GOING BACK HOME ‘WILL NOT BE EASY’

Business Day , 17 June 2008

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The reintegration of foreigners displaced by xenophobic violence back to their communities will be difficult, a Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) study has found. Such a move could well resuscitate the violence that subsided this month. Released yesterday, the study, Citizenship, Violence and Xenophobia in SA : Perceptions of South African Communities, found that integration could take “considerably” longer and be more fraught than had been expected. The government is working on reintegrating those foreigners who are willing to go back to their places of residence within local communities. The cabinet has admitted the process will not be easy. The HSRC report said there was an overwhelming sentiment that while violence against foreign nationals was not legitimate or acceptable, foreigners should return to their country of origin and only be allowed back under strictly regulated conditions. “If the government does not engage with the sentiment being expressed by ordinary residents that foreign nationals should leave the country, the risk is that these feelings of alienation between government and citizens will deepen and the possibility of successful reintegration, which will require strong leadership, will be diminished,” the report said. The study was conducted in Alexandra, Mamelodi, Tembisa and at Imizamo Yethu in Western Cape, all places where xenophobic violence has occurred. The report said informal settlement residents felt they had been left to deal “unaided” with the consequence of national policy, particularly in relation to migration and the political conflict in Zimbabwe. “The undocumented migration of large numbers of people into informal settlements to directly compete with struggling South Africans in cramped settlements within a context of considerable macroeconomic hardship has proved explosive.” It said the deepening crisis in Zimbabwe had had a direct effect on sentiments towards Zimbabweans in this country, who had been increasingly conflated with all migrants to SA. The study identified the role of the government, the scale of influx of migrants, the effect of migrants on gender dynamics, the pace of housing policy and administration, the economic livelihoods, and the competition for resources as critical to the emergence of tensions. It found that local men appeared to be the most antagonistic toward foreigners while local women admired foreign men for creating opportunities for themselves as locals were acquisitive and materialistic. As a solution, the report called for an urgent commission of inquiry in order to create effective communication bet-ween community, local government and the national government for hearing and resolving grievances. It said there was a need for more urgent upgrading of informal settlements, including the provision of houses and services. As locals complained that foreigners were tolerant to low wages and hard work, the HSRC called for minimum wages for casual labour. It recommended that programmes that partnered skills of foreigners with locals be launched to generate productive economic ventures. It said an effective migration policy was needed, including dealing with corruption and resolving the crisis in Zimbabwe.