OPINION | Tseliso Thipanyane: Ridding SA of foreign nationals will not rid country of its problems

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Groups like Operation Dudula have raised concerns that are maybe not being considered as they should, argues the writer. (Photo by Gallo Images/Papi Morake)
Groups like Operation Dudula have raised concerns that are maybe not being considered as they should, argues the writer. (Photo by Gallo Images/Papi Morake)

The Zondo Commission into state capture made it quite clear that corruption played a large role in the current situation South Africa finds itself in. It is surprising, then that people buy into the rhetoric around African foreign nationals being responsible for the woes of poverty, unemployment and related ills, writes Tseliso Thipanyane.

The people of Africa have been conditioned to a mentality of us versus them. Colonial borders from when the countries of Europe divided Africa up for their exploitation remain in place today.

We remind ourselves and our people across Africa of the unity that once existed on the continent. Our shared history shaped by the spirit of ubuntu, known by different names across the region, demonstrates the oneness of Africa, better than any history lesson. Not only is there a shared understanding of the spirit of ubuntu, but there are concrete examples, in more recent history, of coming together of Africans when we fought a common enemy in the form of the apartheid government.

As expressed by the then Minister of Sport, Fikile Mbalula, freedom fighters from South Africa enjoyed a warm African welcome and support in the fight against apartheid.

It is concerning that there has been a resurgence of anti-African sentiment in South Africa and the irresponsible use of the rhetoric of hate and division by leaders and would be leaders.

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The Zondo Commission into state capture made it quite clear that maladministration and corruption have played a large role in the current situation in which South Africa finds itself. Throughout the two and more years that the commission heard evidence of corruption and state capture, never once did it hear allegations of African foreign nationals who live in and have integrated into our communities being implicated in this project.

Maladministration, corruption and poor governance have clearly been pointed out as the cause of the many woes we face. It is therefore surprising, given the wide media coverage which the Zondo commission enjoyed, that there are still those who buy into the rhetoric around African foreign nationals being responsible for the woes of poverty, unemployment and related ills.

Implement systems that bring order and stability 

Operation Dudula should not have any support as refugees and migrants, many of whom have integrated into our communities, have been as badly impacted as people of South Africa, by the economic downturn caused by state capture, which cost South Africa billions.

The South African government and in particular the Department of Home Affairs is urged to urgently implement systems which will bring order and stability to the region for the benefit of the people of this country and those within its borders.

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Focusing on dealing with illegal foreign nationals does not address the problem of economic hardship in South Africa in the sub-Saharan region. An efficient system of border control which allows and documents entry and exit from the country is a progressive measure that will ensure comprehensive records and better control of border operations.

Open borders in the SADC region to enhance trade have better prospects for kick-starting economies and bringing stability than any of the current strategies. Enhancing inter-region trade is a concrete means of economic empowerment for the region's people and South Africa. An economically stable region which can better sustain the needs of the people will ultimately result in reduced economic migrancy.

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An approach that addresses the cause of the problem rather than its symptoms is a more efficient and effective means of ensuring that resources can be directed where they are most needed.

While Africans remain fighting among one another, the wealth of Africa continues to bleed out of the region enriching already prosperous nations to the north.

Dudula and similar operations legitimise attacks on migrants but fail to resolve the underlying problems of poverty and inequality. While this misleading narrative is condemned in the strongest terms it is important to consider how hunger and fierce competition for scarce resources can influence people to buy into this false narrative.

No place for afrophobia and xenophobia 

Afrophobia and Xenophobia have no place within the word or spirit of the Constitution, neither however, does poverty or hunger. The current economic recession is therefore concerning since it makes us more vulnerable to seeking a quick fix. Ridding the country of the presence of foreign nationals will not rid the country of the problems which it faces.

Under both domestic and international law, South Africa has bound itself to the ideal of eradicating statelessness. This ideal cannot be attained while the approach to it remains reactive and punitive. More efficient processes for documenting persons entering the country will go a long way to ensuring that appropriate planning for the needs of migrants, within resources, is possible but can also fulfil the purpose of encouraging economic renewal in the region thereby addressing in part the problem of statelessness.

READ | How Afrophobia exposes the battle between history and myth

Acknowledging that resources are constrained, the exercise of better control through the proposed mechanisms is consistent with a commitment to human rights and the achievement of economic stability and prosperity in South Africa and the region.

It is also consistent with principles of responsive and accountable governance which the reports of the Zondo Commission demonstrate is what is required quite urgently.

- Tseliso Thipanyane is chairperson of the South African Institute for Responsive and Accountable Governance (SAIRAG).

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