ANC Today, Volume 1 No. 31 August 2001

A marked rise in recent years in the number of immigrants to South Africa has been accompanied by an increase in visible acts of xenophobia against non-South Africans, particularly those from other African countries. Xenophobia - hatred of foreigners - is one the global problems which the World Conference against Racism aims to address when it meets in Durban at the end of the month.

The xenophobic sentiments evident in parts of South Africa runs against the current of the country's main political traditions, and is in sharp conflict with the strong non-racial culture of the majority of its people. At its formation in 1912 the African National Congress became the pivot of African unity in South Africa and beyond. Its broad, outward-looking nationalism reflected both the humanist traditions of African democratic inclusiveness and the universalist values of the major religions of the world. The ANC's formation stirred the imagination of our continent. African National Congresses were formed in Zimbabwe, Zambia and even as far a field as Uganda. Our anthem, 'Nkosi Sikelel'iAfrika', which is sung in a host of Southern African nations, is a reflection of the pan -African vision and unity for which the ANC has always stood.

The governments and peoples of the African continent played a central role in the achievement of democracy and non-racialism in South Africa. In these countries, South African exiles would sing: "Mozambican people/ Oh lovely people/ Though we are so far from home/ We will love you and respect you/For the things you've done for us."

The contribution of these countries to liberation in South Africa cost them severe economic and political destabilisation by the apartheid regime, causing damaged from which many have yet to recover. However, as South Africa proceeds to extend public goods and services to the once-excluded majority, and reallocate scarce resources, unfounded perceptions of the additional burden created by migrants, especially from sub-Saharan Africa, have contributed to friction and in some cases xenophobia. In certain instances xenophobic feelings have manifested themselves in incidents of violent attack.

The instance of xenophobia in South Africa is largely linked to immigration. The South African government last year repatriated 170,000 people. The great majority of these people were undocumented immigrants from various countries in Africa. One hundred thousand came from Mozambique, 50,000 from Zimbabwe, 6,000 from Lesotho and 3,500 each from Swaziland and Malawi.

The figures do not tell the whole story of undocumented immigrants who cross South Africa's borders in search of safety and better opportunities. There are thousands of foreign nationals who, while they do not possess legalising documents, stay undetected in the country for long periods of time. In addition, there are thousands of immigrants from the continent who are refugees and others who hold various types of permits, including documents for work and study purposes.

The increased immigration was a predictable consequence of South Africa's democratic breakthrough in 1994. More immigrants, and not less, are going to come to South Africa. This will continue to be the case each year until both the political and economic conditions on the continent change for the better and Africa has been fully integrated into the global economy, as envisaged in the Millennium Partnership for the African Recovery Programme.

It was obvious the new conditions of democracy, peace, justice and prosperity in South Africa would bring to the country many immigrants, especially from the African continent. The new arrivals would, in the main, include asylum seekers from the political conflicts still raging in some parts of the continent as well as economic refugees from hunger and want in their own countries.

Among them would be people who would have wanted to make the trek to South Africa a long time ago but were prevented from doing so by apartheid. In fact, Africans from the continent, whether they were political or not, became, immediately they sat foot in the country, victims of apartheid and the oppressive laws that dehumanised all black people.

Immigration control

Successive colonial and apartheid regimes used immigration control as part of their tools to convert South Africa into a colony of a special type. While the immigration of whites was encouraged and assisted as part of a deliberate recruitment programme, blacks were carted, through controlled immigration and forced removal, to areas that were reserved for occupation by Africans, Coloureds and Indians.

An indication of things to come, was the enactment in 1913 of the Immigration Regulation Act. The Act was designed to control Indian immigration when one of the unintended consequences of their arrival in 1850 as indentured labourers was the arrival of more Indians who were not part of the indenture system. The Act also proscribed the movement of black people in South Africa and made them foreigners in the land of their birth.

The question of race and ethnicity dominated policy discussions. Skin pigmentation and ethnicity became reference points for every decision and every action that was taken. Concomitantly with this, suspicion and fear became the order of the day. The various regimes and the capitalist bloc exploited to the fullest extent the xenophobia that began to emerge and created divisions among the people.

The relationship between xenophobia and racism is inextricable - both are manifestations of intolerance to people who are different, and at the same time express real differences in power and control over resources. Through challenging racism, both social and material manifestations, it is possible to challenge xenophobia.

Fighting xenophobia includes supporting the progress of regional integration with all the countries of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and commitment to the vision of African renaissance. The misperceptions, animosities and divisions among African people may emerge as obstacles to the realisation of these objectives. We are also committed to upholding the letter and the spirit of the constitution, which protects the human rights of both South Africans and migrants within the country. Whilst xenophobic elements in our society would call for further limitations of the rights of migrants, such limitations are likely to themselves result in an increase in xenophobia.

It is important to understand the phenomenon of xenophobia in the context of globalisation. As well as threatening to reinforce the material basis of racism on a global scale, the process of globalisation is also associated with the emergence of new forms of racism, xenophobia, gender and related intolerance. While the free movement of capital and goods across national borders is encouraged, and is growing, the movement of people across borders, especially the movement of unskilled labour from less developed to the more developed countries is becoming increasingly circumscribed.

This, combined with policies that conspire to actively 'poach' the cream of skilled labour produced in the South, means that nations which stand outside the centres of capital accumulation are most disadvantaged by these restrictive migration regimes. These developments, which intensify the tendencies towards marginalisation in the process of globalisation, are spurred by xenophobia. Such restrictions give credence to these animosities.

The ANC supports the establishment of a human-rights based system for migration control through legislation that meets the following objectives:

The ANC will work to ensure its structures are equipped to assist immigrants to legalise their stay in South Africa, and will work with other forces on the continent to encourage economic growth and social development across Africa.