The Congress of the South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and the Hout Bay community organisation, iMizamo Yethu, briefed the Committee on issues relating to the recent violence against foreign nationals.
COSATU stressed that the issue of migration had a historical context, particularly colonialism and apartheid, and the artificial borders that had been created in this process. The kind of violence one saw in the country -- whether in sports, on the roads, or in shebeens over the weekends -- was one of the legacies of apartheid, as the apartheid regime had exerted its power through violence and police brutality. The eruption of xenophobia and the attack on foreign nationals in informal areas in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) and Johannesburg were linked to the competition for scarce resources.
The underlying problem in the recent attacks on foreign nationals was based on the fact that most employers were hiring illegal migrants at the expense of South Africans. The exploitation of these illegal migrants was made complex by the fact that illegal migrants were not protected by unions and therefore fell prey to exploitative employers. COSATU wanted to place it on record that there were elements of criminality in the recent xenophobic attacks against foreign nationals, including the looting of spaza shops. The South African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union (AU) could play an essential role in the promotion of peace, democracy and tolerance on the African continent, as political and economic instability had an impact on South Africa.
Members wanted to know if COSATU had any strategy in place that could assist the government in trying to identify loopholes in the legislation which could have contributed to the eruption of the violence. What could COSATU’s role be in assisting government to deal with the challenges facing South African-owned small businesses, especially those located in the townships? Did the foreign nationals in the country have a positive or negative impact on economic development? The issue of foreign-owned businesses that were not paying taxes should be addressed, as this was an issue that kept coming back from most local spaza shop owners. What lessons that could be learnt by local business owners from foreign nationals in order to be competitive? Much of the antagonism towards foreign nationals actually emanated from the police and the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) in their treatment of asylum seekers.
Members pointed out that the presentation by COSATU had emphasised that there was a need to deal with institutionalised xenophobia in the country and this clearly indicated that COSATU believed that there was a problem of xenophobia in the country. There was a contestation on whether COSATU should actually refer to the recent attack on foreign nationals as xenophobic, or merely conflict arising from the scarcity of resources.
iMizamo Yethu emphasised that the community of Hout Bay was still living in harmony with a huge number of foreign nationals from different countries. However, the government needed to prioritise on the documentation of all people that were coming from other parts of Africa or the world so that everyone in the country could be monitored and tracked for security purposes. Local employers were taking advantage of the situation by employing illegal migrants who were willing to accept any amount that the employer was willing to offer. These employers should be held accountable for such a breach of the law. The Department of Small Business Development should impose regulations on small businesses that were foreign-owned in order to ensure that there was fair competition. It was quite clear that what had been termed as xenophobia in public was simply people who were fighting against unregulated resources, and it was pivotal for government to take a stand in ensuring that all the foreign-owned businesses were taxed.
Members asked iMizamo Yethu whether the recent attack on foreign nationals in Hout Bay was because of a scarcity of resources, or due to criminal elements. One Member asked about the progress and impact that had been made by the Joint Business Forum (JBF) which had been established in Hout Bay after the xenophobic attacks in 2008 to ensure there was collaboration between foreign nationals and local South Africans who were involved in businesses in the townships. It was important to know if iMizamo Yethu had a database of the tuck shops that were foreign-owned in relation to those that were owned by South Africans in Hout Bay, in order to improve harmony in the area. They also wanted to know if people of Hout Bay were aware of any cases of foreign-owned spaza shops purchasing goods about to reach their expiry dates in bulk from major supermarkets, so they could sell them on cheaply to their own customers.
Chairperson’s opening remarks
The Chairperson welcomed everyone to the meeting and indicated that the Federation of Unions of South Africa (FEDUSA) was supposed to have made a presentation, but had decided that they would make a written submission. There had been apologies from Mr D Gumede (ANC), Mr J Mohai (ANC, Free State), Mr T Motlashuping (ANC, North West), Ms L Dlamini (ANC, Mpumalanga) and Ms N Mnisi (ANC).
Briefing: Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU)
Mr Matthew Parks, Deputy Parliamentary Co-ordinator, COSATU, said the issue of migration had a historical context, particularly colonialism and apartheid, and the artificial borders that had been created in the process. The economy of South Africa had been based largely on cheap labour, and migrants from countries like Lesotho, Swaziland and Botswana were often transported by trains to work in the mining sector. This was where they were exploited and paid slave wages. It was important to take into consideration that countries like Angola, Mozambique and Namibia had assisted South Africa on the route to liberation, and the government should be looking at ways to invest in these countries as a way of showing appreciation for their role in liberation.
The growth of the urban slums was the result of under-development in rural areas, with people being forced to move to the cities where there were better job opportunities and education. The apartheid regime had exploited the migrants of the neighbouring states, and the main problem of capitalism had ensured that these migrants were paid slave wages and, in some instances, had been forced into labour with little or no wages.
Mr Parks said that Bantu education had been the main challenge that had led to the triple challenges of unemployment, poverty and inequality that were facing the majority of the people in the country, as black people had been given an inferior education. COSATU felt that the kind of violence one saw in the country -- whether in sports, on the roads, or in shebeens over the weekends -- was one of the legacies of apartheid, as the apartheid regime had exerted its power through violence and police brutality. The eruption of xenophobia and the attack of foreign nationals in informal areas in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) and Johannesburg were linked to the competition for scarce resources. The underlying problem in the recent attacks on foreign nationals was based on the fact that most employers were hiring illegal migrants at the expense of South Africans. The exploitation of these illegal migrants was made complex by the fact that illegal migrants were not protected by unions and therefore fell prey to exploitative employers. COSATU wanted to place it on record that there were elements of criminality in the recent xenophobic attacks against foreign nationals, including the looting of spaza shops.
The influx of illegal migrants could not be seen in isolation from the political and economic instability in countries like Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Malawi, Somalia and Bangladesh. The problem of corruption and maladministration in the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) had also exacerbated the delays in the documentation of illegal immigrants.
It was critically important for South Africa to deal with the triple challenges that had been identified above, and this could be through reindustrialisation and job creation in urban and rural areas. There should also be prioritisation of industrialisation and job creation in urban and rural South African Development Community (SADC) countries and the African continent as a whole in order to deal with poverty and marginalisation. Good governance could significantly reduce the number of political and economic refugees in Africa and this would eventually reduce the propensity for refugees from countries like Lesotho, Zimbabwe and Swaziland to flood into South Africa.
Mr Parks concluded by saying there should be joint solutions to dealing with the challenges that were facing Africa, involving government, labour, business and civil society, to prevent the recurrence of the attack on foreign nationals. SADC and the African Union (AU) could play an essential role in the promotion of peace, democracy and tolerance on the African continent. COSATU had always felt that the government needed to prioritise on upholding the rule of law, and this could be enforced by Operation Fiela that aimed to root out criminal activities and illegal migrants.
Briefing by iMizamo Yethu community
Mr Samkelo Krweqe, Chairperson of iMizamo Yethu, appreciated the opportunity to make a presentation in the Committee to brief everyone about had happened in Hout Bay, which had been incorrectly labelled as xenophobia. It was important to clarify the confusion. The community of Hout Bay was fortunate not to have experienced any incidents of violence and brutality towards the foreign brothers and sisters. The community was still living in harmony with a huge number of foreign nationals from different countries, and everyone who was a resident in South Africa was protected by laws and the Constitution. The community of Hout Bay felt like there was much that the government could do in order to curb the attack on foreign nationals that had taken place in some areas of the country.
He said that what had been termed as xenophobia was simply people who were fighting against unregulated resources, and it was pivotal for government to take a stand to ensure that all the businesses that were foreign-owned were being taxed. The government also needed to prioritise on the documentation of all people that were coming from other parts of Africa or the world, so that everyone in the country could be monitored and tracked for security reasons. Local employers were taking advantage of the situation when they employed illegal migrants, and those people were willing to accept any amount that the employer was willing to offer. It was against the law to employ a person without any proper documents, and therefore employers should be held accountable for such a breach of the law. The exploitation of the illegal migrants should be taken into consideration either through intervention or the formation of a trade union to protect the fellow brothers and sisters. It should be stated categorically that South Africans were not xenophobic towards any foreign nationals, as the country was caring and loving.
South Africans were law abiding citizens who wished to see the country prospering and accommodating everyone that was willing to contribute to its economy and social development. The Minister of Small Business Development, Ms Lindiwe Zulu, should do a follow up on the development of small business in the country, and impose regulations on small businesses that were owned by foreign nationals in order to ensure that there was fair competition. South Africans needed to feel important in their own country, and at the moment the country was flooded by illegal migrants.
In conclusion, he said that iMizamo Yethu hoped that the Committee would consider the recommendations that had been put forward so that the government could play its role in ensuring that South Africans and foreign nationals were able to live in harmony. The invitation to make these recommendations in Parliament showed that this government cared for the people in the country.
Ms Z Dlamini-Dubazana (ANC) commended both the presentations that had been made by COSATU and iMizamo Yethu on the recent attacks against foreign nationals in the country. It was important to know if COSATU had any strategy in place that could assist the government in terms of identifying loopholes in the legislation which could have contributed to the eruption of violence in some areas of KZN and Johannesburg. What could be the role of COSATU in assisting government to deal with the challenges in small businesses, especially those located in the townships? The presentation by COSATU had been silent on how to deal with the influx of illegal migrants in Hillbrow. She asked whether COSATU had ever had an experience where foreign nationals were running businesses in an unhealthy environment. There had been reported cases where the foreign nationals would buy bulk food from Checkers or Pick n Pay that was to expire in two days, in order to be sold cheaply in their local spaza shops.
Mr S Motau (DA) indicated that the presentation by COSATU had been particularly telling. The organisation was making good points in analysing the recent attack of foreign nationals in the country from a historical point of view. He wanted iMizamo Yethu to further explain how the recent attack on foreign nationals had been based on unregulated resources. Were there any people in Hout Bay that were attacking foreign nationals because of a scarcity of resources, or were the attacks based on criminal elements? The Committee would need to get in-depth analysis of the problems behind the recent attacks on foreign nationals in order to be able to produce a credible and detailed report to the National Assembly (NA).
Mr R Chance (DA) said that the economy of countries like Angola, Mozambique and Namibia had been booming while that of South Africa had been stagnant, and therefore they were the ones that were supposed to be investing in South Africa, and not the other way around. It was commendable to see that there was an acknowledgment from both presentations that there were people who were welcoming to foreign nationals. He asked COSATU if the foreign nationals had a positive or negative impact on economic development in the country. What was the way to bring in more foreign nationals that had an impact on the economy of South Africa? The issue of foreign-owned businesses that were not paying taxes should be addressed, and this was an issue that kept coming back from most local spaza shop owners. South Africa needed to have rules and regulations on migrants that would apply to everyone, especially those who were interested in opening businesses. What lessons could be learnt by local businesses from foreign nationals in order to be competitive? Much of the antagonism towards foreign nationals actually emanated from the police and the DHA in their treatment of asylum seekers. Was COSATU aware of any such cases?
Mr K Mpumlwana (ANC) also appreciated both of the presentations that had been made, particularly on the need to tighten the security borders of the country against illegal immigrants, but it was not clear how this could be achieved when considering all the complexities involved. There were foreign nationals who were employing local South Africans and those who were involved in criminal activities, but it was difficult to see how each category was affecting the working class in the country. What could be done by government to deal with illegal migrants that were exploited by their employers? What was the impact of foreign nationals who were connected to the wholesale trade in and around the country? What could COSATU do to deal with the illegal migrants that were being exploited by employers? It must be commended that South Africans were unwilling to accept slave wages that were offered by employers to foreign nationals. It should be corrected that the Committee was not focused on the term xenophobia, but rather violence against foreign nationals.
Mr L Ramatlakane (ANC) said that the perspective of COSATU seemed to suggest that there was a problem of xenophobia in the country, and it would be useful to ascertain whether this was a “slip of the tongue,” or was based on any credible evidence. The presentation by COSATU had emphasised that there was a need to deal with institutionalised xenophobia in the country, and this clearly indicated that COSATU believed that there was a problem of xenophobia in the country.
COSATU had the largest footprint of organised labour union in the country, and it would be useful for the Committee to get the message that was coming from the shop stewards on the scarcity of resources in the country and the influx of foreign nationals. It had become clear when the Committee had visited the areas that had been affected by the recent attack on foreign nationals in KZN, that the issue of the two-tier labour system -- the one that was regulated and the other which was unregulated -- was to be blamed for the eruption of the attacks in those areas. The unregulated labour system allowed employers to employ undocumented and illegal migrants and often pay these migrants slave wages. The Labour Relations Act, 2013 that had been amended, regulated the practices of employers in relation to illegal migrants.
Mr Ramatlakane asked about the progress and impact that had been made by the Joint Business Forum (JBF) which had been established in Hout Bay after the xenophobic attacks in 2008, which aimed to ensure that there was collaboration between foreign nationals and local South Africans who were involved in businesses in the townships. Was this Forum still in existence? What could be the lessons that could be learnt from the Forum?
Ms T Kenye (ANC) asked about the role of COSATU in dealing with the complaints of the working class in the country that most of the jobs were being given to foreign nationals -- and mostly undocumented and non-unionised. The illegal migrants were mostly involved in criminal activities, as it was difficult for them to be identified and this was the reality that needed to be confronted. There should be a campaign to address the problem of stolen property that was often sold to businesses that were owned by foreign nationals, as this was contributing in the high levels of crime. She pointed out that there seemed to be a contradiction in the statement of COSATU on whether the recent attack on foreign nationals was fuelled by xenophobia or sheer criminal acts. The term xenophobia was strange to South Africans, as the overwhelming majority of people in the country were welcoming to foreign nationals.
Ms G Manopole (ANC, Northern Cape) wanted to know if COSATU had conducted research through its shop stewards or any other way on the number of shops that were owned by foreign nationals, especially the illegal migrants. It was essential for the Committee to know the number of foreign nationals that were employed in the security and hospitality sectors, and even domestic workers. She asked if iMizamo Yethu had a database of the tuck shops that were owned by foreign nationals in relation to those of local South Africans in Hout Bay in order to improve harmony in the area.
Ms T Mampuru (ANC, Limpopo) agreed that the recent attacks on foreign nationals had been a result of scarcity of resources. She pointed out that most of the foreign nationals were often skilled in jobs like carpenters, construction and technicians, and the government needed to ensure that there was collaboration between South Africans and foreigners in the transfer of skills. The influx of illegal migrants had had an impact on service delivery in the country, especially the provision of Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) houses. The issue of corruption in Home Affairs needed to be addressed, as there were reported cases of people in the Department who were able to document illegal migrants without following proper procedures.
Mr Parks responded that it must be taken into consideration that although COSATU was very powerful, it was not in government and most of the complex questions that had been asked by Members should be directed to those in government. COSATU was mainly responsible for the mobilisation of labour, and government had played an important role in tightening the loopholes that were often exploited by illegal migrants and the employers. The global economic crisis of 2008 had led to many job losses and this had resulted in many employees being dismissed, especially those in the mining sector, and many employers had preferred to hire illegal migrants. The Labour Relations Act of 2013 had made it clear that the employers could not use the illegal migrants as an excuse for paying slave wages and this was once again part of the tightening of the loopholes. The Department of Labour (DoL), together with the DHA, needed to collaborate in rooting out the employment of illegal migrants, as this was likely to fuel the attacks on foreign nationals. COSATU was more in favour of tightening the borders of South Africa to prevent the influx of illegal migrants than hunting down foreign nationals when they were already in the country. The foreign-owned spaza shops were able to undercut local businesses in the townships because they did not pay taxes, and this was a matter that should be addressed through legislation.
Mr Parks admitted that there had indeed been reported cases where foreign-owned spaza shops had been accused of dumping expired goods that were often sold in an unhygienic environment, but there had also been cases where South African-owned companies, such as Shoprite, had been guilty of such practices and had dumped expired foods at their stores in Zambia and Mozambique.
The Chairperson interrupted, and said that there was no need to do a generic comparison when something wrong was pointed out. Therefore it could not be correct for COSATU to assume that the issue of selling expired goods could not be raised because a South African company had been guilty of such behaviour.
Mr Parks explained that his intention had been to ensure that issues should not be looked at in one context, but as a broader problem that was affecting the entire society. The recent attack on foreign nationals had to do with competition for scarce resources, especially access to job opportunities, and the influx of illegal migrants from Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Mozambique had worsened the situation.
The Chairperson wanted to know about the role that was played by COSATU in cases where there were exploited foreign nationals, as everyone in the country was protected against exploitative wages.
Mr Parks replied that this was often made complex by the fact that most illegal migrants were often desperate for any kind of job and were therefore less likely to report cases where they were given slave wages. COSATU was not as much concerned about the labelling of xenophobia than it was about the cases of violence within the country. The kind of violence that had been experienced in South Africa was a legacy of apartheid, and this was evident in service delivery protests, the treatment of women, the approach to driving and gang-violence. The country was clearly still suffering from the trauma of apartheid. The exploitation of cheap labour by employers was the manifestation of capitalism, where the priority was on profit rather than development. It was correct that countries like Angola, Namibia and Mozambique were booming economically, but this had not had an impact in terms of reducing the cases of extreme poverty and political instability. South Africa could not be used as a place to escape during crises in most of the African states, and this was where the AU, together with SADC, would need to play an important role in fostering democracy and political tolerance. It should be noted that this did not in any way imply that all the foreign nationals should be chased out of the country, but was a call on government to tighten the borders against illegal migrants.
Mr Parks said it was understandable that Members expressed frustration over the influx of illegal migrants. This was a matter to be resolved by the DHA, and it should be appreciated that there had been major improvements at Home Affairs in the processing of documentation for refugees and illegal migrants. The DoL needed to be harsh on those employers who were employing illegal migrants, as this was against the Constitution and had the potential to create animosity between South Africans and foreign nationals. There were many issues that were attracting migrants even from powerful countries like Nigeria to come to South Africa, and these included a vibrant democracy, a stable economy and respect for human rights. Mr Ramatlakane had been correct to point out that the two-tier labour system had contributed to the recent attacks on foreign nationals, and this was one of the loopholes that needed to be tightened through legislation. The neighbouring countries needed to assist South Africa in terms of dealing with their own challenges, like political instability and poverty, so that South Africa could be able to prioritise on its citizens in the fight against poverty, unemployment and inequality.
Ms Nkosazana Modiza, Research Officer, COSATU, said it was often difficult to protect foreign nationals against exploitative wages because they were not affiliated to a labour union. COSATU had referred to the incident as “xenophobia,” because this was what had been portrayed in the media and this had been to make it easier for the working class to understand the whole process.
The Chairperson interrupted, and said it was unacceptable for COSATU to use the word “xenophobia” merely because the concept had been used and popularised in the media. She wanted to know if COSATU was using the term “xenophobia” because it had been popularised in the country, or whether there was a strong belief that South Africans were xenophobic.
Mr Parks responded that generally speaking, the overwhelming majority of South Africans were not xenophobic, but there were individuals who could be labelled as xenophobic just as there were individuals who were sexist or racist. Essentially, COSATU did not believe that all South Africans were xenophobic, and the proof of that was the fact that the overwhelming majority of South Africans were living in harmony with foreign nationals.
Mr Chance wanted to know if it was better to be exploited and earn money, or not to be exploited without earning any money, as the main problem in South Africa was the fact that about eight million people were unemployed -- only 40% of the people were working, and this should be 60%. The debate that South Africa should be having was on how to create equal opportunities for everyone in the country, without excluding migrants, where the rights of everyone were protected.
The Chairperson said that the majority of people that were employed in the hospitality and security sector were foreign nationals, and this should be linked to the fact that these were the least paying sectors. There were also reported cases in the hospitality industry where the foreign nationals were able to accept commissioned jobs because they were desperate, and South Africans were looking for jobs that would be able to sustain their livelihood. The Committee was essentially dealing with the root causes of violence against the foreign nationals -- the factors that were pushing people to migrate to South Africa -- and how the foreign nationals could be integrated into the country. The Committee had been mandated to probe the recent violence against foreign nationals and not xenophobia, as Members had discovered that South Africans had also been attacked by foreign nationals in the recent violence in KZN. It should not be portrayed as if the lives of foreign nationals were more important than those of South Africans, as the Constitution was very clear that everyone was to be treated equally.
Mr Parks reiterated that the overwhelming majority of South Africans were not xenophobic, as they lived in harmony with foreign nationals, although there might be a minority that expressed xenophobic remarks on foreigners. It should be made very clear that the influx of foreigners was putting a strain on South Africa, as the government was still battling to provide sufficient resources for the 52 million South Africans, and it was really unaffordable for the country to continue having an influx of migrants from the continent. The neighbouring states should be made aware that their socio-economic challenges had an impact on South Africa. There were indeed cases in the hospitality industry where local South Africans had been expelled and replaced by cheaper illegal migrants, and this was a matter which COSATU needed to resolve, as this was also fuelling this resentment from South Africans.
Mr Krweqe said that the issue of unregulated resources was based on the business that was being done within the community of Hout Bay, particularly by the foreign-owned spaza shops. There should be an office where foreign nationals could go when intending to open a spaza shop, just as was the case when someone wanted to open a tavern, which was mainly intended to enforce regulations. There were indeed cases where foreign-owned spaza were conducted in an unhygienic environment and this had been a major concern of the people in Hout Bay. There was a foreign national from Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) that had been killed in Hout Bay, but this had just been a case of robbery and not necessarily an act of xenophobia, as had been portrayed in the media. The foreign nationals in South Africa were having both a positive and negative impact on the country. Some of them were coming for good purposes, like to study or to open businesses. However, the overwhelming majority of foreign nationals in the country were coming for the purpose of crime and opening corrupt businesses, and this had an impact on South Africans.
Mr Krweqe said that the foreign nationals were able to accept exploitative wages because they were desperate for any form of income and this was where COSATU and the government needed to intervene by interrupting this trend by employers. The communities should have channels to be able to address their concerns regarding the influx of foreign nationals into Hout Bay without resorting to violence, and this could assist in creating harmony within the community. Government should be harsh on illegal migrants in order to prioritise on the safety of the country, make it possible for everyone to be tracked when they committed criminal acts. He indicated that it was only his first year as the Chairperson of iMizamo Yethu, and therefore he was not aware of any programme known as JBF in Hout Bay. He urged that such a programme should not be re-established if it had existed, as it had clearly been ineffective.
The Chairperson highlighted that both of the presentations had raised important points that would assist the Committee when deliberating on the report to be submitted to the National Assembly. However, the presentation by COSATU had failed to identify the sectors that were mostly occupied by foreign nationals at the expense of South Africans. There was a consensus that the overwhelming majority of South Africans were living in harmony with foreign nationals. The problem of employers who were hiring foreign nationals in order to pay them slave wages, had been the main factor in fuelling the recent attacks on foreign nationals.
The meeting was adjourned.
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