The Committee Researcher gave a briefing on the recent and past violent attacks against foreign nationals in South Africa provided a summary of the findings and recommendations of the 2008 and 2015 Parliament Reports on violent attacks against foreign nationals.
Members supported the recommendations of the 2008 and 2015 reports and said that it was important to have a meeting with the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Migration to probe progress made implementation of the recommendations and chart the way forward. They remarked that there was a lot of frustration among impoverished South Africans that have to compete for scarce resources with foreign nationals and that South Africans tend to use violence to resolve problems. The attacks were also inextricably linked to criminality. It was imperative to be proactive. There had to be better regulation of foreign owned spaza shops and address the proliferation of foreign owned spaza shops.
The Chairperson noted that it was imperative for the Portfolio Committee to review the work done by previous Parliaments, especially the reports of the 2008 Task Team of Members of Parliament Probing Violence and Attacks on Foreign Nationals and the 2015 Ad Hoc Joint Committee on Probing Violence Against Foreign Nationals. This Committee needs to assess whether the report recommendations about attacks against foreign nationals have been implemented and where necessary identify and unlock stumbling blocks that may have arisen. She emphasised that Members need to regard themselves as a collective and not necessarily as party representatives as this matter is very grave.
Probing Violence and Attacks Against Foreign Nationals: Parliamentary Reports 2008 and 2015
Ms Nwabisa Mbelekane, Committee Researcher, proceeded to brief the Committee and indicated that South Africa has probed the violent attacks against foreign nationals since it reared its ugly head since 2008. In 2008, 2010 and 2015, Inter-Ministerial Committees had been set up to probe the causes and Parliamentary Committees had reported on the violence in 2008 and 2015.
In 2008 an Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC) on Migration comprising Home Affairs, Safety and Security, Social Development, Health, Education and the Presidency was formed to deal with the threats of violence against foreign nationals. The IMC recommendations resulted in a Social Dialogue on Xenophobia held in August 2008, as well as a declaration that encapsulated a commitment to the elimination of xenophobia through public education. It was decided that summits would be held in the nine provinces to popularise the declaration.
In 2010, South Africa experienced a resurgence of xenophobic violence aimed at African migrants, and another IMC was appointed, comprising the Ministers of Police, Home Affairs, Social Development, State Security, Basic Education, Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Arts and Culture and International Relations and Cooperation. The findings of this IMC concluded that violence against foreign nationals were mostly perpetrated by young unemployed South Africans between the ages of 16-22 years and that the South African security apparatus failed to protect foreign shop owners, resulting in retaliatory actions by foreign nationals.
In 2015, with the outbreak of a new wave of violence against foreign nationals, an IMC on Migration was formed which comprised the Ministers of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation, Police, Home Affairs, Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, International Relations and Cooperation, Defence and Military Veterans, Social Development, Health, Basic Education, State Security, Justice and Correctional Services, Small Business Development, Trade and Industry as well as Human Settlements. The mandate of the IMC was to interrogate the underlying causes of the tensions by addressing the implementation of labour relations policies affecting foreign nationals, the regulatory framework that governs business licences, border management and South Africa's overarching migration policies. The 2015 IMC concluded that criminality should be addressed through a multidisciplinary interdepartmental approach. In this regard, Operation Fiela was launched to address social scourges such as illegal weapon possession, drug dens, prostitution rings and other illegal activities. The Ad Hoc Joint Committee on Probing Violence Against Foreign Nationals was established by Parliament in May 2015 to probe into the violence against foreign nationals and make recommendations.
2008 Xenophobic Violence
On Sunday, 11 May 2008, a series of violent attacks broke out in Alexandra Township in Gauteng. The attacks spread to other areas in Gauteng and also to other provinces. The attacks were aimed at foreign nationals from other African states, but South African citizens were also victims. In early 2008 similar incidents were reported in Mamelodi, Attridgeville, Soshanguve and also in Cape Town. Sporadic attacks on foreign nationals also occurred around 1998 in the Eastern Cape and the Western Cape. On 13 May 2008 the National Assembly passed a resolution that established the Task Team of Members of Parliament Probing Violence and Attacks on Foreign Nationals. The Task Team undertook a visit to Alexandra, Tembisa, Germiston and Reiger Park / Ramaphosaville on Monday, 26 May 2008. During this turbulent time 62 people including 21 South Africans died in the attacks with 14 647 people being displaced.
2008 Parliamentary Task Team findings:
The attacks took place in areas affected by poverty, most notably informal settlements. The incidents were generally isolated to specific sections in the affected areas. A common feature was that the attacks appeared to have occurred spontaneously with little or no warning, yet in some instances the delegation heard that the attacks were planned and in others they heard that the attacks were initiated by groups moving between areas. Xenophobic attitudes do exist among some South African citizens and could have been exploited to initiate the violence and attacks on foreign nationals.
- The role of youths between the ages of 16 and 22 years was commonly reported and should be further explored. There was a perception that matters of moral degeneration and a loss of African values and beliefs, such as ubuntu, could be a contributing factor.
- Socio-economic inequalities, competition for scarce resources, poor living conditions and a high rate of unemployment may have exacerbated an already tense situation.
- In some instances people raised the concern that undocumented migrants were not pursued to the full extent of the law, while South Africans and documented migrants were pursued for infringements of the law.
- Communities had many issues concerning the circumstances they find themselves in. This included that foreign nationals take jobs at a lower salary than allowed by law, that foreign nationals “take our women” and that they received houses which should go to South Africans. There was a definite need to communicate policy in a clear manner.
2008 Parliamentary Task Team short and long term recommendations:
- Continued debates in Parliament, motions and Members’ Statements aimed at sending the message to our people to stop violence and xenophobic attitudes and attacks, condemn criminal elements and hooliganism.
- Visit the affected areas to express solidarity, give support to local leadership and organizations, received information as to the cause of flare ups and listen to the issues raised by communities, while at the same time expressing the call for calm and an end to the violence.
- Assess and ensure that there is adequate policing (both preventive and responsive), including matters of gathering intelligence information, or any early warning mechanisms.
- Ensure relief, which would include medical services and trauma counselling, for the victims of violence (both foreign nationals and South African citizens) was provided by government departments, non-governmental organizations and community organizations and to deal with the humanitarian situation that might develop.
- Revival of the campaign of the South African Human Rights Commission on “Rolling Back Xenophobia” and the allocation of the necessary resources for this purpose. The theme was along the lines of “We are all Africans” and was aimed to educate and create awareness of our historic, cultural and economic linkages to the continent of Africa. The campaign should focus on the rights of foreign nationals and South Africa's commitment to domestic and international commitment to observing these rights.
- Parliament should hold special hearings on the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals and related programmes as well as the Integrated Sustainable Rural Development Programme.
2008 specific recommendations
- The Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs should continue to exercise oversight over the Department of Home Affairs to ensure that the Department is able to fulfill its institutional mandate. Attention should be given to ensuring that the Department issues foreign nationals with correct documentation, maintains adequate records and ensures that corruption is rooted out of the Department.
- The Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs and the relevant National Council of Provinces committee should engage with the SADC Protocol on the Free Movement of Persons and conclude its processing of the Refugees Amendment Bill.
- The Portfolio Committee on Safety and Security and the Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence should engage with the report of the inter-ministerial task team that was established to look into the root cause of the violent attacks on foreign nationals.
- The Portfolio Committee on Safety and Security should establish from the relevant authorities the ability of the Crime Combating Units, mandated to deal with crowd control, to stem future attacks as well as the ability of the police to respond to violent situations in general, in order to address gaps and challenges.
- The Portfolio Committee on International Relations and Cooperation should monitor that the Department of International Relations Cooperation has programmes in place to ensure that missions are equipped to deal with enquiries around the violence and attacks and also that they have information on government initiatives to combat a reoccurrence of the violence.
- The Portfolio Committee on Justice and Constitutional Development should monitor progress in processing accused persons by the Special Courts established to speedily address the cases of violence against foreign nationals emanating from the 2008 attacks.
- The Portfolio Committee on Social Development and the relevant committee in the National Council of Provinces should investigate the implications of the court decision with regard to special grants as this may have an impact on resources and capacity both provincially and nationally.
- The parliamentary committees within the security cluster should review current policies and practices on securing borders and ports of entry into South Africa.
- The Portfolio Committee on Housing should monitor initiatives of the Department of Housing to disseminate information to communities and the public on the national housing code and criteria for allocation of housing.
- The Portfolio Committee on Labour, the Portfolio Committee on Provincial and Local Government, the committees in the Finance cluster and the relevant committees of the National Council of Provinces should examine allegations that foreign nationals and undocumented migrants are not trading with the relevant permits or in line with provincial and local bylaws.
2015 Xenophobic Violence
With the resurgence of violence directed against foreign nationals breaking out in Gauteng and Kwazulu-Natal (KZN) between January-April 2015, a Parliamentary Ad Hoc Joint Committee was established to probe this phenomenon that cost the lives of seven people: three South Africans and four foreign nationals. The Joint Ad Hoc Joint Committee on Probing Violence Against Foreign Nationals was established by the National Assembly and the NCOP in May 2015 in terms of Joint Rule 142. The Committee conducted oversight visits to affected areas in Kwazulu-Natal (6-8 July), Gauteng (8-11 July) and the Western Cape (4 August) where it met with the South African Police Service (SAPS), the Offices of the Premier, representatives of foreign nationals, government departments and civil society organisations as well as the Inter Ministerial Committee on Migration established by the Presidency. The Committee called for and considered a number of submissions from these stakeholders and interested parties.
The root causes of the problem were identified as social, economic and political issues affecting both South African nationals and foreign nationals. The Committee identified symptoms or indicators of the problem as how those affected by the social, economic and political causes responded to their situation.
There was a rapid coordinated response in assisting those affected once the violence broke out in 2015. Security, shelters, transport and marches, community meetings on reintegration and repatriation were organised by Government involving many role players. The IMC on Migration reported that there was an immediate intervention and long term coordination of different departments and tiers of government as well as business and NGOs in preventing recurrence of the larger scale violence noted in 2008.
- The Committee found that when foreign nationals are affected by high levels of poverty, unemployment and political instability in their countries of origin, they come to South Africa to seek employment, establish small businesses and seek refuge particularly in townships and rural areas. Those affected by unstable political conditions in their countries of origin come to South Africa as political refugees often establishing themselves in such small businesses for survival purposes. They regard South Africa as a politically stable and peaceful country where one can start a new life. There are also those who come to South Africa for education purposes and as professionals who are able to obtain work permits.
- The main causes of the violent attacks were criminal actions that started with stealing of goods from foreign owned spaza shops by South African criminals who are often drug addicts. Spaza shop owners would react by shooting at those who steal from their spaza shops using unregistered firearms rather than reporting to the police. When this happens and someone is killed, local communities retaliate by looting spaza shops owned by foreign nationals rather than reporting to the police.
- The lack of implementing a social cohesion programme, following the 2008 violence against foreign nationals, all influenced the tendency for foreign nationals not to integrate into the communities in which they reside. In rural areas there is more integration due to better established means of social inclusion. There is, however, still a lack of integration even in rural areas. This is indicative of a need for more initiatives aimed at integration focussed both on South Africans and foreign nationals. Lack of integration leads to challenges in accessing services. The predominance of illegal entries in the country accentuates the difficulty in government planning to provide services for them.
The violence against migrants was amplified by the following complex challenges:
- Rapid urbanisation in relation to land use planning and management.
- Pressure on basic services and amenities.
- Absence of permits means many foreign nationals cannot enter the formal economy (cannot open a bank account, apply for a formal job, apply for credit or loans, pay taxes or buy a car) so are forced into the informal economy out of necessity to earn an income.
- Regulatory compliance particularly for small businesses needs to be improved in terms of local by-laws on health and safety, land use zoning and the issuing of business permits.
- South Africans that qualify for RDP housing, rent them out to foreign nationals. It is common for these foreign nationals to then open spaza shops in these houses.
- Many foreign nationals seeking asylum in the country were found to in fact be economic migrants.
Small business findings
- The Committee found that South Africans affected by high levels of unemployment and poverty establish themselves in small business such as spaza shops, tuck-shops, hair salons, car mechanics, panel beaters and street vendors. These small businesses function at a survivalist level and receive minimal or no support from government and thus are particularly sensitive to increased competition.
- Unfair advantage. It was alleged that foreign nationals had an unfair business advantage in township and rural spaza shops because wholesalers are operating the spaza shops. These big businesses fund them exclusively and offer the advantage of procuring goods cheaply, as well as sourcing counterfeit goods. South Africans were unable to access the advantage of big business support. There was an indication that these owners were not necessarily even residing in South Africa. This contributed to a shift of ownership of small businesses from primarily locals to foreign nationals in several areas for which the IMC on Migration provided statistical evidence.
- Ownership challenges. The person running the shops do not own them. The businesses are registered with the South African Revenue Services but are run by foreign nationals sometimes making it difficult for SAPS to trace persons implicated in crimes.
- The proliferation of shopping malls with no consultation or partnership with existing small businesses results in the closure of many small businesses.
- Security related risks such as in Gauteng some ex-military personal from other African countries were allegedly residing in communities, the mushrooming of unregistered places of worship, small businesses and NGOs found to be a front for illicit activities such as brothels or trade in narcotics.
- Exploitation of foreign nationals by organised business requiring longer hours for less pay than, particularly in sectors such as tourism, taxi services, gardening and domestic services, car guarding and security services etc. This creates resentment amongst South Africans. Foreign nationals are also exploited because of not being unionised or being undocumented.
- There are some streets in Durban and Johannesburg that are operated exclusively by foreign nationals (as ‘no-go’ areas for South Africans). These include Mahatma Ghandi Road and Russell Street in Durban. The isolation of foreign nationals in South Africa contributed to a culture of non-cooperation with South Africans in business and the tendency for dominating certain trade sectors and locations. There is a disadvantage experienced by South Africans in partnering with foreign owned business and in the labour market through the foreign nationals’ perception that South Africans are lazy.
- Most of the immigrants who ran away from their businesses and residential areas, did that out of fear of being attacked and were mainly influenced by the media, especially social media which used manipulated images. Those who feared that they would be attacked, ran to police stations for protection which showed a trust that this protection would be provided by the South African authorities as well as demonstrating foreign nationals’ understanding of the South African Constitution which guarantees protection of all people in South Africa.
2015 Ad Hoc Joint Committee recommendations:
- The Committee acknowledged that the actual problems which affect both South Africans and foreign nationals are socio-economic and thus recommended that the affected countries and Parliament work together to address socio-economic and political conditions as well as the promotion of peace and stability.
- Government through the work of institutions such as the IMC on Migration, and such bodies at a provincial level, should continue to monitor, pre-empt and protect vulnerable communities. Operations such as Fiela should be supported until such time as the root socio-economic causes of violent attacks are addressed.
- The South African Government should continue to play a proactive role in peace-keeping and support role on the African continent.
- There is a need for better policing of containers and counterfeit goods by South African Revenue Services at ports of entry such as through the use of cargo scanners.
- There needs to be an emphasis, not only on the rights, but also the responsibilities of migrants. The South African Human Rights Commission could contribute to such education campaigns in the country.
- The continued progress reports of the IMC on Migration should be tabled with the relevant parliamentary committees for monitoring of implementation of the recommendations.
- The Department of Small Business Development should better assist South African small businesses both in financial and non-financial needs.
- Government through the Minister of Arts and Culture should promote social cohesion by all government departments across all races and nationalities, including through the use of intercultural sport.
- Municipal Government in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal needs to better ensure the provision and monitoring of business permits. Many businesses, such as those in residential houses, are not compliant with municipal by-laws and there is a tendency of issuing too many licences in one area.
- The Provincial Governments of Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape should exchange ideas on addressing prejudicial violence since each province has different strengths.
- The Premier of KwaZulu-Natal should submit to Parliament and publish widely the report of the Special Reference Group once it is completed.
- The Premier of Gauteng should ensure mechanisms are in place to better ensure implementation of government policy of 30% procurement from Small, Medium and Micro Enterprises and 70% local procurement.
Ms Siwela led the discussion and noted that it was up to the Members to engage with one another as no experts had been invited to provide guidance. It was important for South Africa to be stable and to maintain friendly and cordial relations with sister African countries.
Mr E Myeni (ANC) said that he supported the recommendations that emanated from prior reports and that it was important to have a joint meeting with all the IMC to get an informed view of the progress thus far.
Mr M Hendricks (Al Jamah) added that he was empowered by the presentation and that it was clear that much still has to be done to curb violence against foreign nationals. He proposed that a project manager be appointed by the Committee to track the implementation of the recommendations and that the Small Business Development Committee should play a leading role.
He said that it has been 11 years since the first outbreak of violence in 2008 and to date very little has been implemented and he supported Mr Myeni's call that the IMC should be engaged. He found the involvement of youth between the ages of 16-22 years old lamentable and said that it seemed as if these youth had been recruited and taken advantage of as a result of their vulnerability.
Mr V Zungula (ATM) noted that he was a bit concerned by the matters raised in the presentation and that it was problematic to make assumptions. He agreed that it would be beneficial if a joint meeting was called with the IMC. There was a lot of frustration among impoverished South Africans that have to compete for scarce resources with foreign nationals and that South Africans tend to use violence to resolve problems. South Africa was at risk of having its image tarnished as a result of the attacks against foreign nationals. He stressed the lack of recommendations related to small businesses.
Mr Z Mbhele (DA) welcomed the presentation and appreciated the challenging scale and complexity of the issue, especially since it involved different departments. The factors at play were structural. He recalled that countries like India and Brazil with large impoverished communities did not experience the same violent outbreaks against foreigners.
He lamented the government's response to violence as limited and that xenophobic attacks in South Africa were also inextricably linked to criminality.
He added that there was a need to unpack the issue and implement mechanisms through oversight legislation and that it was imperative to be proactive and to ring fence a budgetary allocation that could be utilised for immediate interventions.
Prof C Msimang (IFP) noted that the executive of the South African government was part of the problem, perhaps not intentionally but indirectly. It was very important to make a success of small businesses as small businesses were an effective tool to grow the economy. He stressed that the executive seemed to favour big business as it seemingly created employment.
Attacks against foreign nationals were exacerbated by their opening small businesses in impoverished communities and these small businesses were not registered for VAT and were able to sell their products at a reduced rate. This influenced the profit margins of South African owned small businesses.
About 13 000 foreign nationals were incarcerated in South African correctional facilities and that this placed an additional burden on the fiscus as government needs to fork out about R500 per day per inmate.
In addition, the South African health system was also under severe strain. Children born to foreign nationals automatically become South African citizens, thereby enabling the mothers to apply for a child support grant.
Mr T Lunga (EFF) said he was empowered by the presentation and that he supported the proposal to have a joint meeting with the IMC to assess progress made.
Mr F Jacobs (ANC) said that it was clear that this was a complex issue and that it was important for the Small Business Development Portfolio Committee to get its house in order. He added that there was a need to emphasize that we are all Africans and that globalization also needs to be taken into account. He mentioned South Africa's porous borders and counterfeit goods also need to be addressed. He lamented the growth of big shopping chains moving near informal settlements and thereby negatively influencing the profit margins of locally owned small businesses. The stricter regulation and taxing of spaza shops was raised and that the imperialist agenda needs to be arrested. Parliament acts as the watchdog of the voiceless and thus it needs to provide more "teeth" to the Competition Commission to probe irregularities.
In reply, Ms Mbelekane noted that the outlined recommendations were guidelines. There was a need to put an end to the pattern of violent attacks against foreigners and there had to be better regulation of foreign owned spaza shops.
Ms Siwela concluded that it was the Committee's responsibility to deal with small business development. It was important for the Committee to see how it could best assist the Department of Small Business Development in addressing the proliferation of foreign owned spaza shops. She also raised support for a joint meeting with the IMC to probe progress made and to chart the way forward.
The meeting was adjourned.