Currently the South African Govt at national level has initiated the program of documenting Zimbabweans and have a deadline for the 31 Dec 2010.
The Govt has refused to budge on the deadline date and they have a very good reason for it. Although the drive has been geared towards legalizing the status of many Zimbabweans according to the correct legal framework.. this exercise is in essence a white-wash operation to convince the public that some effort has been made towards documenting the approximately 3 million Zimbabweans in South Africa prior to a massive repatriation campaign.
National govt has seen that service delivery issues are on the cards as we gear towards local govt elections next year, and these are bound to be utilized by local leaders to promote xenophobic sentiments in our populations, and might well lead to xenophobic violence.
The national govt has realized that the only short term manner in addressing the migration issue, and with it the xenophobic issues in the country, is to embark on a massive repatriation campaign. Evidence of this has already shown the light in the last week with massive police and home affairs operations in the central Johannesburg business district, an area mostly populated by foreign nationals from Zimbabwe, Congo, Nigeria and Mozambique.
The national police commissioner General Bheki Cele has announced that “Operation Duty Calls” is a crime prevention operation targeted at criminal activities prior to the Christmas festive season.
However, the majority of residents in the areas targeted to date by Operation Duty Calls have been mainly areas where foreign nationals are resident. The very fact that the police has been accompanied by a large Home Affairs contingent, is indicative of the nature of the operation to target foreign nationals.
National Govt has been highly diplomatic in this issue, and has avoided coming out and announcing that a massive repatriation campaign has begun in earnest. The fact remains that Home Affairs will only be able to process about 50 – 60 000 applications for documentation from Zimbabwean nationals by the 31 December 2010. The rest of the 3 million Zimbabweans and other foreign nationals are due to face repatriation over the next 6 months.
It is logical that govt has to act in a drastic manner prior to local govt elections next year (which are expected between April and June). There are huge tensions within the ruling party itself, never mind that between the ruling party and its alliance partners.
Many leaders in high positions in the ruling party and at senior govt positions harbour xenophobic sentiments and these sentiments are clearly illustrated at local govt level where councilors and other local leaders have utilized xenophobic sentiments as mobilization issues. A power struggle is on the cards for next year’s local govt elections and the National Govt is quite correct in taking such drastic measures to prevent the xenophobia card from being used as a rallying point by local leaders.
General Bekhi Cele has correctly stated that “Operation Duty Calls” is geared towards the festive season. However he has failed to mention that this operation is just the “starter’ and precursor to the “main course” which is bound to start in earnest in 2011.
“Operation Duty Calls” is a early warning system for foreign nationals indicating that the South African Govt would like you to return to your home country over this festive season. Once the registration process ends on the 31 Dec 2010, the new year will usher in a whole new phase of arrest and repatriation for all foreign nationals in South Africa.
The evidence trail has been clear in the re-deployment of the South African National Defence Force to the borders. This preparation is not only to ensure and strengthen regular security at our borders, especially with Zimbabwe and Mozambique. But is an advance deployment in preparation for massive illegal entry by immigrants after the repatriation campaign begins.
One has to ask if this is the right move by govt. Although several negative aspects are on the cards for migrants in South Africa, one also has to consider the realities of life in South Africa. To fight xenophobic attitudes and sentiments prevalent amongst the South African population will be an extremely long process which will include having to address the issue of poverty and service delivery.
However the fact remains, that xenophobic attacks is South Africa are bound to happen and if something drastic is not done then massive attacks as seen in 2008 are going to happen. This is a point that is reiterated by many Civil Society Organizations and is a fact that is well known to the South African Govt. Their responsive actions (although not vocal) are a clear indicator that they are aware of the dangers of xenophobic attacks and have decided to take appropriate action.
Many will argue that foreign nationals in South Africa have a valid reasons for having migrated from their home countries, and that may be so. However DMPSP is deeply involved in monitoring the xenophobic attitudes and sentiments on the ground in townships around Gauteng, Mpumalanga, North West and Free State. The dangers of a full scale xenophobic attack are very real and very near.
Although we have to commend the swift action by police after the SWC at Kaya Sands when xenophobic attacks began, and we hope that such swift action will be the norm by the police should such attacks occur again, we have to be realistic in understanding the short-falls/limitations of the South African Police Force and National Defence Force should other large scale, or even larger scale attacks than 2008 occur.
It is certain that the national govt has realized that the 2008 attacks not only gave an indication as to how fast such incidents can occur and spread, but also the limitation of the security forces in being able to deal with large scale civil unrest.
The Security Forces in South Africa have had good experience since 2008 as to the nature of civil unrest, and their ability to effectively deal with it. One has only to revise the nature of service delivery protests taking place around the country since 2008 to understand that such protests have by and large been extremely violent. Many such protests have directly attacked police officers and police vehicles with no fear or respect for the enforcers of the law.
Current Police and Defence Force strengths, morale and discipline will not be able to effectively control massive civil disruption in the country should it occur. The situation will be accentuated by xenophobic sentiments and attitudes prevalent amongst security force personnel. Many incidents of xenophobic attitudes and occurrences are reportedly are being perpetrated by Police force and home affairs personnel.
The Kaya Sands incident was easy enough for police to handle as it was isolated and a selected force could be deployed. However, should mass xenophobic civil unrest occur, it is doubtful whether the police and even the deployment of the Defence Force would have any major impact on controlling such violence. This was clearly evident during the 2008 xenophobic attacks when the Police and Defence Force deployments did little to curb the violence.
We have to criticise National Govt for its lack of communication around the issue of possible xenophobic attacks. However the need to address the issues leading to xenophobic sentiments, attitudes and possible civic unrest against foreigners is extremely great, and the measures and methods might also have to be extreme.
The reality is that the open door policy of South Africa over the last 10-15 years, including extremely porous borders has led to huge migration of foreign nationals into South Africa, most illegally. This has led to a huge imbalance in what would normally take place were proper measures being exrcised to control the flow of migration into South Africa.
The attitude of South Africans that foreigners are taking their homes, jobs and resources, whether real of perceived, have a huge impact on the levels of xenophobic sentiments which will lead to violent actions and unrest.
This reality can only be addressed in the short-term by implementing the regulations and legal frameworks which guide the handling of migration, both legal and illegal.
There is no doubt that this planned massive repatriation campaign will possibly ignite some negative sentiments and incidents amongst foreign nationals, and might even lead to an increase in activities by criminal elements towards foreign nationals.
However, the campaign will go a long way towards reducing the levels of xenophobic sentiments in the average South African if govt is seen to be doing something about the levels of foreigners in the country.
Given the political climate at present, such a repatriation campaign will also reduce the chances of local political leaders being able to mobilize communities towards xenophobic violence if government is already seen to be busy doing something significant about it.
Although civil society has to closely monitor such operations and campaigns for civil rights abuses, it is our opinion that as much support as possible should be given towards assisting foreign nationals to return to their home country, as well as to the South African Govt in correctly managing and implementing the measures necessary for repatriation.