicultural and nonracial society.

Gordon, Fokou, Derek Davids and Bohler-Muller are with the Democracy Governance and Service Delivery unit at the Human Science Research Council

Read more on:    xenophobia

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