End of the road for illegal foreigners in South Africa: United Nations tells SA what to do next

End of the road for illegal foreigners in South Africa: United Nations tells SA what to do next

The government has sufficient immigration laws and only needs to fortify its porous borders, says the acting UN representative to SA, Ayodele Odusola.

Amid a new wave of xenophobic violence in SA, which resulted in the stoning and burning to death of a Zimbabwean national, Elvis Nyathi, who came to work in South Africa as a gardener. The 43-year-old father for four was burnt to ashes by a mob in Diepsloot township outside Johannesburg, opposition parties have called for tighter laws and stricter border controls.

Odusola said on Tuesday that SA’s immigration laws, which are in line with international best practice, are sufficient but are poorly enforced, leading to sporadic instances of violence against foreigners.

Additionally, ongoing issues — such as the high levels of unemployment, poor service delivery and utterances by political leaders who use migration to mobilise support — feed into the anti-foreign national sentiment in the country, he said.

“For implementation to take root we must fortify our border posts. Our border posts are becoming too porous, so we need to make sure that the land borders and the airports need to be fortified so that those with legal documents are able to enter,” Odusola told Business Day.

This would ensure only individuals with legal documents are able to enter the country, which would help temper anti-foreigner sentiments.

He said there was need to build capacity of immigration officials to get rid of “bad eggs”.

Odusola’s comments come days after President Cyril Ramaphosa’s condemnation of the attacks on foreigners last week. The attacks were sparked by the alleged killing of seven South Africans in Diepsloot and the high crime rate in the township. Ramaphosa, who likened the incidents of anti-foreigner sentiment to apartheid, warned that scapegoating migrants for SA’s ills, including crime and unemployment, could ignite further xenophobic violence.

In a statement on Tuesday, the UN said it was important to note that the SA government had ratified several international human rights and refugee instruments that were also an integral part of national law.

Diepsloot was rocked by violence, with residents, under the banner of Operation Dudula, demanding better policing and claiming that undocumented foreigners are driving up crime in the area. The vigilante group gained prominence during the 2021 July riots when its leader, Nhlanhla Lux Dlamini, led residents of Soweto to protect the looting of one of the township’s largest malls, Maponya Mall.

Considering SA’s unemployment rate of 35.3%, Dudula’s anti-immigrant stance, which the group says is aimed at ridding townships of undocumented illegal immigrants who are “suppressing the township economy”, has resonated with many Diepsloot residents.

Anti-foreigner campaigns by vigilante groups coincided with the passing of the Gauteng Township Economic Development Bill earlier in 2022. The bill, which is soon to be signed into law by premier David Makhura, is aimed at reviving the economy of townships in the province through government support.

The bill aims to create an enabling environment for township-run and township-owned businesses, such as malls, supermarkets and other outfits in the formal sector, to partner with big business owned by township residents for the sourcing, selling and manufacturing of goods.

“Some aspects of the bill will inevitably benefit South Africans, like the Township [Economy] Partnership Fund. But bylaws that promote economic activities will benefit everyone operating business in the township, including the backyard real estate business,” says Makhura’s spokesperson Vuyo Mhaga.

“We do want foreign investors and entrepreneurs to come and establish businesses in SA,” Makhura told Diepsloot residents on Monday.

He added that only those with “SA IDs will be able to access these benefits [of the bill]”.


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