Herman Mashaba

The elephant in the room: The crisis of SA's porous borders

2019-07-04 10:56
Queues outside Home Affairs on Friday afternoon.

Queues outside Home Affairs on Friday afternoon. (Ian carbutt)

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The issue of undocumented persons is a pressing matter. We must be frank and honest with one another as is expected of people who hold the interests of South Africa close to heart, writes Herman Mashaba.

South Africa is a country of crises.

You name it – unemployment, poverty, inequality, the economy, corruption, racism and crime – there does not seem to be a crisis that is not engulfing our country presently.

If you were an international guest on an impromptu visit to South Africa and had never heard of our country before or its myriad problems, you would be surprised to find out that we are in fact dealing with crisis upon crisis, and so much more.

This is because there is nothing to suggest that there is anything untoward about the number of problems we are faced with daily.

No programmes of action; no significant outcry. Not even the slightest indication from our government that they know we have these crises.

It seems we are determined to carry on with life as usual. 

Recently, we received news that 237 000 jobs were lost in the first quarter of 2019. Later we received another set of devastating news – our GDP had contracted by 3.2% in just one quarter.

But if you were here on an international visit, you wouldn't know that South Africa is under siege.

This is probably because our collective conscience is not alive to the fact that we are in trouble. Or have we mysteriously decided not to react negatively for fear that we might spook the markets or international investors?

Nonetheless, we still manage to have conversations around these issues – maybe not always constructive.

However useless our response to these crises, it cannot compare to our timidity in responding to the crisis of border control, which gives rise to an influx of undocumented persons.

On this specific topic, we are like a rabbit caught in the headlights – we are so petrified by the thought of being labelled that we would rather conform to views or actions that do not serve our interests as a country.

No matter how badly we lose, we are content with pretending there is no crisis so long as we don't ruffle too many feathers.

Previously, I have argued that, because of our desire to live up to expectations that are clearly unreasonable and unattainable, we have allowed ourselves to be beaten into submission to the point of lacking the confidence to be able to speak openly and honestly about issues which no longer benefit us as a country. A case in point is illegal immigration.

As for me, I will not be silenced! I am determined to ensure that this issue remains very much on the national agenda and this does not make me, or anyone who sympathises with my view, xenophobic.

The bottom line is that the issue of undocumented persons is a pressing matter that must be acted upon without delay. We must be frank and honest with one another as is expected of people who hold the interests of South Africa close to heart.

South Africa can no longer continue to operate with the proverbial elephant in the room and try to convince ourselves it is actually something else.

Those who disagree with my taking a tough stance against illegal immigration are quick to insist that South Africa has entered into international agreements, some of which protect people who end up in our country for a myriad reasons, including escaping political persecution while others are economic migrants.

I am on record as having acknowledged that we do indeed have obligations which we must fulfil. That comes with the territory, especially when a country wishes to contribute to the international cause.

But, whether or not the international community and local NGOs choose to accept it or not, we have every right to say: 'This far and no further'.

As a concerned citizen of South Africa, and a leader of one of the most important cities in the country to be burdened by illegal immigration, I insist on South Africa's right to be brutally honest and say that we can no longer sustain the financial and economic burden that comes with accommodating millions of undocumented persons.

Over and above accommodation, the City of Joburg, for instance, is also required to provide services such as healthcare to millions of Johannesburg residents, and an undetermined number of people who are undocumented.

As you can imagine, the budgeting process is quite chaotic because we are constantly forced to chase a moving target. And the target keeps moving because more and more people come to Johannesburg monthly – not just undocumented persons but South Africans in search of economic opportunities.

This places other pressures on the City, including housing.

The City of Joburg is facing one of the worst affordable housing crisis as a result of many years of apartheid spatial planning, which has been exacerbated by the failure of the ANC-led national government since the dawn of our democracy.

So when the multi-party government took over office after the historic local government elections of August 2016, we found ourselves facing a housing backlog of just over 300 000 housing units, with 160 000 people on the free housing list.

These figures will naturally only grow larger when we factor in the fact that, on average, the city attracts roughly 3 000 people every month, coming into the city to look for opportunities as our rural economies are failing.

We are battling economically, and while corruption takes away billions of rand that could best be used to provide services to citizens, this is no reason to continue turning a blind eye to the financial burden caused by this problem of illegal immigration.

The elephant in the room that is significantly contributing to these challenges is the failure of the Department of Home Affairs to control and implement their constitutional mandate regarding immigration.

South Africa is not going to be used as a case study of a country without borders, when we are facing our own major challenges.

Let us continue to attract foreign nationals to visit and stay in South Africa, but they must be here legally, and when here, must respect our laws.

The Department of Home Affairs must ensure, as per the script of our Constitution, that absolutely everything has been done to put effect to the country's laws.

Anything less would be a betrayal of our country.

- Mashaba is the executive mayor of the City of Johannesburg.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    city of johannesburg  |  xenophobia  |  housing  |  immigration
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