Editorial: Outing foreigners plays with lives

Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba, once the finance minister and also perhaps the greatest enabler of the Guptafication of the state as a former minister of public enterprises, is still struggling to properly explain decisions taken when he was last home affairs minister.

He was in Parliament this week (and the Mail & Guardian is pleased to see that the minister is hale and hearty) explaining how vast swathes of the state were effectively signed away to the Gupta and Zuma families.

Enter the Economic Freedom Fighters’ Floyd Shivambu.

“What is offensive when people ask you about your nationality? It happens every day when we apply for visas and, when we travel, people ask us about our nationalities. Isn’t this an opportunity for you to clarify where you were born?” he asked Gigaba.

Shivambu has been a principled voice of reason, probing the public officials who have appeared before the parliamentary inquiry into state capture. At times, he has shown the potential for a parliamentary process to be an effective mechanism of accountability. He already shows the signs of a great politician, whose promise is noted, too, by President Cyril Ramaphosa, who invited him to contribute to the National Development Plan.

But, on Tuesday, Shivambu made us wonder whether his promise is only as great as his prejudice. When he asked Gigaba to clarify where exactly he was born, inferring that Gigaba has lied about his birthplace, he invited the nation on a gratuitous trip down a rabbit warren.

He was repeating gossip about Gigaba previously peddled by former ANC MP Vytjie Mentor.

Surely there are sufficient lines of inquiry into Gigaba’s conduct as a public official without having to go into his heritage? Even if he was born in Zimbabwe, since when has that been a crime?

But Shivambu and EFF leader Julius Malema have both recently made similar claims.

Malema said of Duduzani Zuma: “For Duduzani to leave the country, it’s very easy because they don’t have a history of settling in one place … Their loyalty and patriotism is not with South Africa. That’s why that boy could do as he wished because it’s not his country of birth.”

To suggest that patriotism depends on being born in South Africa is mind-boggling, especially considering the ANC’s heritage of exile.

But then the EFF is not alone in sprouting a sentiment that is suspicious of foreigners living in South Africa.

In a series of tweets, the Democratic Alliance sent out this message: “We MUST secure our borders and fix our fence, making it almost impossible for people to enter the country illegally. We MUST make it as easy as possible for those who wish to enter legally, with an emphasis on skilled workers.”

The tweets were summarising a speech delivered by Haniff Hoosen, a DA MP, during a debate on the accreditation of foreign-trained doctors by the Health Professions Council of South Africa.

Xenophobic sentiment exists in our country and it takes little to spark violence against expatriates. Referring to strong borders and secure fences is an election campaign recipe that has worked in the United States and Europe but it is to be deplored.

Meanwhile, Shivambu took to social media to respond to accusations that his comments made to Gigaba were xenophobic, arguing: “It isn’t xenophobic to ask the nationality of any African… Just respond the[n] move on!”

But it is indeed xenophobic when we have a history of violence against foreigners. The EFF and the DA are playing a dangerous game. Except, it’s not a game at all. It places the lives of the hundreds of thousands of migrants living and working in South Africa at risk. 

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