Xenophobic attacks of 2008, we need to tighten our borders


I BELIEVE IN A SOCIETY THAT attracts all nations of the world. The xenophobic attacks of 2008 broke my heart and marred the image of Mandela’s rainbow nation. The incidents reported were shocking and revealed what people were thinking and feeling. I was at Rhodes University that year. We’d talk a lot about this at the dining hall and many people would say those who commit these acts do not understand the concept of a rainbow nation. My views were different from most people because I believed these gruesome attacks highlighted the failure of our government’s strategic migration policies to serve national interests.

When my dad worked in Ballito he used to tell us that it was easy to be exploited in that town. The employers would pay workers peanuts, if they complained they’d be fired and an immigrant hired because he would willingly work for just R10 a day. Is this fair? No. It certainly does stoke repugnance and that’s why I believe our government needs to protect its citizens from such treatment. In such situations victims wrongly attack the immigrants. But shouldn’t they rather be protesting against the government? It should be government’s priority to tighten the borders.

The influx of illegal immigrants in South Africa has been a challenge for many decades. In his paper titled “The Challenge of Immigration Policy in the New South Africa”, Kevin Tessier of Indiana University highlights a challenge that was faced by Mandela’s administration in the early days of his presidency. In a new democratic country South Africa was very attractive to foreigners because of higher wages and better standards of living relative to its neighbors. Immigrants flocked to South Africa in the hope that the Mandela administration would be more sympathetic to their interests than previous administrations. In 1995 the Department of Home Affairs, then helmed by Mangosuthu Buthelezi, an advocate of anti-immigration policies at the time, estimated that 2 000 000 illegal immigrants were residing in South Africa.  Our government should have realized that a problem was brewing and taken some steps to avoid what ultimately came to a head in 2008. In a state where the majority of people lack the skills that are rewarded in the labor market, the government must ensure that it implements strategic migration policies that best serve national interests and thus prevent xenophobia. How?

A recent report by Centre for Development and Enterprise concurs that it must be a priority of the state to attract skilled immigrants (those with at least a tertiary qualification) and issue them residence permits. Such a step could energize our economy through addressing key skills deficits. Although the paper is two-sided on unskilled immigrants, I believe they should be blocked from entering the country seeing as we already have a large pool of unskilled labor. It seems like this is the case in many countries. For years the United States has aimed to attract the world’s most talented individuals. So, let’s reserve low-skilled jobs for low-skilled South Africans and open our borders for skilled labor – this will help to curb xenophobic attacks.

Migration policy is a challenge for every country in the world. This challenge is associated with costs of tightening borders as well as geo-political and economic repercussions of migration policies pursued by government.  Even though there’re challenges, we can never shy away from them. Brazil, bordered by 10 countries is spending $8 billion on securing its borders to slow down floods of drugs and illegal immigrants. It’s also a challenge for us, but it must be done to secure the future. Again, I believe in a society that attracts all nations of the world. PM


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