Inter-Ministerial Committee briefing

Ad Hoc Joint Committee on Probing Violence Against Foreign Nationals

10 November 2015
Chairperson: Ms Ruth Bhengu (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

Mr Jeff Radebe, Minister in the Presidency, briefed the Committee on the findings of the Inter-Ministerial Committee on the recent violent attacks on foreign nationals that had taken place across the country, particularly in KwaZulu Natal. The National Intelligence Coordinating Committee indicated that the instances of violence which flared up between locals and foreign nationals within the country could not be remedied by simply repatriating foreign nationals to their countries of origin, because most foreign nationals were part of South Africa’s local communities, some of which had South African families. Government therefore needed to deal with the matter very carefully. The IMC rejected the notion that South Africans were xenophobic, they indicated that the root causes and triggers of the violent attacks were socio-economic in nature, and that was what government needed to tackle, especially in townships and rural areas. Members indicated that during their engagements with local residents in KwaZulu Natal, problems around labour disputes at these Spazas and general dealers were cited as some of the root causes of the problems, together with the fact that many of these shops owners were involved in the illicit economy. 

Meeting report

Ministerial Committee (IMC) on Migration on the recent attacks on foreign nationals within South Africa
Mr Jeff Radebe, Minister: Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation, Presidency, presented the findings of the Inter-Ministerial Committee in a report to the Committee. He said a heavy influx of foreign nationals has led to migration laws not being adhered to due to border management laxity and the visa waiver to Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries, among others, which has led to foreign nationals staying in the country longer than they should be. This, coupled with other causes like socio-economic conditions and unfair business practices, has necessitated the IMC to look into this and other interventions.

The Department of Home Affairs was reviewing South Africa’s migration policy and intended tabling a green paper in the Forum of South African Directors-General during the third quarter of the current financial year. Cabinet has also approved the Refugee Amendment Bill in September 2015 for tabling in Parliament. The country’s migration policy was one of several interventions through which government was responding to underlying root causes and tensions that led to attacks on foreign nationals in April 2015 in various parts of the country.

Other interventions would include:

•Addressing the asylum seekers’ backlog through the immediate funding and capacitating of the Standing Committee on Refugee Affairs and Refugee Appeals Board

•Restricting the movement of asylum applicants to a single magisterial district through the setting up of decentralised refugee reception centres at ports of entry

•Funding and capacitating of Immigration Services (IMS) to empower the inspectorate, revamp ports of entry as well as to create the necessary systems to deal with migration

•Controlling the inflow of migrants by setting a tolerance threshold or a quota system

The Minister also said government would revisit South Africa’s accession to the relevant United Nation conventions without reservation and amend the country’s Refugees Act accordingly. Over and above this, government would also develop a comprehensive strategy with SADC states for managing migration into South Africa.

Mr S Motau (DA) said in the last weeks there had been instances of violence against foreign nationals; what was being done to try and find the root causes of these problems?

Adv K Mpumlwana (ANC) thanked the Minister for the work done in identifying the causes of violence against foreign nationals and the remedial actions taken to address these sporadic attacks. This was highly appreciated. However, during the Committee’s oversight visit to Isipingo, KwaZulu Natal, there was a labour dispute at a supermarket where it was alleged that during the dispute local employees were replaced by foreign nationals and violence erupted and a South African lost their life there; killed by a foreigner with an illegal firearm. In Gauteng, young locals stole merchandise from a local supermarket, a bystander was shot dead during that robbery and violence erupted. Therefore though there was agreement that there should be peaceful coexistence between local residents and foreigners, it needed to be noted that South Africans were not xenophobic.

It was not true that the South African government had done nothing to deal with these attacks. The establishment of the Ad Hoc Committee was proof that government was committed to addressing these challenges. The South African media was also to blame for the attacks on foreign nationals, an example of this was how the media blamed the KwaZulu Natal king and said he made certain pronouncements that caused the violent outbursts. South African intelligence services also needed to keep track of all illegal goods coming into the country to be sold at cheap prices, pushing local shop owners out of business. This also contributed significantly to the violence. Peaceful coexistence between foreigners and South Africans was a reality in most parts of the country. The continent needed to engage other African countries to stabilise countries of origin so that there were few reasons for people to seek refuge in other countries.

Ms T Kenye (ANC) said the contestation within the spaza shops were a socio-economic problem, especially in Durban were the street vendors were owned by foreign nationals, however some of the Spaza shops appeared to be legitimate businesses yet some were also being used as dens for selling drugs and for other illegal activities, thereby contributing to rising crime levels in townships. The fact that the workers in these shops were not unionised was also a problem and there was very little government could do. The levels of exploitation were very high because people were desperate for employment. Some of the foreign nationals did not want to go back to their own countries.

The Chairperson said the Committee needed to produce a report that was very factual, pointing out the root causes of the attacks and making recommendations to government and to the countries of origin. The report would also need to indicate whether the steps taken by the South African government were correct in dealing with the violent attacks on foreign nationals.

Minister Radebe thanked Members for their comments and questions. The IMC concluded that South Africans were not xenophobic; no evidence was found to indicate that South Africans were xenophobic. The primary cause of the violence and the killing of people were rooted in the socio-economic conditions where the incidences took place, together with the conditions of the labour market. Of about six or seven people who died during the outbreaks, about two or three were South Africans. The IMC visited two families in Durban during these attacks to try and understand what sparked the violence, and the conclusion was that labour disputes sparked the violence.

Mr Clinton Swemmer, Acting Co-coordinator of Intelligence, National Intelligence Coordinating Committee, responded that one of the main concerns the IMC registered was that there were large numbers of foreign nationals in the country who were law abiding citizens and conducted their business in a legal framework, whose businesses were registered and they paid their taxes. The concern was that there was a business model used where businesses were not registered, the people involved were not paying taxes and they operated in a parallel economy. This was a serious concern. This business model should be regularised and the Department of Small Business Development and the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs were working very closely to encourage these businesses to legalise their status.  In interacting with the African Diaspora Forum who represented these communities, there were positive interactions between the IMC and the local communities.

On the question of how many foreign nationals were in the country illegally and legally, it was very difficult to state what the exact numbers were at any one particular point in time. The IMC had interacted with various foreign embassies and they themselves could not say what the statistics were. Research done by research institutions indicated that the numbers were about 50/50, however there was a very high number of regularised foreign nationals in the country. Government would need to move very carefully in dealing with this, repatriation was not a simple solution. Many foreign nationals were integrated into South African communities; they married South Africans and had families within the country. Their human rights needed to be respected. Government therefore needed to have a good and well thought out approach to dealing with the matter. The Department of Home Affairs had a migration policy that was one of the keys for how government could deal with the matter. It was premature to say that government would have a blanket repatriation approach. After the violence against foreign nationals in 2008, government realised there was no integrated approach to resolving the problem, but now the Minister in the IMC developed an integrated approach. Government still needed to deal with the border security issues, which were a huge concern, together with the socio-economic challenges within the country. Unlike in 2008, government was now taking a more holistic approach. The deployment of police was not a solution; police would only be deployed to ensure stability for a short period of time. Members needed to understand the difference between the root causes and the triggers; socio-economic problems were the root causes while triggers were many and varied, such as the labour disputes in KwaZulu Natal.

Statistics from the Department of Home Affairs indicated that more than 90% of foreign nationals in South Africa were economic migrants; these were not people who were politically persecuted and were coming from countries that were in a state of war. This reinforced the point that the challenges around the violence were socio-economic in nature and the country needed to work out how to approach economic migrants. No country could afford to widely open its borders for economic migrants, the country needed to be mindful to protect the rights and opportunities of South Africans who were the primary responsibility of the government. He agreed that the point made about stabilising the African continent was very important, there needed to be a collective way to ensure that countries were stable and that their economies were growing and South Africa played an important role in driving the African agenda. South Africa played an active role in assisting other African countries to address their socio-economic challenges. The continent needed to be integrated economically. Criminal activity within the security services was a serious concern; there were unfortunate situations were members of the foreign community used South African soil to plan criminal activities in their own countries. In interacting with the African Diaspora Forum South Africa made it very clear that it would not tolerate the use of South African territory to ferment regime change in other countries; this was incompatible with South Africa’s foreign policy. Government was looking for a thoughtful and balanced approach to address the matter of violence against foreign nationals. It was not helpful to label the incidents as xenophobic, because by doing so we would be ignoring the very complex underlying issues.

Minister Radebe hoped that the presentation would assist the Committee in arriving at a feasible solution for the matter under discussion. Socio-economic conditions within the country needed to be improved; especially at local government level to make sure that when local authorities gave licences they applied their minds. It was very clear that in townships and in villages foreign nationals were dominating. This had negative consequences and needed to be taken seriously. In Durban it was clear that some authorities did not apply their minds when issuing trading licenses. The Department of Trade and Industry (dti) needed to be involved in working with local authorities in issuing licences. The Department of Small Business Development (DSBD) was also crucial in resolving these matters. Operation Phakisa Reclaim had played a critical role in stabilising the situation. Some of the unresolved crimes could be attributed to foreign nationals who were in the country illegally.

The Chairperson said the inter-Ministerial presentation was left for after the IMC’s presentation to avoid a situation where the Committee would seem to be influenced by government to arrive at a particular determination. The Committee wanted to do its own research by interacting with stakeholders and with the affected communities, the police, with the foreign nationals and Spaza shop owners. It was clear that the violent attacks were an indicator of an underlying problem and the Committee wanted to understand the root causes. The Committee agreed with the report presented by the IMC that the root causes were socio-economic but they were manifesting themselves; but these were not confined to South Africa. The socio-economic situations in countries of origin required the South African government to respond. The Committee also wanted to give an opportunity to all those affected to come and talk to the Committee; it was very interesting that some foreign nationals who had made presentations to the Committee indicated that South Africa was a very stable country. Competition that existed between Spaza shops in townships needed to be looked at in greater detail.

The problem was not just about competition between foreign national Spaza shop owners and local owners, space for Spaza shops was also shrinking as a result of the establishment of new malls in rural areas and townships. This development negatively impacted the local economies. Local municipalities and traditional leaders gave the go-ahead for malls to be established, there was no co-ownership with local people who used to run Spaza shops and general dealers. The report therefore needed to look at the allocation of adequate space for local traders. She thanked the IMC for the presentation. The Committee had not arrived at a conclusion about whether the attacks on foreign nationals were xenophobic or not, however there was a strong view within the Committee that the attacks were not xenophobic; the Committee still needed to deliberate on that. The Freedom Charter guaranteed everyone who lived in South Africa the right to be protected. It was not right to generalise and say South Africans were xenophobic.

Written submissions made to the Ad Hoc Committee on Probing of Violence Against Foreign Nationals on the recent xenophobic attacks
Mr Adam Salmon, Content Advisor, Ad Hoc Committee on Probing Violence against Foreign Nationals, said the submissions made were quite lengthy and substantial; however a summarised document was made available to the Members. In total, the Committee received 12 submissions; two would come and interact with the Committee. He read out each of the 12 submissions.

The Chairperson said in the management meeting that took place the previous week, after having consulted with the House Chairperson, a determination was made that the workers in KwaZulu-Natal were actually cited in the presentation made to the eThekwini municipality as well as the presentations that took place in the province. What sparked the violence at Isipingo were the labour relations at Kwa Gina General Store. Members spoke to the owner, who denied everything. The Committee had asked for additional funding to get representatives of the workers to come to make their submission to the Committee. The Committee’s support staff indicated that the Manager of the Committees Section said there was not enough budget to get the employees from KwaZulu-Natal to Parliament. After meeting with the House Chairperson directly, the Committee was granted funding to transport two representatives from the workers to present to the Committee. The Committee needed to start deliberating on what Members’ understanding of the report presented to the Committee was; each written submission made to the Committee would be deliberated as well as what was presented to the Committee by the IMC. Parliament was interested in the views of the Committee and the recommendations that followed. The Committee also to list all the organisations and persons Members interacted with.

Mr R Chance (DA) asked for clarity around the programme moving forward; and when was the Committee expected to adopt the report? Was the deadline still the 20 November 2015?

The Chairperson said the Committee would meet in the week to finalise and submit the report. The programme of the NCOP could not be changed, the Committee needed to meet even if there were no quorum. To adopt the report, both Houses needed to be represented. The Committee would need to meet over the weekend to finalise the report.

Adv Mpumlwana asked whether time could be allocated during the week to finalise the report instead of meeting over the weekend.

Ms Z Dubazana-Dlamini (ANC) said the structure of the report needed to include the background of how the Committee was formulated, the reasons thereof and the mandate.

Mr Chance said if the Committee would be adopting the report on Saturday, when would the Members get to see the draft report if the Committee would still be receiving further submissions on Friday? The ANC Caucus was responsible for ensuring that there was a quorum and that Members attended the meetings.

The Chairperson said a draft report would be emailed to Members, and there was only one submission that would be made on Friday. The submission would be added to the draft report and emailed to Members for their consideration.

Mr Change said the report presented did not have deliberations. When would the deliberations be reflected in the report? The opinions of Members were critical in completing that report.

The Chairperson said the deliberations would be included in the report.

Adv Mpumlwana asked whether his proposal to make time during the week instead of over the weekend could be entertained.

The Chairperson responded that the Ad Hoc Committee was established in May 2015; programmes of both Houses made it impossible for Members to attend. The only time Members would not have an excuse for attending the meeting to finalise the report would be the coming Saturday. The matter had been discussed with the Programming Committee. The Committee needed to conclude its work before 20 November 2015; the Committee had taken way longer than it was supposed to, as a result of Members not attending. If Adv Mpumlwana was unable to attend Saturday he could indicate so to the Committee.

Ms T Mampuru (ANC, Mpumalanga) agreed with the Chairperson’s recommendation that Members meet over the weekend to finalise and adopt the report.

Mr Chance said Adv Mpumlwana’s request was a very simple one; it was only a matter of consulting Members to establish whether they would be available on Friday to finalise and adopt the report, instead of Saturday.

The Chairperson said that was the original proposal; Members were asked to prioritise the Committee yet that had not happened. If Members were able to approach their colleagues they should do so.

The meeting was adjourned. 


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