Anger over the immigration crisis must be directed at the ANC, not foreign nationals

With the easing of lockdown restrictions at the beginning of the year, I have been able to spend more time engaging with fellow South Africans in communities across Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape.

What has struck me about many of these communities is the sense of despair they feel over the state of our economy, and rising levels of unemployment. I empathise with young people in particular; how can they not feel hopeless when almost 75% of those between the age of 15 and 24 are unemployed?

Many of these young South Africans are understandably angry with the failure of the ANC government to provide them with a quality education on the one hand, and a prosperous economy that creates jobs on the other.

What is concerning is the growing anger directed at foreign nationals – many of whom are undocumented – that are seen as competition for a limited number of jobs. The feeling of resentment is particularly prevalent in sectors that provide unskilled or semi-skilled employment opportunities, as there is no justifiable reason why these positions could not be filled by South Africans.

While I fully appreciate the anger felt by communities over the lack of jobs, this anger must be directed towards the correct target, and in the right way. The problem is not the foreign nationals, but the ANC government and its failure to secure our borders and create a prosperous economy.

Last year, the self-proclaimed prophet and corruption-accused Shepherd Bushiri and his wife skipped the country under the cover of darkness in defiance of their bail conditions. In response, our Minister of Home Affairs, Aaron Motsoaledi, made the following statement to the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee: “Chairperson, I must confess … it’s common cause … that we are suffering porous borders in this country.” This came along with the startling admission that the Bushiris had five passports each and their permanent residence permits were issued irregularly.

The chronic mismanagement of our border security over the past two decades has left us with a immigration crisis. The old adage says that prevention is better than cure; the ANC has failed spectacularly to prevent this crisis. It is understandable, but not acceptable, that South Africans now want to resort to vigilantism.

ActionSA is unapologetic in our support for stronger immigration controls, and the need to manage the influx of undocumented foreign nationals through our porous borders. But, violence and hatred is not the answer, and cannot ever be tolerated.

As much as ActionSA supports strong immigration policies, we reject any forms of xenophobia that scapegoat foreign nationals for the failings of the ANC government. As a party that stands for the rule of law, we must deal decisively with criminal elements – whether South African citizens or foreign nationals – within the confines of the law. We must always uphold our Constitution and the rights contained in it.

ActionSA wants the people of the world to come to South Africa, but they must do so legally and follow our laws once here. In the same way that one cannot board a flight to London without a UK Visa, foreign nationals seeking residence in South Africa should be expected to comply without our immigration protocols. This is a basic principle of the rule of law, and is non-negotiable.         

Of course, a large part of the problem with undocumented foreign nationals is our dysfunctional Home Affairs Department. There are many law-abiding foreign nationals – including legitimate asylum seekers, refugees and workers with scarce skills – that have done everything in their power to comply with our immigration system, but are failed by the incompetence, corruption and bureaucracy at Home Affairs. This needs to change.

This is why ActionSA believes that in addition to securing our physical borders, an important part of dealing with our immigration crisis is streamlining the processes at Home Affairs, and dealing with corrupt elements in the Department that attempt to extort law-abiding foreign nationals for their personal gain.

We need to make it easier for those with genuinely scare skills to live and work in South Africa. Similarly, we must relax the regulations for tourist visas and adopt an online visa-on-arrival system. In a post-COVID environment where leisure travel will take time to recover, we need to make is as easy as possible for tourists to visit South Africa for the benefit of this crucial job-creating sector.

I am unapologetic about my views on the failure of our immigration system in South Africa having seen first-hand as the Mayor of Johannesburg how this state failure has impacted local communities. My plea to my fellow South Africans is to direct their anger and frustration productively at the real culprits – the ANC, by voting them out of power on the 27th of October.

As with the majority of the problems we face as a country, solving this problem must begin with the removal of the ANC from power in as many municipalities as possible in 2021, and ensuring that this wave of change washes them out of the Union Buildings in 2024. This is the first step towards building a secure, inclusive and prosperous South Africa.