Research suggests foreign nationals in SA did not receive adequate care during lockdown

play article
Subscribers can listen to this article
foreign nationals faced a myriad of challenges related to protection, health and socio-economic circumstances. Photo: Brenton Geach/Gallo Images
foreign nationals faced a myriad of challenges related to protection, health and socio-economic circumstances. Photo: Brenton Geach/Gallo Images


New research from the University of Johannesburg found that there was a lack of political will from government to help ensure that foreign nationals were catered for during the Covid-19 lockdown.

At the onset of the pandemic, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that the country would make vaccines available to all those living in South Africa, regardless of their citizenship status.

However, Paddington Mutekwe’s research report found that the state failed to deliver on this promise.

Mutekwe, a researcher at the UJ Centre for Social Change and a doctoral candidate in sociology, investigated the challenges faced by foreign nationals during the pandemic.

He wrote that foreign nationals faced a myriad of challenges related to protection, health and socio-economic circumstances.

Mutekwe stressed:

Reckless statements from public figures catalysed xenophobia and there was a lack of political will to combat the problem.

He added that civil society played a more valuable role in addressing xenophobic sentiments and practices.

The research found that during the first days of Covid-19 in South Africa, there was no form of communication about whether foreign nationals could get tested at government centres.

“This lack of accurate information about non-nationals’ rights has barred many of them from accessing healthcare services, assuming that testing centres were meant for locals only.”

The research was conducted on 16 participants, eight women and eight men from different nations, including Cameroon, Botswana and Namibia, who were staying in different provinces, as well as organisations that helped non-nationals during the pandemic.

‘Foreigners declared undesirable’

Mutekwe said even though the government extended the validity of foreign nationals’ documents that expired during the lockdown, some institutions did not honour this extension.

“Notably at border posts, foreign nationals were declared undesirable persons for overstaying in South Africa.”

The compound effect of foreign nationals’ previous bad experiences with public health institutions discouraged many from accessing public healthcare, and consequently, made use of private providers at extra costs.

“People defined as ‘undocumented’ were not provided with vaccinations and while this affected many South Africans who had lost their IDs, it prevented a lot of foreign nationals from protecting themselves against the virus,” Mutekwe said.

READ: Economists are pessimistic as inflation wreaks havoc for consumers

He added that his report mentioned that most non-nationals did not test for Covid-19 because they were not aware of their legal rights, while others feared arrest or deportation because their papers had expired.

Mutekwe suggested that government did little to ensure that information was accessible to foreign nationals.

“Failure to translate public health messages into foreign languages was a particular problem. This vacuum was filled by organisations like Lawyers for Human Rights and African Diaspora Forum.”

Government failure impoverished foreign nationals

Mutekwe said foreign nationals lost their jobs and faced challenges accessing the government’s hunger alleviation programmes.

They had to get help from churches and their social networks, while others had to cut costs by reducing the size of their accommodation and the amount of remittance sent home.

“We have observed how unity had emerged among Zimbabweans, who are usually a divided community but managed to mobilise resources, using social media groups such as ‘Zimbabweans in Cape Town’ and helped each other buy food and pay rent.

“In the same vein, the African Diaspora Forum had initiated a scheme of cooking food for the migrants since the beginning of the lockdown. 

The forum provided 3 500 parcels and 750 meals each week.

Mutekwe concluded that the government should ensure that everyone, whether documented or not, can easily access public services by coming up with measures to deal with administrative hurdles.

“There is a greater need to capacitate civil servants so that they can render services to the public following policy changes. This can eradicate the gap between policy and practice.”


Delivering the 

news you need

+27 11 713 9001
69 Kingsway Rd, Auckland Park

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Show Comments ()
Latest issue
Latest issue
All the news from City Press in PDF form.
Read now
Voting Booth
Stats SA's recent consumer price index data this week indicated the rise in food prices was the largest in 14 years. Economists say continued load shedding also adds to the rise in the cost of food production. How are you feeding your family during this tough time?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
I have a food garden
7% - 55 votes
I rely on sales
21% - 161 votes
I buy necessities
72% - 549 votes