Statement by South Africa on recent attacks on foreign nationals in South Africa delivered by H.E. Ndumiso N Ntshinga, Ambassador to Ethiopia and Permanent Representative to the African Union and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa.
Chairperson of the Peace and Security Council,
Members of the Peace and Security Council,
We welcome the opportunity to address the Peace and Security Council on the vandalism and looting of businesses and the violence and attacks against foreign nationals some cities in South Africa.
The people and government of South Africa reiterate their condemnation in the strongest terms against these attacks as this is not reflective of who we are as a country. No matter what the grievances, such actions cannot be justified. No matter the frustrations, the loss of even a single life cannot be condoned. One death is too many. Allow me to take this opportunity to extend our sincere condolences to the families and friends of the eight South Africans and two foreign nationals who lost their lives as a result of the attacks. We also want to commend the response by our law enforcement agencies who managed to quell the situation. Arrests have been made which include both our citizens and foreign nationals. Operations are on-going to identify and deport those who are in the country illegally to their respective countries.
South Africa is a country that suffers from deep structural disparities, emanating from the legacy of apartheid. This manifests itself in extremely high levels of unemployment which is currently at 29% and one of the highest in the world, high level of poverty and increasing inequality. Unfortunately our poor communities are the ones directly affected which evokes resentment towards foreign nationals who in most cases are undocumented as they compete for the limited opportunities and resources. We provide free housing, basic education, water, electricity and healthcare to the extremely poor in our country and our law does not exclude undocumented migrants from these services. Our Constitution stipulates that nobody shall be discriminated against from these basic services.
In a situation where poverty and unemployment are rampant, conflict over limited resources will always be on the rise. It is worth noting that these outbreaks of violence happen within the most economically depressed communities of our country. Not once have we heard of such incidences occurring in the middle class to affluent residential areas where most professional and wealthy people reside who are both South Africans and foreign nationals. There are indeed a number of foreign nationals who contribute to our country’s socio-economic development by investing in the economy, and supplying critical skills in industries and social sector. Some of these foreign nationals have been resident in our country since 1994 and even their children have been born in our country and have not experienced any of these incidents. In fact our policies are biased towards foreign nationals with skills and wanting to practise their professions in the country.
It is equally important to mention that the resentment against migrants caused by the conduct of some unscrupulous private sector entities which consider them as a source of cheap labour with almost nonexistent labour rights. The people then direct their anger at the employees instead of the employers. This is more prevalent in the food and beverages, road transport and private security sectors.
Similarly, it should also be stated that certain nationalities are overly represented in certain crimes such as drug trafficking, prostitution, human trafficking, human smuggling, violent and armed heists that are carried out with military precision, money laundering and illegal activities in the entertainment industry specifically in the nightclubs. When the foot soldiers of the perpetrators of such crimes are undocumented it makes it extremely difficult for the law enforcement agencies to trace them. This creates a perception among communities that undocumented migrants are above the law and can commit crimes without any consequences. This leads to communities taking law into their own hands.
It must be recalled that the South African government took a deliberate decision not to have refugee camps but rather to integrate refugees in our communities. We did this out of desire to construct social cohesion and to live side by side as brothers and sisters rather than to isolate foreign nationals. This is a noble and humane approach that must be respected and promoted by all in our country. However, it is clear that undocumented migrants make it difficult for the integration policy to be rolled out as effectively as anticipated. We see on daily basis huge influx of illegal migrants moving into South Africa and there is very little that we can do to stem the tide. Consequently, it has placed an enormous pressure on our limited infrastructure and services such as education and health including the very social cohesion as a societal value.
South Africa has no intention or capacity to seal its borders on fellow Africans or any other nationalities. However, entry, stay and exit must be within the confines of the law. As a law based country we expect our citizens and foreign nationals resident in our country to respect our laws and contribute to the fiscus as required by law.
It is not the first time that this august body has discussed attacks against foreign nationals in South Africa. In our previous presentations, calls were made by this delegation for collective efforts that will assist to attain durable solutions to the problem. South Africa cannot deal with this on its own. The efforts by our law enforcement agencies only quell the situation without providing sustainable solution. The quelling of this situation does not address the anger which is left alive and simmering. South Africa has absolutely no capacity to deal with this situation on her own. It is for this reason we once again call on the countries of origin, transit countries, regional and international organisations to work with South Africa to find a permanent solution.
We are encouraged by the government of Nigeria for her willingness to work closely with our government to identify the root causes of the eruptions of violence and to finding a sustainable solutions to these problem. We are also pleased for the emerging support by some African Heads of State that the incident in South Africa concerns us all. We hope this is just the beginning and further that other countries concerned will also share the same sentiment to assist us in finding a solution. We are also encouraged by the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) for planning a conference to discuss the avalanche of migrants in South Africa and how best to deal with it, also calling on countries that gone through similar experiences to share their best practices.
Undoubtedly, we also cannot ignore the push factors that lead people to leave their shores with the false hope of better opportunities. It is important that we dispel this myth that South Africa is a country that has greener pastures for all, which in reality does not exist. It is equally important that we should go beyond condemnation and lamentation of this problem. We rather should work together to find a lasting and durable solution as a collective of the governments and peoples in the countries of origin, transit countries as well as regional and international organisations as we have indicated earlier on. A balanced consideration and contribution to this matter by all entities is critical to finding a sustainable solution.
At the risk of being considered redundant, we want to emphasize and repeat that if we are serious about stopping this matter once and for all and not to come and lament every year, South Africa on her own cannot deal with this without the collaboration and cooperation of countries of origin and transit countries. This is a responsibility that should be collectively shouldered.
I thank you.