Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba elaborated on his conception of illegal immigration while on a panel at the Mo Ibrahim Foundation’s Governance Weekend in Kigali, Rwanda this weekend sparking outrage.
Sitting on a panel, Mashaba was posed the question, “Is there a disconnect between genuine local sentiments (a fear of being overwhelmed by illegal immigrants) and aspirations for free travel and trade in Africa?” by Addis Ababa University researcher Michelle Mendi Muita, according to the Daily Maverick.
Muita also pointed out that South Africa did not sign the African Continental Free Trade Area agreement although 44 other countries signed it.
Mashaba referred to his 100 days in office report in December 2016, stating that he already gave his stance on illegal immigration and, according to the Daily Maverick, continued by saying, “I made it very clear South Africa is open to business, is open to the seven billion people of the world. I want them to come to South Africa, particularly Johannesburg, because Johannesburg for the past 106 years was built on the back of immigrants and people coming into South Africa.
“But firstly they have to come into our country legally, and when they are in, they must respect the laws of our country. That’s all I’m asking. I’m not asking for anything where people can’t come in. We sit with a massive number of undocumented people where Home Affairs are actually failing to ensure that, when people come into our country, they have the necessary documentation because, South Africans, by law, when a child is born, immediately they must get a birth certificate. When a child turns 16, immediately they must get an identity document, so therefore I cannot accept that anyone from the world can come into South Africa and not have documentation… Unfortunately for me this is not negotiable. When you come into South Africa, please come in legally, and respect the laws of our country.”
According to the Daily Maverick, his response was met by criticism. The African Peer Review Mechanism’s CEO, Eddy Maloka, who was at the forum, took to Facebook to air his grievances about Mashaba’s speech, “Listening to him with my eyes closed, I thought it was the infamous Donald Trump on the floor, defending his Great Wall project… at the end of the session, I rushed to the podium to tell the Mayor, in no uncertain terms, that he has shamed us, he has damaged our name, he has rolled back our efforts to reverse whatever misconceptions are out there about xenophobia in South Africa.”
In the past, Mashaba has been known to make xenophobic comments. In his 100 days in office progress report, Mashaba stated that “illegal foreign nationals living in Johannesburg must be treated as criminals since they came to South Africa illegally,” according to EWN.
“They’re holding our country to ransom and I’m going to be the last South African to allow it. I’ve got constraints as local government, because the national government has opened our borders to criminality.”
After the report was released, Mashaba was condemned for being xenophobic. A week after giving his speech last December, Mashaba said in an interview with Radio 702 that “people who are in our city illegally – whether you are South African or you’re someone from outside – please, when you’re in our city, please respect our laws because if not, then we’re going to have a challenge.”
As described by the website, the Mo Ibrahim Foundation’s governance forum is designed to “tackle the challenges facing Africa and sets out priorities for action”. The Foundation was started in 2006 and focuses on “the critical importance of governance and leadership in Africa.”