After all, we have become known as a "soft target" for foreign criminals fleeing their countries because of our combination of no border control and a criminal justice system that cannot tie its own shoe laces, writes Herman Mashaba.
Make no mistake, we face a crisis with illegal immigration in South Africa.
Our borders seem to exist only on maps, and thousands of people stream through on a daily basis without encountering any form of law enforcement.
The SANDF has been quite clear: they do not have the resources to protect 4 833km of our land borders with our neighbouring countries.
Let me be unequivocal here. I hate xenophobia and I denounce outbreaks of violence. I want to see the seven billion people of this world coming to South Africa to live, work and travel.
However, people must come into our country legally and, once here, must obey our laws.
This is not too much to ask.
If you don't believe me, wonder across the border of most countries in the world and Africa and see how we would be treated.
Countries around the world take this very seriously.
Elections are won and lost (in some of them) based on this very issue. So why then, when we raise this issue are we labelled xenophobic?
It's a good question.
Illegal immigration is costing our country dearly. Despite what some academics and talk show hosts say, there is no disputing this.
Because when thousands of people cross into our country every day, you can assume that some of them are doing so with criminal intent.
After all, we have become known as a "soft target" for foreign criminals fleeing their countries because of our combination of no border control and a criminal justice system that cannot tie its own shoe laces.
Senior policemen and women in our country have reported that over half of all arrests made are foreign nationals.
In a country which features at the top of the list for violent crimes can we really afford to remain silent on this matter?
Again, let me be clear.
Most people coming into our country are not criminals. They are good people, trying to find opportunity in South Africa because of difficult circumstances in their own countries. But, we are a country too that has its own challenges.
We are unable to provide anywhere near adequately what is needed by our own South African citizens. With 39% unemployment, the highest levels of inequality, massive housing backlogs and an inability of government to meet the rising needs of healthcare and infrastructure, can we really afford to be helping so many people from other countries?
I know, at this point the talk show hosts like to suggest that these kinds of questions are designed to deflect government failure, and in some cases I believe they may be right.
But if you cost the needs that government needs to fulfill in our country across education, housing, infrastructure, electricity, health care and many more, I can assure you it will exceed our financial abilities even under the most effective and corruption free government.
In Johannesburg, while I was Mayor, we costed our infrastructure backlog at over R170bn.
Like many municipalities, we had only a fraction of this (R8bn) each year to address it.
Despite the names I will be called, and despite the fact that they will inexplicably blame me for xenophobic outbreaks of violence, I will never stop raising this issue. We cannot solve the problems of the world as a country, before we have started to solve our own.
Our political landscape is a mess on this issue.
The ANC must be viewed on how they have dealt with this issue in government, and that is not a pretty assessment. There is nobody who is willing to provide leadership of the issue of illegal immigration in our country.
The millions of people in South Africa who see this as an important challenge have no political representation in our political system.
Tomorrow, I will be launching a focused discussion on The People's Dialogue on illegal immigration.
I will be calling on all South Africans to provide their perspectives on the matter, and how we can address this issue.
When I launch the political alternative that arises from the dialogue, I will ensure that it is the voices of the South African people that inform the solutions we will propose.
We must not be gagged from discussing important issues in our country that are central to turnaround.
I believe we can fix this country. I believe we can make it a place of growth, job creation and prosperity that overcomes the legacy of our past. But we will never accomplish this if we do not talk and find solutions to our challenges.
It is not xenophobic to talk about this issue, it is necessary.
Without question, let's be responsible in our approach and let’s denounce violence and looting. But let’s talk.
I look forward to hearing from you in the coming days, South Africa needs its freedom-loving, law-abiding citizens of our country to stand up.
- Mashaba is founder of The People's Dialogue, an entrepreneur and the former executive mayor of the City of Johannesburg.
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