Illegality breeds more illegalities that bring tragedies

It has been observed internationally that, more often than not, drivers involved in accidents would have committed a traffic offence of one description or another before the crash in question.

More generally, police would tell you that people arrested for a crime would most likely be found to have committed another crime or more before being arrested for the particular crime.

The tragic building collapse in George in the Western Cape, which brought with it horrendous deaths, injuries and anguish to many families, brought to mind these observations.


No doubt there are going to be thorough investigations into this tragedy, which is said to be unprecedented in South African history. The death toll is expected to be more than 50.

Usually, such multi-faceted investigations involving different parties that would include the police, municipality, departments of health, home affairs, infrastructure, labour and employment, and perhaps professionals such as engineers and architects, tend to take a long time.

But for us, ordinary observers, the pungent odour of several layers of irregularities and illegalities swirling over that situation, is hard to ignore.

Cleaners are said to have been ordered to mix cement; the number of workers and their names on the building site could not be immediately determined, and there is a suggestion that the majority of workers were undocumented foreigners.

This immediately brings up questions such as: were building and safety regulations adhered to? Were immigration and labour laws followed?

Are we once again seeing the distortion of the labour market in the country through the employment of illegal foreign nationals for maximum exploitation?


In this case, quite a few illegalities would have followed the illegality of illegal immigration. And this is a noticeable pattern in South Africa.

Last year, a brutal gang rape of young women was committed in Krugersdorp by a group of zama zamas said to be illegal immigrants from Lesotho.

This crime was preceded by acts of illegal mining, which in turn preceded the illegality of entering South Africa unlawfully.

Similarly, a mass shooting was committed at a tavern in Orlando, Soweto. The perpetrators were said to be illegal Lesotho nationals who were said to be involved in illegal mineral dealings.

Several small children died after eating biscuits bought from spaza shops. The owners are said to be foreign nationals.

It is not clear whether they were legal or not, but all indications were that they were not supposed to be trading in the first place.

In terms of the registration of their businesses, the municipal bylaws and the health regulations to be adhered to, they were mostly wanting.

Senior state office bearers, particularly politicians, would rush to the scenes of the crimes with cameras in tow and make bombastic statements.

And then nothing, until the next one.

Actually, preventing multiple illegalities should be simple and boring. It requires that officials employed by the relevant authorities in different localities just do their jobs. No drama.

Those employed by municipalities should simply ensure the bylaws are adhered to by all and health inspectors enforce health regulations. With that done, we should not be having our children die from contaminated biscuits.

Building and labour inspectors should be visiting construction sites to enforce the regulations and relevant codes. In the event they find illegal immigrants, the employers should be dealt with harshly.

This is what happens in other countries, including our neighbours, where the dead workers come from.

Home affairs and the police should routinely check on the status of people in the country. Again, this is what some of us have observed in some of the countries we have visited or stayed in.

These routine and boring things are what we need to have a better and safer South Africa.

Mangena is a former cabinet minister, an academic and former Azapo president

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