Editorial: South Africa, like the US, also locks up migrants

In 1938, before the Nazis had developed the “final solution” — which culminated in the Holocaust — the German government expelled thousands of Jews with Polish citizenship living in Germany. The initial idea was to expel all Jews from Europe.

In some cases, this included separating families by removing men and hoping Jewish women and children would leave of their own volition, sparing the Nazis the expense and effort of formal deportation.

Today, at the first Nazi concentration camp opened in Dachau in 1933 — shortly after Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany — the words “Never again” are emblazoned on a striking memorial as a succinct but chilling warning to future generations.

Yet here we are.

The flood of images and a newly released ProPublica audio recording detailing the horror of children ripped from their parents and detained at the United States-Mexico border is becoming a tsunami. A common and wildly untrue response to this “zero tolerance” campaign is that it is “unAmerican” and runs counter to the nation’s mores. In fact, the breaking up of families has deep, tuberous roots in America’s past. Enslaved children were routinely sold separately from their parents on the auction block.

US President Donald Trump’s reasoning for separating families seeking asylum, and his restrictive policies against even documented migrants, is to prevent the US from becoming a mirror of Europe, specifically Germany — where, he has untruthfully claimed, migrants are driving up the crime rate.

In South Africa — which we see as “our land” — we too are watching the “borderisation” of the state, where security concerns trumping human rights and morality are the order of the day.

Perhaps we have become so numb and strung out by the government’s many failings that we are also employing its tactics by muddling, evading and inevitably shifting the blame to the most vulnerable in our society. Why are these outsiders here? Why do they not respect our borders? “If you don’t have borders, you don’t have a country!” as Trump tweeted.

Even as we rail against the Trump administration’s “summer camp”/“boarding schools”/cages that essentially criminalise migrant children, we would do well to remember our own treatment of those detained at the Lindela repatriation centre.

It is almost exclusively black people who are incarcerated at Lindela, but we are more compelled to voice our anger against the Trump administration’s policy instead of looking at our own version of this practice. This “otherness” erases migrants’ humanity and negates our capacity for empathy. After our government has institutionalised their foreignness, locking them in the amber of inhumanity, we feign surprise each time violence flares.

Forms, red tape, queues, inhumane treatment. Long journeys to face being turned away or worse: arrest and expulsion. Outdated information, incorrect instructions, streams of funds changing hands only to lessen the pressing anxiety and humiliation. South Africa, like the US, knows the value of making life so untenable for its “brothers” that they think twice before seeking asylum. The seemingly endless battering of bodies, minds and souls continues until it is finally, abundantly clear: you are not welcome.

This, my brothers and sisters, is not your land.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories

Trump gives TikTok 6 weeks to sell itself to US company

China's foreign ministry pushed back, calling Washington hypocritical for demanding TikTok be sold

An African free trade area is in our sights

Successes and failures from other initiative such as the European Union will be instructive, but much work must be done before the African Continental Trade Area becomes a reality

The new ‘invisible enemy’

Anti-racism and political contagion from Save Darfur to Black Lives Matter

Mask rules are not meant to ‘criminalise’ the public

Shop owners and taxi drivers can now refuse entry to people who defy mandatory mask-wearing regulations

Unpacking the myths and misunderstandings in the Covid-19 vacuum

The basics of epidemiology will help explain why some of the believable but incorrect propositions about the pandemic are wrong.

Cartoon: Carlos on turd immunity

Standing out from the herd isn't always a great idea

New education policy on gender violence released

Universities and other higher education institutions have to develop ways of preventing or dealing with rape and other damaging behaviour

Cambridge Food Jozini: Pandemic or not, the price-gouging continues

The Competition Commission has fined Cambridge Food Jozini for hiking the price of its maize meal during April

Sekhukhune’s five-year battle for water back in court

The residents of five villages are calling for the district municipal manager to be arrested

Vaccine trial results due in December

If successful, it will then have to be manufactured and distributed

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday