South Africa

Motlanthe: Our immigration policy has lost Africa’s trust

Former president Kgalema Motlanthe has joined Thabo Mbeki in raising his concern about South Africa’s standing on the continent as a result of the government’s immigration policy.

Speaking to Mail & Guardian on the sidelines of the Kgalema Motlanthe Foundation Inclusive Growth Forum in the Drakensberg on Sunday, Motlanthe said members of the Southern African Customs Union needed to first integrate the data of the home affairs department for movement across the borders that does not require a visa or passports.

“Identity documents should do, precisely because we will then have access to the same data. So anyone who can commit a crime and fingerprints will be arrested.”

He said the problem with South Africa’s current approach was it focused solely on so-called undocumented people from neighbouring countries. Removing the “undocumented” would “take forever”, he said.

“That is why they’ve established a border control management system. You do that with a border control management system, but you need to integrate the data of South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, Mozambique, Zimbabwe in one, it’s easier then. Then nobody is so-called undocumented if you do that, because people are documented from wherever they come from,” he said.

Motlanthe also raised concern about South Africa’s stringent visa requirements for citizens from the rest of Africa, saying South Africa’s reputation on the continent had declined and there was a need for regional integration.

Web Search Engine

“It needs a lot of effort to win back the trust of our citizens in our neighbouring countries. Fellow Africans are saying it is almost impossible to get a visa to come to South Africa, why?

“[W]e ought to work towards promoting and making it easier for movement of people and goods across borders and to establish people-to-people relations — academics, sporting people, cultural activists, ordinary people — which would then mean that we improve on the rail system, we improve on the road networks. We integrate the banking systems so that they speak to each other and people don’t have to carry money,” he said.

What is seen as South Africa’s weak response to xenophobia has led to tense relationships, particularly with West Africa.

On a visit to West Africa earlier this year, President Cyril Ramaphosa spent time in meetings with his peers trying to smooth ruffled feathers regarding the treatment of foreign nationals in South Africa.

Before the formal talks with Nigeria during the visit, News24 reported that South African business people told Ramaphosa of arbitrary action against South African businesses, the difficulty in repatriating dividends and a strict visa regime remained sticking points in the relationship between the two countries.

Despite Ramaphosa spearheading the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement alongside Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta and Nigeria’s Muhammadu Buhari, South Africa’s ultimately successful bid to have Wamkele Mene installed as the new secretary general of the AfCFTA secretariat met with resistance from Abuja.

Motlanthe’s sentiments were also expressed by High Commissioner of Kenya Catherine Muigai Mwangi.

During her address on practical steps towards advancing the African Continental Free Trade agreement while at the forum in the Drakensberg, Mwangi said part of the slow pace of acceleration on the AfCFTA was caused by Covid-19 related problems.

She said countries needed to simplify customs procedures to ensure trade across borders.

“The other issue is infrastructure, our ability to move, to move goods, to move people and finances … and also other known tariff barriers such as visas.

“South Africa stands guilty as charged because it is completely impossible for most Africans to get into South Africa because of visa issues. How are we going to promote trade among ourselves if we cannot move among our own continent?”

The former prime minister of the Central African Republic, André Nzapayeké, said Africa needed to change its mindset to adopt Afrocentric policies and recommit to African integration. “I am strongly convinced that the African free trade agreement can be a huge game changer.”

Experts have in the past said that the government’s plans to tighten controls at borders with neighbouring countries will entrench perceptions that it is taking a more inward-looking, nationalist route.

The South Africa government has been steadily introducing restrictive immigration policies, which it argues are necessary to thwart security threats.

The Covid-19 pandemic highlighted South Africa’s tougher stance on border control compared with other African countries, said Jo Vearey, the director at the African Centre for Migration and Society at the University of the Witwatersrand.

South Africa chose to close its land borders at the start of its Covid-19 lockdown, whereas in West Africa, for example, there was a much more fluid response to how people were able to move, which, in many ways, reflected the status quo in border management.

Generally, South Africa and Botswana have tended to lag behind countries in East and West Africa in terms of implementing immigration policies that promote much-touted regional integration, experts previously told the M&G.

Artmotion S.Africa

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button