Statement by South Africa on recent attacks on foreign nationals in South Africa and prevention measures for the future, delivered by Ambassador Ndumiso Ntshinga, Ambassador to the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia and Permanent Representative to the African Union and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, 30 April 2015
Commissioner for Peace and Security,
Chairperson of the Peace and Security Council,
Members of the Peace and Security Council,
This delegation welcomes the opportunity to address the Peace and Security Council on recent attacks on foreign nationals in South Africa and prevention measures for the future.
It shall be recalled that the 74th Ordinary Session of the Council of Ministers of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) held in Lusaka, Zambia in 2001 adopted Decision CM/Dec.614 (LXXIV) on the development of an African strategic policy framework for migration to address migration challenges on the continent.
Subsequently, the 8th Ordinary Session of the Executive Council of January 2006 expressed grave concern over the growing number of migrants fleeing armed conflicts as well as illegal migration in Africa and underscored the need to implement as a matter of urgency, development plans in Africa. At the same session, the Executive Council tasked the African Union Commission with convening an Experts’ meeting in order to prepare an African Common Position on Migration and Development.
The distinguished members of the Council would also recall that this African Common Position together with the Migration Policy Framework for Africa was adopted at the 9th Ordinary Session of the Executive Council held from 25 to 29 June 2006 in Banjul, Gambia. The African Common Position acknowledged that poor socio-economic conditions, such as low wages, high levels of unemployment, rural underdevelopment, poverty and lack of opportunity fuel out-migration on the continent. It further pointed out that these factors are usually as a result of the imbalance between rapid population growth, available resources and the capacity to create employment and jobs at the countries of origin.
South Africa, like many other countries on the continent has had first-hand experience of the phenomenon of migration. We have opened our borders and welcomed scores of foreign nationals including our brothers and sisters from within the continent, a majority of who make a positive contribution in South Africa. Through this experience, we have drawn some lessons that well managed migration can yield significant benefits to the economy of the country.
On the other hand, unregulated migration, exacerbated by unfair labour practices, human trafficking and smuggling, can have negative implications on the host country including creating tensions between migrant communities and citizens of the host country. Consequently, these tensions can lead to attacks on foreign nationals as recently witnessed in South Africa. Sadly, seven people lost their lives during the events amongst them foreign nationals and three of our own citizens. Allow me also to take this opportunity to once again condemn these attacks in the strongest terms and extend our sincere condolences to the families and friends of those who lost their lives.
It should be noted that none of the foreign professionals in South Africa were directly affected by these events.
Reports indicate that the attacks in Durban were sparked off by the conduct of an employer who fired South African workers who had gone on strike and employed workers from outside the country. Even in the South African context, the employment of scab labour usually triggers an angry reaction from workers who are on strike. We join our country’s trade unions in appealing to employers to avoid such behaviour of pitting workers against one another.
We also realise that the grievances of the South African population have to be balanced with the plight of many refugees, asylum seekers and economic migrants from the continent and beyond.
In the short term, the South African Government has undertaken actions to address the challenges around migration and a number of measures have been put in place to prevent further escalation and possible repeat of the situation.
President Jacob Zuma has appointed an Inter-Ministerial Committee on Migration (IMC) whose mandate has been broadened to deal with the underlying causes of the tensions between local communities and foreign nationals. Some of the areas to be addressed include the implementation of national Labour Relations policies as they affect the foreign nationals; the implementation of the laws that govern business licenses; the country‘s border management and generally the country’s migration policies.
A process of consultation with all the stakeholders in South Africa has been initiated by President Zuma and on 22 April 2015, a meeting with business, labour, sports, religious, youth, women and other sectors was convened to discuss the country’s migration policy and discuss how various sectors can work with Government to promote orderly migration and good relations between citizens and other nationals. On 24 April 2015, President Zuma hosted over fifty (50) representatives of foreign nationals residing in South Africa on how these representatives can work together with South African authorities to address the challenges of migration.
The Department of International Relations and Cooperation has engaged with African diplomats accredited to South Africa and continues engaging other foreign Missions in South Africa regarding their concerns and queries relating to the wellbeing of their nationals.
Operation Reclaim has been set up to rid South Africa of illegal weapons, drug dens, prostitution rings and other illegal activities. Through Operation Reclaim, numerous arrests have been made and other positive results have been recorded.
Government and the South African public have also continued to provide support to displaced foreign nationals at shelters by providing food, shelter and other necessities. Psycho-social support in the form of trauma counselling and debriefing services have been also been offered.
During the meeting of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Heads of State and Government yesterday (29 April 2015), President Jacob Zuma briefed Summit on recent events in South Africa. While condemning the attacks, Summit commended the measures that the Government of South Africa has put in place and resolved to work together to deal with the situation and ensure it does not recur.
In a situation where poverty and unemployment is rampant, conflict over limited resources is likely to arise. The events witnessed in South Africa recently are a direct consequence of poverty, being mindful that the unemployment rate in our country is over 24% and that our citizens in townships, villages and other poor areas of the country are mostly affected by poverty.
Unfortunately, incidents of poor people fighting over scarce and limited resources are not unique to South Africa and have manifested in different forms on the continent. We continuously witness incidents of inter-tribal/ethnic clashes, religious tensions and intra-tribal fights in our continent with unacceptably high numbers of fatalities. These incidents are a sign of increasing contestations over scare resources and underdevelopment. Often in these clashes, the insiders turn against the newcomers. The violent contest over resources amongst poor communities is a continental problem, which all of us must address.
South Africa has obtained evidence of abuse of the Refugees Act, with over 90% of applicants only seeking economic opportunities. Several cases were reported of girls, some as young as six, who were smuggled into South Africa. To this end, it is our various Governments’ collective responsibility to confront and deter illegal migration of our nationals.
On our part, we have put in place additional measures to address the challenges of migration in the hopes that these will assist us find long term solutions.
We have recently improved our legislation and regulations in order to more effectively protect South Africa and all those residing in the country. These legislative amendments were informed by the fact that there were gaps that undermined our immigration laws, thus resulting in disorderly migration, with a potential to fuel extortion, abuse and exploitation of migrants, especially of those with fraudulent or no documents at all. The number of illegal migrants in South Africa is estimated at approximately 6 to 7 million with a large concentration in townships, villages and poor areas of the country.
In 1994, our Government took a decision not to confine refugees in camps but instead integrate them within our communities. What transpired in the country indicates that integration is a challenge that requires our constant attention. Despite difficulties faced recently, South Africa continues to advance its migration policy in order to address the challenge of migration including the integration of foreign nationals.
The country is in the process of developing a new International Migration White Paper, to replace the 1999 policy framework. The key areas to be addresses by new policy framework include:
- How to manage economic migration in South Africa;
- How to address the regulation of shops owned by foreign nationals, and
- How to ensure foreign nationals whose visas entitle them to work are employed in accordance with provisions of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act.
The incidents in my country underscore the urgent need for all of us to give urgent attention to issues related to migration and human trafficking. We must also address the very circumstances that lead our nationals to leave our shores for better opportunities in other parts of the world.
It is our affirmation that a holistic approach is required to sustainably address the challenges of migration. In our quest for long term solutions, we cannot disassociate migration from peace, security, stability and socio-economic development. More concerted action is required in decisively addressing security challenges that continue to undermine socio-economic development on the continent and in turn forces people out of their countries. It is important to give momentum to efforts at national level aimed at creating economic opportunities as a way of addressing the challenge of poverty and retaining much required skills in country.
We must remain unwavering in our commitments to implement the various undertakings we have made through various continental frameworks including the African Common Position on Migration and Development. The implementation of Agenda 2063 is perhaps our most important hope in ensuring that lasting peace is attained, by addressing various factors that continue to undermine Africa’s determination to rise.
In conclusion, South Africa remains unyielding in its commitment of ensuring that these unfortunate and despicable attacks against foreign nationals never happen again in our country. We have also remained indisposed to letting the actions of a small minority to be used to wrongfully label and stereotype more than 50 million South Africans.
It is for this reason that we have spared no effort in finding a lasting solution to the attacks on foreign nationals.