The ANC will take up the issue of undocumented immigrants in this election, arguing that it is what voters are concerned about.
Previously, the governing party denounced Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba as populist and xenophobic, for championing a tough stance against undocumented immigrants.
In an interview with City Press last week, ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule said the matter was consistently raised by the people during the party’s interaction with voters in its door-to-door campaign.
He said the party had listened and would act on it.
“This issue of undocumented foreigners was raised by the general society in South Africa. That is why the ANC wants to focus on it and deal with it once and for all.”
Magashule said people also raised concerns that undocumented foreigners were not paying tax and were running businesses in the townships without licences.
He said the ANC was not being opportunistic, but had listened to the cries of South Africans.
“If they are undocumented when crime happens, you can’t even get these people. You can’t get their fingerprints. [This is about] the safety of the country. It is not being opportunistic. We are listening to the cries of our people,” Magashule said.
This surprise move appears to have been designed to appease voters ahead of the general elections in May.
It comes amid allegations that the influx of undocumented immigrants is putting pressure on basic services such as health and housing.
Although the ANC has previously lashed at Mashaba over his remarks on illegal immigrants the party says in its election manifesto that undocumented immigration has an adverse impact on national security.
“We should ensure that those who come to South Africa do so legally and that the country knows what they do while they are in the country. Take tough measures against undocumented immigrants involved in criminal activities in the country or in cross-border crimes, including those involved in illegal trading and selling adulterated food in townships and villages,” the ANC notes.
Last weekend, President Cyril Ramaphosa told ANC supporters during the party’s rally at Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, that government wants to reduce the number of undocumented immigrants who come to South Africa.
“Effective border management is an important aspect of ensuring that the country and its people are safe.
“Those who want to come to our country must be people who will have all the necessary approvals.
“This is what many countries do. The ANC will improve cooperation with other countries in the region to ensure that we put in place a more effective system to manage migration,” Ramaphosa said.
Home Affairs Minister Siyabonga Cwele’s spokesperson, Siya Qoza, warned on Friday that any employer who employs undocumented immigrants is guilty of an offence in terms of the Immigration Act: “It should also be noted that not all migrants are involved in criminal activities and the investigation of alleged criminal offences is the mandate of the SA Police Service,” Qoza said.
He said the home affairs department was working with other stakeholders to draft a bill on the establishment of a border management agency.
“Once the draft bill is approved and passed into law, it will enable South Africa to put into action the border management agency, which will enable all relevant stakeholders to effectively manage border fences.
“Undocumented migration undermines the sovereignty of states. To this end, the department, through its national immigration services, regularly conducts inspections within the country, in collaboration with other law enforcement agencies.”
Although it is not clear how many undocumented immigrants are in the country, it is estimated that the number is in the hundred thousands to millions.
The DA said the lack of critical data on immigration makes it difficult to make proper plans for service delivery.
Qoza said the department does not have a system to determine the number of undocumented immigrants.
“Undocumented migration is undertaken through illegal routes and, as such, movement cannot be recorded. South Africa welcomes migrants who come into the country legally. Those who use illegal means are not welcome.”
The department has initiated a study on the impact of irregular migration on access to basic services.
Undocumented immigration is going to be one of the key messages that the DA will sell to voters in its attempt to unseat the ANC in the upcoming elections.
The opposition party has said that there is need to secure the country’s borders to ensure immigration is properly controlled. DA leader Mmusi Maimane said the ANC was highlighting the issue in a bid to woo voters.
“The ANC has neglected the issue for many years. It has allowed our army to get to a point where it has no capability to protect the borders. You judge a man by his reputation; the ANC’s reputation is that it has failed on the issue.
“I have problem with the fact that the ANC, having failed at this issue, has highlighted it. It suddenly wants to make empty promises to our people,” Maimane said.
Magashule said the ANC would be tough on undocumented immigrants in the next five years.
“People see undocumented foreigners in our country. Once society raises all these issues, the ANC can’t close its eyes. We are concerned about undocumented people who are in South Africa,” he said.
Mashaba cautiously welcomed the ANC’s stance, saying: “I hope they are doing this for the right reasons. I welcome people of the world coming to our country as visitors, tourists or even looking at making our country their permanent residence, but they must come here legally. When in South Africa, please respect our laws.”
Last year, Mashaba called on government to institute a plan to address the employment of immigrants.
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