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Illegal Aliens The Danger Of Witch Hunts

Cosatu and the ANC are determined to stem the rising tide of xenophobia, reports Drew Forrest

RESISTANCE to hardline Home Affairs Ministry policy on illegal immigration is crystallising in both the ANC and its trade union ally, the Congress of South African Trade Unions.

This week Cosatu’s Neil Coleman hit out at “the narrow chauvinism” of Home Affairs Minister Mangosuthu Buthelezi and called for the ANC to take a clear stand. “Immigration technically falls under Buthelezi, and the ANC is clearly afraid to tread on his toes. But it is a national political issue which affects economic reconstruction, labour and foreign affairs. There needs to be a much broader consensus.”

Coleman accused Buthelezi of a self-defeating approach which would make South Africa “an island of prosperity in a sea of want”.

And warning against “xenophobia” and “populism”, ANC backbencher Rob Davies suggested that the current government line flowed from “the fact that the minister is of a different party”. He said there was wide agreement among ANC colleagues that one-sided control measures were not the answer.

According to Davies, the report of the interdepartmental task group on immigration set up by Home Affairs reflects a more holistic approach. The report is still under wraps.

In parliament and on TV, Buthelezi has laid heavy emphasis on tighter restrictions, stressing that “charity begins at home” and that rampant immigration could torpedo the reconstruction and development programme. Last week the Inkatha Youth Brigade threatened that if the government failed to take tough action against illegal aliens, it would do so.

Cosatu and ANC concerns coincide with a rising tide of intolerance, particularly among black workers and traders who believed, Davies said, “their problems will dramatically improve if we get rid of illegals”. Hawkers recently marched on the PWV legislature to demand a crackdown.

“The name of the game is to identify these people to the authorities. There is a real danger of witch-hunts,” Davies added.

Police estimates that South Africa has eight million illegals — two-thirds of the economically active population, according to Development Bank figures — seem to reflect rising hysteria on the issue. Buthelezi has lent weight to popular stereotypes by suggesting that all Nigerian immigrants are criminals and drug traffickers.

Both Coleman and Davies — an economist who spent 11 years in exile in Mozambique, the source of between 60 and 80 percent of illegals — stressed regional dimensions of the problem. What was once a war refugee influx had become “full-scale economic migrancy”, in part due to apartheid economic sabotage. A distinction had to be drawn between entrants from the region and those coming from further afield, Davies said.

“But it’s not just about our historic responsibilities – – it’s about enlightened self-interest,” he added. “Consider the consequences of dumping all Mozambicans in a rapid exercise. Mozambique is already calling for an additional $14-million in United Nations food aid. We would heighten economic instability and pressures to migrate.”

And although controls had to remain in place, it was inconceivable that the flood of illegals could be stemmed by “more border patrols and more immigration officers. Unless we promote growth and development throughout the region — this is in fact integral to the RDP — the effects of human insecurity in neighbouring states will be felt here.”

Davies attacked what he termed “the bag-of-money mindset”: the idea that South Africa had finite resources which it could spend either at home or abroad. The aim was freer trade and heightened economic co- operation, not aid, and South Africa stood to gain from this.

Added Coleman: “The failure of the pass laws is an object lesson: you cannot legislate the movement of economically desperate people. You just drive the problem underground.”

Immigration was at issue for the first time at last week’s Cosatu congress, where a resolution — not debated for lack of time — reflects tensions between an increasingly restive rank and file and more moderate leadership.

Complaining of the super-exploitation of illegal aliens and the undermining of organised labour, the resolution calls for proper entry controls, heavy penalties for employers of illegals and statutory parity in pay and work conditions. Farming, hotels, the domestic sector, construction and cleaning and security are known to be the prime users of illegal labour.

But it also demands a regional focus for the RDP, education and training for aliens and state action to integrate them into communities.

Most controversially, it calls for the position of existing illegal migrants to be regularised either by amnesty and legislation, or repatriation on request. This would be a once-off measure, involving a cut-off date.

The model, Davies said, was post-independence Zimbabwe, where long-established groups of Malawian migrant workers had been naturalised. “We have to deal with people who have struck root here, to remove some of the uncertainties and their vulnerability to populist pressures.”

Saying there was still a need to detect and process illegals, Davies stressed they were owed full protection under the constitution and that controls should meet international norms. He said Buthelezi had reacted “dismissively” to a question he had put in parliament about treatment of aliens under the Aliens Control Act.

This meant access to lawyers, employers and families, as well as the right to information on legal procedures. Davies was also “bitterly opposed” to lethal power levels in electrified border fences.

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