Some pressing issues were raised by members of Parliament from various committees on Tuesday during the portfolio committee on home affairs meeting, which focused on the challenges of xenophobia and the looting of foreign-owned shops.
Almost 3 000 foreigners, most of them from KwaZulu-Natal, have been repatriated since the start of the xenophobic attacks. But some questioned: What is the government now doing to ensure the violence is curbed?
And why are the 333 874 foreigners who have overstayed their permits not kept better track of? Where are the Nigerians and Somalians and why are they not named in any of the statistics of foreigners leaving the country, when they are involved in business in South African townships?
The meeting was attended by the home affairs deputy minister, Fatima Chohan, Small Business Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu and various department heads. The session was also open to other committees, including police, justice and correctional services and small business.
Major General Charl Annandale said the situation was being monitored constantly and that there had been very few incidents in the past 10 days.
Modiri Matthews, a chief director at the home affairs department, said 2 767 foreigners had been repatriated, with 2 665 from KwaZulu-Natal and 102 from Gauteng. Most of those sent home were Zimbabweans, followed by Malawians. He said repatriation would continue on Tuesday and Wednesday.
“The majority of the displaced persons who are undocumented claim to have lost their documents during the incidents and a number of them indicated they wanted to return. So far, only one Ethiopian national, 63 from Burundi and 221 from the Democratic Republic of Congo actually had documents.”
Democratic Alliance MP Haniff Hoosen said the root cause of the xenophobic attacks was that the home affairs department had failed to make an investment in the inspectorate division.
“That is the division that is supposed to police illegal immigrants in the country. We have failed to control the influx of illegal foreigners into the country, and we have failed to control and manage the flow of illegal foreigners out of the country and that is the root cause. Everything else is just consequences of the root cause.
“Because, you see, anywhere in the world, when a government fails to implement its own laws, then the society will take the laws into their own hands and that is what is happening now. Because we failed to implement the immigrations regulations, people take the law in their own hands because they have no confidence that the government is implementing its own laws.”
Tax and the spaza owner
Chohan, in response to Hoosen, said leaders had to send a clear message that violence was unacceptable under any circumstances.
“No matter what the reason is – that we as leaders will not tolerate violence being unleashed against people, whether they are illegal or not. When people are attacked, nobody knows their status. We must stand together as leaders and absolutely in one voice condemn this resorting to violence to solve our problems,” said Chohan.
Asked about the tax compliance of spaza shops, the enforcement of laws and their registration as business owners, Zulu said those were some of the problems they faced and were hard to police.
“I think many of the small spaza shops do not necessarily pay tax but the registration thereof is very important for us. Where are they operating?
“It is a mammoth task for us to begin to do, which I believe we cannot do on our own. Because, under normal circumstances, the compliance not only starts with the people running their businesses but those renting out their homes. That is the education we need to make sure happens because that is where the competition and conflict starts.”
The minister reiterated that she believed there was a great deal that South African small business owners could learn from their foreign counterparts.
Fingering the media
Zulu said there should be engagement with the media when it came to running adverts for illegal and immoral businesses, including healers and abortion clinics.
Small business portfolio committee chairperson ANC MP Ruth Bengu tore into the media, saying reporters and editors had to think of the consequences of what they reported.
“The media that reported on what was said by the king [Goodwill Zwelithini] of the Zulus have a right to report on issues and events, the media also has a responsibility to think about the possible consequences of the angle that they take when reporting on issues.”
Some believe his utterances incited the violence against foreigners in the country.
“Before you become a reporter in the media, you are a South African. Before you focus on selling the news, you must also think of what could be the consequences of what I am reporting about. I did not hear what the king has said, and all I heard was what was reported in the media to have allegedly caused the violence. If there was responsible reporting, any editor could have seen the possible consequences of spreading that message. We all have rights in the country, and we all have responsibilities of building this country, whether you are a media reporter or a pure South African.”