Migration News - October 1998

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October 1998

But, it is on the soil of the new South Africa, a land which professes to have eradicated discrimination, racism and intolerance, where foreign Africans are met with the kind of hostility once reserved only for the oppressor. Many immigrants and refugees in South Africa, however, find themselves forced to do menial jobs, the kind that South Africans are loath to do. An illegal status coupled with a determination to survive away from home appears to create the perfect environment for exploitation at the hands of unscrupulous employers. The immigration problem is compounded by the fact that South Africa has no clear immigration policy. Alleged police brutality, apparent routine raids on legal and illegal immigrants alike and an unsympathetic justice system has never been adequately addressed.

Vincent Williams, South African Project Manager of the Southern African Migration Project, says the debate on emigration is characterized by rhetoric and scare-mongering. "This is the kind of thing political parties will use to score points, especially in the run up to the election," he said. "Crime figures are declining, but there is a public perception things are getting worse and political parties have an interest in maintaining those perceptions." A survey conducted by Williams' project showed that only a very small percentage said they were very likely to emigrate and found that skilled white workers were no more likely to want to leave than skilled blacks. Pretoria's immigration procedure is bureaucratic, slow and has no means of targeting the skills needed, Williams says. Last year, 4,532 people moved to South Africa permanently, only 607 of them professionals or semi-professionals. While South Africans are snapped up by Australia, Canada and New Zealand, which all operate point systems that reward youth and skills, this country lacks proper labour market statistics to enable it to identify shortages, Williams says. Williams says South African immigration is entirely discretionary and tainted by xenophobia.

  1. Migrants in higher and very low income jobs experienced less hostility from South Africans;
  2. Black South African workers tended to be more xenophobic than their white co-workers, and
  3. Xenophobia was largely justified by the pervasive perception that foreigners were responsible for the high levels of unemployment.

Regarding accusations that foreigners were using social services meant for South Africans, Reitzes said migrants were not as inclined to use public facilities such as hospitals as was often assumed. When they did use public hospitals, they paid for services. Respondents who had children in South African schools said they paid school fees, Reitzes said.

Updated December 21, 1998