On Monday I attended a parliamentary round-table discussion on migration and development in the SADC region, which turned out to be more presentation than discussion, and more about xenophobia than economic development.
I must admit to having been quite disheartened by some of the politicians need to side-step responsibility and to then point fingers at “evil capital” and “abusive employers”.
The politicians did acknowledge that they took a conscious decision post 1994 to do away with refugee camps and to rather encourage direct integration into communities. They weren’t prepared for what this integration meant and they didn’t adequately prepare communities.
While the employment of foreign nationals by unscrupulous employers taking advantage of the fact that illegal immigrants have no rights in terms of our labour laws and are prepared to work harder for less, may have been in partly to blame, the xenophobic attacks are a symptom of some deep and complex problems that need addressing.
It is important to analyse the migration data before forming any opinion, because there are different types of migrants too, some legal and some illegal, and one must consider the very challenging relationship between poverty and migration.
The afternoon, as far as I was concerned, was saved by Vasu Gounden, representing the African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Dispute (ACCORD), who sits on the Provincial Task Team set up by the KZN Premier, Senzo Mchunu, to investigate the xenophobic attacks in KwaZulu-Natal.
He indicated that the main factors that need addressing in the SADC region are the exponential growth in population, urbanisation, water shortages as a result of climate change and a failure to industrialize our economy. He made a huge amount of sense.
He also raised the need to align ideology with practice, which got me thinking about the trade union shop steward perception survey conducted in recent years, in which candidates were asked to indicate their preference for services that were either private or public in the areas of security, health and education. The analysis showed that the preference as far as all services were concerned, was clearly the private offering. Following these options, there was a question aimed at determining what percentage of those polled would be in support of nationalisation. 65 % of the respondents indicated that they were in favour of nationalisation. Clearly reality and ideology are at odds.
And so it is with so many of the issues that we face today.
There was a great deal of unhappiness expressed on Monday about the fact that Somalian and Ethiopian traders are so effective at running shops in the townships that they have traded local people out of their businesses. The fact is that these are economic migrants with means, who are organised and skilled traders. In South Africa we do operate in a capitalist economy, so if these traders are here legally and are properly licensed, is it fair to have an issue? If they are not, then at whose door do we lay the blame?