It is an honour and a privilege to deliver this paper at the opening of this conference. The subject matter "After Amnesty: The future of Foreign Migrants in South Africa" is one of the most important problems facing South Africa today.
Migration to South Africa must be seen from two angles: Firstly on a positive note, we must think of the benefits, and secondly, regrettably on a negative note the problem of illegal aliens migrating to the RSA has to be addressed. Although I will touch on both aspects the position of foreign migrants will be emphasised. Immigration remains one of the important functions of the Department of Home Affairs and in this regard there are very important developments envisaged for 1997.
The Department realises that a properly managed immigration programme can be of great economic, social and cultural benefit to the country. The policy is therefore aimed at allowing entry only to those persons who can contribute substantially towards the needs of the country in the form of personal skills or investments leading to industrial expansion and job creation for the local population. This ladies and gentlemen strikes at the heart of our immigration policy. This thinking is also in line with the thinking of other leading countries in the world.
The Department is convinced that research on migration with a view to analysing the problem, is an essential step towards finding lasting solutions to this global issue, with specific emphasis on the South African situation.
The Centre of Socio-Political Analysis of the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) was therefore approached by my Department to conduct a comparative study of the relevant legislation in selected countries and an evaluation of the effectiveness of measures implemented for the combating of clandestine migration across international borders and illegal immigrants.
The aim of this research project, which was completed in 1996, was to make a comparative study of the existing legislation and preventative measures and then to draw from experiences and legislation of the selected case studies. Such research is to be utilised as a helpful, practical guideline for the Department and within the SADC framework.
Further to this, I as you all will know, appointed a task team to investigate international migration and to compile a Green Paper. This Green Paper has been made available for public comment and the process will lead to a White Paper on Immigration. Migration will always be a sensitive issue with views ranging radically to the utmost extremes. This is already evident from media reports. I have nevertheless particular confidence in the task team as a well balanced forum.
Allow me at this time to reflect upon the issue of numbers. How many illegals are presently in South Africa, being the question? I have heard figures ranging from one to twelve million. This relates obviously to two poles of thought: one being "don't be concerned", the other saying please "be alarmed". What I do know is that the one real effort made was by my Department in association with the Human Sciences Research Council. A figure ranging from 2,5 to 4,1 million was determined in 1996, and now the debate for some becomes focused on the accuracy of the figures, or not for that matter. I would plead that we focus less on the count and more on the essence. Do we have a problem and what is it costing us? Let us please work together on this issue which is not a political nature, but of national importance.
During 1996, the number of emigrants (9 708) who left the country was nearly double the number of immigrants (5 407) who entered the country, may I say legally. The net result of immigration therefore shows a loss of 4 301 persons for 1996. In the professional group 1 970 persons left the country against 843 immigrants, resulting in a loss of 1 127 in this category.
Immigration is therefore still necessary on the short and medium term to partly counter the brain drain. My particular concern is, however, that the drain is in categories that the country can ill afford. It will require a major effort from all concerned to reverse the process.
The members of the new, restructured Immigrants Selection Board, consisting of a central committee in Pretoria, which has reviewing powers, and one regional committee for each province, have been appointed by me with effect from 1 January 1997. These appointments were made in accordance with the principles of transparency and openness and all nominees were screened by an independent selection panel.
While an Immigration Selection Board has in fact been in existence since 1937, the Aliens Control Act has only now been amended for the first time in order to make provision for the appointment of an autonomous Board and its committees which function independently. In the past the regional committees of the Board consisted of officials of the Department of Home Affairs and it can now be said that the new Board is in every way independent, though it will still be bound by the legal provisions of the Act. Officials of the Department of Home Affairs will still play an important role and act as secretariat to the Board.
The matter of illegal aliens remains high on the agenda of my Department. You will recall that between July and November 1996 citizens of Southern African Development Community (SADC) member states who had been in the country at least five years prior to 30 June 1996 and who qualified in terms of certain conditions, were afforded the opportunity to apply for exemption in terms of which permanent residence in the RSA may be legally acquired. Approximately 200 000 applications were received and of these just over 50% have to date been approved. Taking also into account exemptions to mine workers and Mozambican refugees, a total of 350 000 exemptions are being attended to. I will return to this matter later.
South Africa has extended a gesture of goodwill to its neighbouring countries by granting these exemptions which are also referred to as amnesty. Illegal immigrants who now "continue to remain illegally in South Africa will have to be removed as their presence is in contravention of the Aliens Control Act. I believe it to be of particular importance at this juncture to emphasise that, especially when attending to contentious matters such as illegal aliens, I have to be aware of the sentiments at ground level and to report this to Cabinet, to ensure that measures adopted are in the final instance those of Government and not my personal sentiments. I am a member of Cabinet and it is the will of Cabinet, indeed the instrument through which Government is promoted that needs to be endorsed. I, furthermore, wish to point out that in terms of the Aliens Control Act I am indeed committed to apprehend and remove illegal from South Africa as they are classified as prohibited persons. Notwithstanding this obligation, I attend as already indicated, to this issue in close consultation with Cabinet. In this regard the framework is certainly determined by the Reconstruction and Development Programme for the improvement of the well being of South African citizens and permanent residents.
With an illegal alien population estimated at between 2,5 million and 5 million, it is obvious that the socio-economic resources of the country, which are under severe strain as it is, are further being burdened by the presence of illegal aliens. The cost implication becomes even clearer when one makes a calculation suggesting that if every illegal costs our infrastructure, say R1 000 per annum, then multiplied with whatever number you wish, it becomes obvious that the cost becomes billions of rand per year.
In consequence of this, Cabinet on 3 July 1996 decided that an appeal be made through the media to foreign companies operating in South Africa to demonstrate their support for the RDP by refraining from appointing alien employees to positions which could be filled by South African citizens or permanent residents of the country, unless this is absolutely necessary. On 16 August 1996 Cabinet resolved and I quote: "that ... members of the Cabinet, realising the gravity of the matter regarding illegal aliens, make an extra effort to address the problem within their Departmental line functions".
When I then appeal to the various service departments such as Welfare, Education, Housing etc. as well as to Provincial Governments, to request presentation of identity documents for certain services being applied for, it is to ensure that services are focused on our own people or those who have been granted permanent residence and thereby to implement the will of Cabinet, indeed of Government.
This appeal must now be taken further. Any employer employing illegal aliens is not only contravening the conditions of the Aliens Control Act, but he is also undermining the welfare of the country. The ramifications of the presence of illegal aliens impacts on housing, health services, education, crime, drugs, transmittable diseases - need I go on! It is envisaged that the Aliens Control Act will be amended in the near future so as to exact heavy penalties on persons employing illegal aliens. For various reasons, among others the shortage of immigration officers, employers of illegal aliens are not prosecuted to the extent that they should be. Only a determined, vigorous and continuous drive in this regard will address the problem.
To return to the subject of amnesty. The amnesties granted in the past had as their foundation the fact that the persons had been living in South Africa for an extensive period, were involved in economic activity and were law abiding. It would be most inhuman to force, for example, a person like a Mozambican mine worker who has been employed in the Gold Mines in the RSA for an extensive period, who through his work has lost touch with his family in Mozambique, who has now built up family who lives in the RSA, etc., to expect him to return home after he has served his purpose here. We are dealing with human beings and must act accordingly. In this example the person concerned was legally in South Africa and contributed to the welfare of the country. If you relate the reasons for amnesty in this case to the situation of an illegal who has been employed illegally by some South African employer over an extensive period, was also probably paid below average wages and was exploited by his unscrupulous employer in other ways, you cannot turn a blind eye to such a persons predicament. Hence the conditions stipulated for the recent SADC exemptions when the illegality of sojourn in the RSA was condoned.
The question can justly be asked what is the future of foreign migrants in South Africa. We just cannot allow these people to remain in South Africa indefinitely especially as their presence acts to the detriment of the local population. Although no exact figures are available, South Africa's own population (citizens) could be in the order of 40 million. The estimate of illegal aliens varies between 2,5 and 4,1 million, with certain organisations claiming 8 million then 5,8 percent of the persons in the country are here illegally: At 4,1 million it is 10%.
With unemployment running at above 34 percent and millions of illegals making a living in South Africa, it can be postulated that if all the illegal aliens were removed, the unemployment problem will be closer to a solution.
But time marches on: Before we realise it, another five years will have passed since 30 June 1996, the cut off date for the last exemption or amnesty, and the Government will again be faced with the dilemma of whether to grant a further amnesty or not. If we are, therefore, to take the matter seriously, the flood of illegal immigrants must be stopped forthwith.
Furthermore, those in South Africa must be removed. By allowing illegals to stay in our country we are depriving South African Citizens of their rights and expectations to a better life.
South Africa is faced with another threat, and that is the SADC ideology of free movement of people, free trade and freedom to choose where you live or work. Free movement of persons spells disaster for our country. We just cannot take more people in. We are agriculturally poor and our country is subject to severe and regular droughts. We cannot feed the population properly as it is, leave alone persons from across our borders.
South Africa must take stock of its situation, inter alia by stopping the flow of aliens to this country. On a regular basis cases come to the fore where persons misuse their South African Citizenship to facilitate the entry into South Africa of aliens by marriages of convenience. One South African citizens, for example, allegedly entered into her third marriage with a foreigner recently and one can only presume that this has become a lucrative source of income. These cases are reported in the press regularly and I will not elaborate save for the remark that in some cases the foreign marriage partners do not appear to be an asset to South Africa at all.
Although I may have deviated from the subject, it is necessary to emphasise some of the problems surrounding migration and the real treat to South Africa. I get hundreds of letters requesting assistance to allow persons into South Africa even though they do not qualify for permanent resident status, and the thought often strikes me - do we South Africans know what we are doing to our country by bringing in foreigners who are or will not benefit our society or worse still allowing them in when we should reject their applications. In the latter regard I can refer to actual cases where employers wish to recruit persons overseas in occupational categories that could easily be filled by local workers if they were only prepared to give them a chance and a bit of training.
By all means allow controlled immigration in order to obtain rare skills, professional expertise and investment which, as I said is in line with the policies of all major countries, but please assist Government by building this country with it own resources, especially when it comes to people. In conclusion Chairperson, ladies and gentlemen the most important task is to stop the flood of illegal aliens and to remove them from our country. Failure to do so will inevitably lead to further demands for amnesty in due course, in addition to impoverishing the country as indicated.