Johannesburg – The thorny issue of illegal immigrants in the country is shaping up to be one of the central policy debates in the lead-up to the 2024 general elections.
Parties like the Patriotic Alliance (PA) and ActionSA have made it clear they want tougher action against illegal immigrants.
The Inkatha Freedom Party has also submitted a private members bill to parliament to regulate the employment of foreign nationals.
Political analyst Ralph Mathekga said the government’s stance and that of the governing party was to look away and hope the problem would sort itself out.
“There is no roadmap or any proper immigration policy. It seems like every time we’re caught unaware of the issues that have been simmering for decades.
Many of these issues emanated from the collapse of the border control management system. The governing party has adopted a stance of just looking away,” said Mathekga.
He also cautioned that undocumented foreign nationals were a security threat.
University of KwaZulu-Natal academic and political analyst Zakhele Ndlovu said foreign nationals were taking advantage of a weak system and citizens’ over-reliance on the state.
“Most foreign nationals have skills that we do not have as South Africans and they are using that to create their own economic opportunities.
They also believe in the strength of working together, something that we lack as South Africans,” said Ndlovu.
Another political analyst and international relations specialist, professor Bheki Mngomezulu, said there was no political will or desire to deal with concerns raised by locals about illegal immigrants.
“There is no country in the world which is a free-for-all. There’s no clear agenda on how to deal with the crisis as a sovereign state.
It’s not that difficult to deal with immigration and undocumented foreign nationals using the provisions in the law,” he said.
Trade union federation Cosatu said that although ActionSA leader Herman Mashaba called on the government to clamp down on undocumented foreign nationals, his approach needed fine-tuning.
“We are being blackmailed by other African countries who have destroyed their own economies.
“Many foreign nationals are not keeping their money here, so essentially, you’re
destroying your own economy as a sovereign state.
“SA must re-imagine its geopolitical economy. There’s nothing complicated, we must stop trying to please everyone at the expense of our own people.
Mashaba did it in Johannesburg,” the federation’s spokesperson Sizwe Pamla said.
He lambasted the political establishment, saying it existed to please the private sector, warning that some security companies recruited undocumented foreign nationals who fought in big wars in their own countries.
“You have a government that doesn’t want to upset the private sector. In addition, there are security companies who recruit well-trained foreign nationals who have fought in big wars. And we think we’re safe as a country.”
PA leader Gayton McKenzie said the ANC had to shoulder the blame.
“It has wrongly concluded that just because a handful of African countries allowed struggle activists to go into exile in their countries, this means there should be a laissez-faire attitude to border control in South Africa,” said McKenzie.
Mashaba said it was time for the country to have a national dialogue on the issue of illegal immigrants.
“South Africa shouldn’t be a country where failed countries outsource their problems to. We cannot have illegal foreigners here to take jobs that belong to rightful citizens.
“I have no personal vendetta against foreign nationals who are here legally, but those who are illegal must be sent back to their countries.
“There shouldn’t be a discussion about it,” said Mashaba.
Two industries that have been accused of overlooking South Africans in favour of other foreign counterparts are the trucking and hospitality industries.
The two industries this week hit back at the allegations.
“The total number of drivers is 63 468 and the total number of foreign national drivers is 6 392.
The percentage of foreign national drivers is 10.07%,” said Magretia Brown-Engelbrecht, the labour relations manager at the Road Freight Association.
Rosemary Anderson, the chairperson for the Federated Hospitality Association of Southern Africa, an organisation that represents the hospitality industry, said they were not fazed by the recent comments surrounding the foreigners dominating in the industry.
“Let’s all start looking at what is causing unemployment and work towards sustainable solutions to the problems.
Let’s address what is causing unemployment instead of trying to put band aids on matters that are not causing the original problems.”
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