Author(s): Nicola de Jager and Nina Hopstock
Strategic Review for Southern Africa.
Since the transition to democracy in 1994, South Africa has experienced an increase in xenophobia. The May 2008 xenophobic attacks, as well as evidence of renewed threats of violence in Gauteng and the Western Cape illustrates that hostility to foreigners is a prevalent issue in South African society. A history of exclusion, poor service delivery by local governments, slow development and an increase in poverty and inequality, an unwiltingness to acknowledge the political and humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe, and, in particular, South Africa’s closed-door migration policies have provided a breeding ground for xenophobia. South Africa’s political and economic progress will continue to attract immigrants and this challenge needs to be addressed with a properly managed immigration policy for the betterment of both South Africa and the region.
Since the transition to democracy in 1994, South Africa has experienced an increase in xenophobic attacks, including both verbal and non-verbal abuse, harassment, as well as the destruction of foreigners’ homes and businesses. In May 2008, these attacks became especially violent, and for the first time since the apartheid era, the police needed assistance from armed forces to quell the violence. The violent attacks started in Alexandra, a residential township in Johannesburg, before spreading across Gauteng and then throughout the country. Approximately 62 people lost their lives, 670 were injured, dozens were raped and about 100 000 people were displaced (Landau 2009: 2). Two thirds of those killed were foreigners, while the others were South Africans who had either married foreigners, refused to take part in the violence, or were born in Mpumalanga or Limpopo (Landau 2009; Matzopoulos et al 2009: 2). Thus the insider/outsider dichotomy expanded beyond foreign nationals to other ‘outsiders’ in communities, for example those who spoke a minority language (Shangaan and Venda-speakers) or came from a different province (Polzer 2010: 9). For example, your safety was determined by whether you could answer the interrogative ‘yini le?!’–’what is this?!’ while pointing to a part of the body and requiring the correct isiZulu response (Everatt 2011: 8). Thus pointing to a general intolerance of the ‘other’ and highlighting a much broader concern for this rainbow nation.
The xenophobic attacks which have taken place, mostly targeting immigrant workers and asylum seekers from the African continent, illustrates that hostility to foreigners and ‘outsiders’ is a prevalent issue in the South African society (UNHCR 2010). According to a World Values Survey on Attitudes to Immigration and subsequent research conducted by the Southern African Migration Project (SAMP) South Africans hold the most hostile views of immigrants in comparison to 29 nations (Crush and Pendleton 2004; Philip 2008). This has motivated many discussions concerning the reasons for the prevalence of xenophobic attitudes and the violence, the suitability of the government’s response, and the need for improved immigration policies (McKinight 2008:19). Evidence of renewed xenophobia in the Western Cape (Ntshingila 2010) and threats of violence targeting foreign shop owners in Gauteng (Gauteng DLGH 2011)illustrates that these issues have not yet been resolved and require proper investigation.
Understanding the underlying reasons for the widespread xenophobia in South Africa is crucial, on a micro-level, to ensure that future attacks are prevented, and, on a macro-level, to ensure that the basic tenets of regional cooperation are met, namely tolerance and acceptance of other people. Xenophobic attitudes and actions are counter to the Southern African Development Community’s (SADC) aims of regional cooperation and development and its Draft Protocol on the Facilitation of Movement of Persons, to which South Africa is a signatory. This paper will first present the current migration trends in South Africa, as well as an overview of the xenophobic attacks in the country. Subsequently, it will provide an analysis of the underlying causes of xenophobia in South Africa, focusing on South Africa’s immigration policy.
2. CURRENT MIGRATION TRENDS IN SOUTH AFRICA
In the post-apartheid era, there has been a change in the magnitude and type of migrants. Until the end of the 1990s, European immigrants dominated, as they had tended to do during the apartheid era. However, as the new regime abandoned racist selection criteria, the immigration trend started to change, and today most immigrants, documented as well as undocumented, come from neighbouring countries (McConnell 2009: 37). Even though South Africa has widespread poverty and inequality, the country is wealthy in comparison to many of its neighbours. Therefore, it acts as a magnet to people from the rest of the continent, who enter the country both legally and illegally (Aggad and Sidiropoulos 2008: 2). Exact figures of migrants in South Africa are not avallable, as tracking undocumented migrants is a difficult task (McConnell 2009: 37). However, a conservative estimate of the actual foreign population is between 1.6 and 2 million or 3-4 per cent of the total national population (Polzer 2010: 3). In particular, Zimbabwe’s deplorable economic and political situation has accelerated the immigration flow over the last few years to South Africa and makes them the largest group of foreign migrants in the country. Human Rights Watch estimates that between one and 1.5 million Zimbabweans have fled to South Africa between 2005 and 2008 (Human Rights Watch 2008). Consequently these immigrations have had a huge impact on South Africa’s social landscape, including demand for jobs, housing, and other services (Aggad and Sidiropoulos 2008: 2).
South Africa is also an output country. It has experienced a significant number of skilled emigrations, especially in the industrial, medical and education fields. The combination of the emigration of skilled workers and the legacy of the poor education system for black South Africans under apartheid has created a shortage of skilled labour in South Africa and poses significant challenges for development in the country (McConnell 2009: 37).
Although South Africa is experiencing a massive brain drain, the skilled migrants already within the country’s borders contain a wealth of resources. However, even with the need for skilled professionals in South Africa, these immigrants are often unable to find work that matches their skills, often due to discrimination. Many of these immigrants must resort to finding unskilled jobs. As a result, this leads to unskilled South Africans feeling that their jobs are being ‘taken’ by immigrants, as the immigrants and unskilled South Africans compete for the same types of jobs (McConnell 2009: 37). This has contributed to widespread hostility towards foreigners.
3. XENOPHOBIA IN SOUTH AFRICA
Xenophobia, defined as a deep dislike of non-nationals by nationals of the recipient state, is a common phenomenon in the South African society (Valji 2003:1). While the xenophobic attacks in 2008 and later in 2009 resulted in widespread national and international attention, xenophobic attitudes towards African foreigners have been prevalent throughout the post-apartheid era (Crush 2000: 106). Since the transition to democracy in 1994, hundreds of people have been harassed, attacked, or killed because of their status as foreigners (IOM 2009: 7). Moreover, hostile attitudes towards foreigners have continued to harden, especially towards foreigners from Africa (Crush and Ramachandran 2009: 15). A 2001 SAMP survey showed that 21 per cent of South Africans wanted a complete ban on the entry of foreigners, whilst 64 per cent wanted strict limits on entry (Crush and Pendleton 2004: 9). Despite overwhelming evidence of deep-seated xenophobic attitudes in the South African population, the issue has largely been ignored in the public political discourse (Crush and Pendleton 2004: 9). Both inside and outside the government, previous attacks were seen by many largely as a by-product of the country’s rapid social transformation and integration into the world economy (IOM 2009:7). Even the response of the government to the May 2008 attacks was largely denialist in character (Crush and Ramachandran 2009: 15). Some parts of the government blamed criminal masterminds for the violence, while others denied that there was a crisis at all. However, statements from perpetrators and other township residents made it clear that the frustrations and anger behind the violence were widespread in the population. Although not everybody supported the killings, almost all agreed that there were “too many” foreigners in the country (Landau 2009: 2). The denialist attitude of the government is a crucial problem when it comes to managing xenophobia in South Africa and by attributing the violence to criminal fringe elements; xenophobia was unfortunately swept under the carpet. Ignoring the presence and reality of deep and Iongstanding xenophobic attitudes, results in the ineffective management of the issue. Some sections of the government have, however, begun to acknowledge the issue, nevertheless, it remains to be seen if their efforts will be sufficient to roll-back xenophobia.
A number of explanations for xenophobia in South Africa can be put forward. Historical roots of exclusion, relative deprivation and a lack of socio-economic improvement in the lives of the majority of South Africans offer some insight into the phenomenon.
3.1 Historical roots–culture of exclusion
While xenophobia is seen by many as a relatively new phenomenon in South Africa, the immigration policy under apartheid included a racial component, which could have laid the foundation for an enduring culture of exclusion. During the apartheid regime, xenophobia was expressed through laws and policy, which led to strict controls over anyone who was seen to be different (not white) from the leading elite (Kruger 1969: 64). Today it appears that the hatred against foreigners is replacing the divide between white and black South Africans (McKnight 2008: 21) as the xenophobic attitudes impose a national label rather than a racial one (Siddique 2003: 17). This change must be understood in light of the historical context of exclusion that has been evident throughout South Africa’s history. During apartheid, the government developed a language of alienage to deny both political rights and rights to residence to South Africa’s black majority. Although the black South Africans could not be fully excluded or externalised, through the implementation of pass laws they were made into temporary sojourners and denied the rights of citizenship. By this, their presence was formally allowed only as long as they were useful. Immigrants today, especially from the African continent, experience a similar situation. The primary difference is that the citizenry today is South Africa’s black majority, while the immigrants are the ones without political rights and rights of residence (Landau 2009: 6-7). This history of exclusion has provided a foundation on which xenophobic attitudes have developed and increased in intensity in South Africa. However, blaming the recent spate of xenophobic attacks on South Africa’s history removes agency from its current citizens who actively participated in the attacks and it thus does not serve to fully explain the motivations behind the violence.
3.2 Relative deprivation
Harris (2002: 171) argues that the relative deprivation theory sheds light on the underlying causes of xenophobia in South Africa. Hostility towards foreigners is in this theory understood in relation to limited resources such as housing, education and employment, coupled with high expectations resulting from the political transition. According to the theory, the current situation in South Africa is an ideal situation for a phenomenon like xenophobia to take root and flourish. In the post-apartheid era, while peoples’ expectations have been heightened, a realisation that delivery is not immediate has fuelled frustration in the society (Harris 2002: 171-172). The poverty and inequality levels have either remained consistent or increased since the political transition to democracy and many citizens experience greater economic insecurity than they did during the apartheid era (Landau 2009:5). More than 50 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line (Pillay 2009: 14). Moreover, South Africa has the largest gap between rich and poor in the world (Pressly 2009).
The country faces a huge challenge with regards to unemployment rates, which in 2009 was estimated to be 24 per cent (ClA 2009). However, unofficial estimates are even higher, and were estimated to be 33 per cent (The Presidency of SA 2009). This difficult socioeconomic context creates intense competition for resources amongst the poor. Subsequently, foreigners are seen as a threat and are often blamed for the limited access to jobs, housing and commodities. This is illustrated in a comprehensive study conducted by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in 2009, which found that hostile attitudes towards immigrants in the townships in South Africa were widespread, and often based on the fear of competition on the labour market and local business, as well as limited service delivery. Relative deprivation theory suggests that “a key psychological factor in generating social unrest is a sense of relative deprivation” (Harris 2002: 171-172). This arises from a subjective feeling of discontent based on the belief that one is getting less than one feels entitled to.
When there is a gap between aspirations and reality, social discontent is likely to result. Moreover, violence is not an unusual outcome of relative deprivation (Harris 2002). In light of this, the xenophobic violence stems from fear and anger by South Africans who believe their stakes are threatened by immigrants, especially from other African countries (McKnight 2008: 19).
However, a 2001-2002 survey conducted by SAMP indicated that hostile attitudes towards non-nationals are widespread amongst the poor and the rich, the employed and the unemployed as well as blacks and whites (Crush and Pendleton 2004: 2). This poses a problem in terms of explaining the xenophobic attitudes solely using the relative deprivation theory, as some of the findings run counter to the explanation that only certain groups in a population, namely the socially deprived, are more prone to xenophobic attitudes (Crush and Pendleton 2004).
3.3 An issue of governance
Responsibility for the increase in xenophobia also lies with the current government and a general lack of good governance. Diamond (2005:1-12) recognises that “governance matters” as he explains: “the nature and quality of governance, and the types of policies that governments choose, have a huge impact … in shaping how economies perform, and whether and how rapidly people will escape from mass poverty”. Good governance is expected to reduce conflicts, inhibit and expose corruption and mismanagement, and generally create the incentives for governments to adopt policies for and channel resources to long-term socio-economic development (Ikome 2007: 147). There are three areas where a lack of good governance has contributed to xenophobia in South Africa: firstly, the country’s socio-economic issues have been exacerbated by inefficient service delivery; evidenced in the continuous service delivery protests resulting from dissatisfaction with the delivery of basic municipal services. These protests or[en come in the wake of political promises during election periods, where high expectations were created and subsequently left unfulfilled (Burger 2009). Secondly, the South African government has remained “quiet” with regards to the political crisis and human rights abuses prevalent in its neighbour Zimbabwe. Zimbabweans in South Africa cite xenophobia, discrimination, police harassment, unemployment, unlawful deportation and lack of access to basic services (Sisulu et al 2007: 553) as some of the challenges they face in this country. This hostile reception is largely a result of the denial by the South African government that there is a serious political crisis in Zimbabwe. Although it is recognised that there is an economic crisis, its political roots are not properly acknowledged. Zimbabweans are thus generally defined as economic migrants as opposed to political refugees thus making it difficult for them to gain asylum. In addition, many of these immigrants are reluctant migrants and desire to return to Zimbabwe should the internal circumstances change. Third, in combination with the above factors, a lack of proper migration policies as well as a poor response to the attacks, contributed to the extent of the xenophobic attacks (Aggad and Sidiropoulos 2008: 3). The xenophobic attacks against African immigrants point to the dire need for the ruling African National Congress (ANC) to review, and then actively implement its immigration policy.
4. SOUTH AFRICA’S IMMIGRATION POLICIES
During apartheid, the ruling regime used immigration policy as an instrument of racial policy, and the official definition of an immigrant was that he or she had to be able to assimilate into the white population (Crush 2008). As a consequence, black immigrants were not allowed to apply for South African citizenship. At the same time, the policy encouraged cheap immigrant labour from neighbouring countries (Lotee 2008:3). The major and last piece of immigration legislation introduced by the apartheid regime was the Aliens Control Act of 1991, which codified numerous legislative amendments that had reinforced strict controls on the immigration to South Africa. It stated that any person suspected of its contravention could be arrested without warrant and deported (Klotz 2000: 832).
With the transition to democracy in 1994, the new regime did not initially repeal the apartheid immigration policy, and the Aliens Control Act became the cornerstone of the ANC’s policy throughout the 1990s (Klotz 2000: 832). Besides the abandonment of racist principles, continuity with the previous immigration policy became the guideline (Ellis 2008: 77). Moreover, the new government adopted an ideology that South Africa had to be protected from “outsiders” and prioritised to put the need of its citizens first in line for transformation and change (McConnell 2008: 34). This may have contributed to xenophobic attitudes in the society, as immigrants were framed as something “dangerous”. In 2002, after nearly eight years of negotiations, the new Immigration Act was signed into law and this is seen as a milestone in the development of the immigration policy. The Immigration Act eased the entry of skilled workers while stepping up efforts to locate and remove irregular migrants. It also committed the government to root out xenophobia in society, although without specifying how this was to be achieved (Dixon 2008).
The Immigration Act remains both unpopular, unchanged, and enjoys very little support from government, business and civil society. Although it is a sign of attempts to adopt a more migrant-friendly policy, the Act is considered limited and ambiguous. At the same time as it supports skilled labour and provides a number of ways for such immigrants to enter the country, it retains a strong security and sovereignty-centred agenda. This implies that the Act does little to support the poor, and the emphasis is almost exclusively focused on attracting highly skilled migrants. At the same time, the migration patterns in South Africa have become more complex and diverse. Despite this mixed flow of migrants, the government has not yet developed an all encompassing policy to address this reality. Key weaknesses of the Act include ineffective border controls, viewing migration as an issue of control rather than development, and insufficient protection of migrants.
4.1 Weak border controls
The post-apartheid regime has been characterised by an enforcement apparatus that shaped the pre-1994 regime (Landau 2009: 9). Rather than effective border controls, the immigration policy has been directed towards internal control, focusing on enforcement activities on places where undocumented migrants worked, interacted with governing agencies, and sought refuge and resources, rather than the places that they originated from and moved through (Vigneswaran 2008: 784). The intention was, according to Vigneswaran (2008: 784) to “transform the host environment into a place where undocumented migrants would feel unwelcome, and thereby be encouraged to return home, or better yet, not come at all”. Based on this policy, the police continue to enforce both immigration and influx controls on South African streets and have come to dominate the manner in which South African immigration laws are enforced (Vigneswaran 2008: 796). This restrictive immigration approach has not contained undocumented migrants, but rather encouraged “a massive ‘trade’ in forged documentation” and “police corruption as migrants buy the right to stay” (Crush et al 2005: 13). Moreover, Landau (2009: 3) emphasises that “South Africa’s extended and inherently permeable borders enable non-nationals to move into the county relatively unencumbered and untagged”.
The government’s approach to legal and undocumented migration in South Africa through enforcement, control and exclusion, as well as reliance on deportation, instead of proper border controls and management, has resulted in an increasing influx of undocumented immigrants and subsequent trade in forged documents. Moreover, Pillay (2009: 26) recognises that “no migration policy or strategy aimed at alleviating xenophobic tensions can be contemplated if the national borders are porous and people can come and go as they please. Such a lack of control leads to abuse and corruption and heightens the vulnerability of people who reside in the country illegally. Regularising citizenship is naturally a long-term goal or objective and government’s role is central”.
4.2 An issue of control rather than development
A major policy goal of the ANC is the economic development of the country. However, after the regime shift in 1994, immigration was not included as part of the development strategy. According to Crush (2008), rather than seeing immigration as a development opportunity, the government has seen immigration as undesirable and therefore framed immigration policy reform primarily as an issue of control and exclusion. Moreover, the government has rarely seen migration as an economic tool or linked it to South Africa’s socio-economic transformation. This is evident in both the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) and the Growth, Employment and Redistribution (GEAR) strategy, economic policies, which were both silent on migration in general (EIlis 2008: 90; Landau and Wa Kabwe-Segatti 2009: 29). Thus, the ANC’s lack of understanding of the impact immigration has on the economic development has contributed to the absence of an active immigration policy. The recent economic policy, the New Growth Path, should nevertheless be commended for its recognition (albeit brief) of the need to streamline an immigration system, which is conducive to the inflow of skills, whilst simultaneously improving the skills base of South Africans through proper education and training. A development which may indicate an increasing awareness and acknowledgement of the country’s current skills shortage and its need for a more flexible approach to immigration.
4.3 Insufficient protection of the immigrants
The South African Constitution guarantees all people in the country, citizens and both documented and undocumented non-citizens, basic rights (Polzer 2010: 3-4) and the legal framework governing asylum is among the most expansive and progressive in the world. Despite this legal framework, the increasing influx of refugees and immigrants and the feared impact on the economic structure of the country, has contributed to less focus on refugee and immigrant protection, and more on containment, expulsion, and denial of rights (McKnight 2008: 21). The focus on identity documents, detention and deportation is illustrative of this, as is the need for asylum seekers and refugees to report regularly to designate reception offices (Landau 2009: 9). Challenges in implementation of the constitutional and asylum frameworks, including the provision of documentation and basic services to non-nationals, undermine the practical impact of formal legal protection (Polzer 2010: 5). Landau (2009: 4) argues that “rather than protection, almost every engagement with purported agents of law places the immigrants outside of it … South Africa has de facto suspended elements of its normal legal order vis-a-vis refugees, asylum seekers, and undocumented migrants through both commission and omission”. Moreover, the government encourages refugees and others to live among citizenry. However, this is done without giving them access to the basic rights citizens assume (Landau 2009).
While the government promotes regional integration vis-a-vis foreign direct investments and highly skilled labour, there has been little effort to facilitate the movements or protect the rights of low or moderately skilled immigrants, although this is the largest influx group of immigrants. Despite a growing number of bilateral agreements, legislation continues to differentiate and discriminate against unskilled workers. Highly skilled workers who have worked continuously for five years or have permanent contracts may apply for permanent residence. Others who want to extend their stay have few mechanisms for doing so and are often criminalised, excluded from critical social services, and subject to detention and deportation (Landau 2009: 9).
Moreover, Polzer (2010: 5) argues “the immigration regime is not well adapted to national and regional needs and realities as it does not provide adequate access to documented migration options in ways which address South Africa’s skilled and labour needs”. The lack of rights, has led to a situation where many immigrants accept jobs with wages lower than what South Africans would accept. This has generated a segmented labour market with South Africans being undercut by an exploitable immigrant population (Landau 2009: 9). Since these migrants enter without proper documentation, they become personae non grata, making them vulnerable to abuse and exploitation from potential employers, the security apparatus as well as the local communities, with little or no recourse to law.
5. UNDERSTANDING THE WEAKNESSES OF SOUTH AFRICA’S IMMIGRATION POLICY
Even though the ANC has not been actively hostile to immigration, the party’s policy has largely been characterised by indifference. There are various reasons for a weak and partly incongruous immigration policy, and this article will focus on the following explanations; the initial tension between the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) and the ANC in the Government of National Unity; the influence of the Tripartite Alliance; and South Africa’s refusal to properly recognise the political and humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe.
5.1 The Department of Home Affairs
The South African approach towards immigration has at rimes been rather confused and contradictory. The will to change the immigration policy in the country has been considerable, but the transformation process has been delayed by the complexity of the issues and political tension between the ruling ANC and the IFP (Crush and McDonald 2001: 1). The two departments with the highest degree of involvement in the formulation and implementation of immigration policy are the Department of Home Affairs and the Department of Foreign Affairs. During the first decade of post-apartheid government, these two areas were split between the different members of the Government of National Unity. The ANC was given control of the Department of Foreign Affairs, whilst the IFP was given control of the Department of Home Affairs. Whilst the primary responsibility for immigration policy rests with Home Affairs, Foreign Affairs handles negotiations which concern the impact of South Africa’s immigration policy on the rest of the region, and any international discussion regarding this issue (Siddique 2003: 20-21). In light of this, progress on immigration reform was slowed by contradictions within the Cabinet and Parliament between the IFP and the ruling ANC and diminished ANC influence over policymaking (Crush, 2008). Generally, the IFP advocated the adoption of a rigorous approach to immigration management. This is evident in the attitudes of Buthelezi, the leader of the IFP and former Minister of Home Affairs, who is one of the most vocal anti-immigrant spokespersons in South Africa (Danso and McDonald 2001:132). Moreover, the different emphasis of the two departments contributed to the inconsistencies in the approach to immigration. However, as the ANC became in charge of both departments in 2004, this laid a foundation for a more comprehensive policy towards immigration.
5.2 Impact of the Tripartite Alliance
Pressure from different interest groups on the ANC in the immigration field has made it difficult for the government to implement immigration policies single-mindedly. This opposition has been advanced by a powerful anti-immigration discourse which constructs immigrants, particularly African immigrants, as alien and a fundamental threat to the interest of citizens (Crush and McDonald 2001:10). Moreover, the ANC is part of a tripartite alliance with the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU). Due to this close cooperation, the ANC is subject to significant political pressure that is both ideological and based on the demand to create or preserve jobs for South Africans in the first instance (Ellis 2008: 130). This has influenced the ANC’s immigration policy and made it more restrictive.
5.3 “Quiet” diplomacy with Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe is currently the biggest contributor of immigrants to South Africa, yet they are amongst the most insecure within South Africa’s boundaries. Zimbabwean immigrants are labelled economic immigrants, despite the political origins of the economic crisis (De Jager 2009:15). McKnight (2008: 23) argues that the government’s refusal to acknowledge Zimbabweans as political refugees fuels the belief in the local society that these foreigners came to South Africa to compete for jobs, instead of them being temporary migrants, who have often fled for their lives. Although the South African government has adjusted its policy towards Zimbabwean immigrants with a twelvemonth ‘special dispensation permit’, this is unlikely to be enough to change the hostile attitudes towards Zimbabwean immigrants. There is still an urgent need to acknowledge the political roots of the crisis in Zimbabwe, enabling the immigrants to apply for asylum and its concomitant benefits.
5.4 New shifts
Although the ruling party has yet to address the deeply troubling social and political consequences of migration, there is a dawning recognition that immigration and emigration are critical to the country’s developmental trajectory (Landau and Wa Kabwe-Segatti 2009: 32). In the early 2000s, a shift in policy direction occurred in response to perceptions of a massive brain drain from South Africa, as the ANC started an international search for skilled immigrants (Wa Kabwe-Segatti 2008: 90). This changing attitude can be seen in the context of the economic strategy, which followed GEAR, the Accelerated and Shared Growth Initiative-South Africa (ASGISA), which sought to halve unemployment and poverty by 2014. In this context the shortage of skilled labour was obvious, as it formed a major impediment to the ASGISA vision of growth and distribution. Moreover, the government launched a further initiative that particularly aimed to develop skilled workers, the Joint Initiative for Priority Skills Acquisition (JIPSA). The JIPSA emphasised accelerated training of South Africans in priority areas. At the same time, it also acknowledged that particular sectors required skills from outside the country. These policy changes imply a significant shift in government thinking on migration, as the government has become convinced of the significance of South Africa’s serious shortage of skilled labour, and the need to incorporate this in the immigration policy to be able to achieve the national interest of economic development (Ellis 2008: 122-123). Furthermore the recent New Growth Plan, which focuses on job creation and skills training, also acknowledges the need for a more streamlined immigration system to assist with the in-flow of necessary skills and skills transfer programmes. The government has also accepted that planned and managed immigration should be harnessed as a development strategy to bring needed skills and business investors into South Africa (Skilled Immigration, 2010). However, up until now, this international hunt for skilled immigrants has remained very discrete, while other areas of immigration have not been radically transformed (Wa Kabwe-Segatti 2008: 90). Nonetheless, the shift towards recognition of immigration as a development tool shows a promising trend and a more active immigration approach. This approach was underlined by Malusi Gigaba, the Deputy Minister of Home Affairs, when he stated in late 2009 that “policy shifts must ensure that we integrate migration into development strategies and planning, and thus take its positive benefits into cognizance” (Skilled Immigration 2010).
There have also been shifts in policy towards Zimbabwean migrants. Initially, the South African government, having proclaimed its solidarity with Zimbabwe’s leadership, categorically labelled Zimbabweans as economic migrants. Until 2007, there were regular reports that Refugee Reception Offices were refusing all asylum applicants from Zimbabwe (Landau and Segatti 2009). Moreover, hundreds of thousands Zimbabweans have been deported from South Africa, justified by the contention that Zimbabweans were all economic immigrants, rather than refugees (IRRI, 2009). This approach to managing Zimbabwean migration did not address the nature or scale of immigration and resulted in high levels of illegal migration, human rights abuses and negative impacts for South Africa (Polzer 2009: 2). However, due to internal and external pressure on the South African government, this approach changed in April 2009. The Department of Home Affairs announced its intention to grant Zimbabweans a twelve-month ‘special dispensation permit’ on the basis of the Immigration Act of 2002. These permits give Zimbabweans the right to legally live and work in the country. As complementary measures, a suspension on deportations and a 90-day free visa for Zimbabweans entering South Africa have been implemented from May 2009. The new policy is a distinct change from the status quo and evidence of a substantial shift in the country’s stance. Moreover, it represents a positive shift towards a rational, coherent and regionally beneficial migration management approach (IRRI 2009; Polzer 2009). It now needs to include innovative approaches to dealing with low- and unskilled migrants.
Some have feared that the new policy will increase the overall volumes of migration from Zimbabwe. However, Polzer (2009: 2) argues that this is unlikely. She explains that though border crossing statistics may rise, this is an intended consequence of legalised movement, since previously invisible border-jumpers will become documented by the state. Moreover, the special dispensation permits are likely to facilitate Zimbabweans’ return home rather than providing incentives to remain in South Africa. This is because people can return to Zimbabwe for short periods to test the stability and economic opportunities without fearing the loss of their ability to earn livelihoods in South Africa. Also, the free visa and the special dispensation permit will enable the state to measure the volumes and impacts of migration more effectively (Polzer 2009: 2-3). This new approach might indicate that the government has recognised the necessity to manage and monitor migration. In addition, to encourage legal immigration and help reverse undocumented immigration, an active approach might also contribute to reduce the ‘us versus them’ attitude that has been central to xenophobia in South African society (IOM 2009: 53).
6. CONCLUDING REMARKS
A history of exclusion, closed-door migration policies, an unwillingness to acknowledge the political and humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe, poor local governance and a lack of meaningful service delivery, and an increase in poverty and inequality have provided a breeding ground for xenophobia in South Africa. Moreover, xenophobia in South Africa is a deep phenomenon that extends beyond a fear or dislike of foreigners, to a broader dislike of the ‘other’ as evidenced in the fact that the violence and attacks included many South Africans and not only foreign nationals. This hatred of those ‘foreign’–a sentiment which has not changed since 2008–is one that the government has not yet fully acknowledged, much less addressed, beyond isolated efforts. The introduction to the 2002 Immigration Act maintains that xenophobia needs to be contested. However, the Act lays out no specific measures and there is no evidence that the Act itself has made any difference to South African attitudes. Unless the government acknowledges and addresses the realities of xenophobia, it will be very difficult to move forward with new development-oriented policy initiatives and programmes.
The positive developments of the Immigration Act of 2002 and the implementation of the New Growth Plan, as well as the innovative introduction of special temporary permits, are acknowledged. However, the challenge remains for South Africa to first concede that xenophobia is an issue, and recognise that the attacks on foreigners have xenophobic roots, and secondly, for the government to develop a migration policy that seeks to manage migration rather than combat it or let it happen on its own. This needs to be combined with the improvement of service delivery, especially at local government level; skills development and protection services for both nationals and non-nationals. Ultimately it must be recognised that South Africa’s political and economic progress will continue to attract immigrants and this challenge needs to be properly managed for the betterment of both South Africa and the region.
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Nina Hopstock and Nicola de Jager
Department of Political Science
University of Stellenbosch
Hopstock, Nina^de Jager, Nicola
de Jager, Nicola, and Nina Hopstock. “Locals only: understanding xenophobia in South Africa.” Strategic Review for Southern Africa 33.1 (2011): 120+. Academic OneFile. Web. 7 Dec. 2011.