As South Africa commemorates 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children, some migrant rights activists in Johannesburg are questioning the campaign and its programmes.

Speaking to Voice of Wits’ current affairs programme, Breaking Ground, human rights activist Nobuhle Agiti and the Head of Advocacy and Legal Advisor at Scalabrini, Sally Gandar, lamented the alleged discrimination of migrant workers from the country’s campaign against gender-based violence.

“To whom are these programmes designed for? Are they only for South Africans,” says Agiti.

Agiti and Gandar also say government’s policies somehow sideline migrants, making women more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.

Addressing issues faced by migrants and stateless people living in South Africa, another guest Vimbai Mabhena shared her journey of trying to get citizenship in the country.

She says she has had to bribe authorities for basic services such as medical care at state hospitals and sometimes even police officials.

Mabhena does not know where she was born nor who her parents are. She, however, says when she was young she was taken in by a couple from Zimbabwe who chased her out of their home during her teenage years.

She has since been searching for her roots, without luck.

Mabhena says she was once asked to pay R3 000 by a Home Affairs official for a birth certificate.

She says she refused to play along but her friend did pay a couple of authorities for identification, which led to her arrest.

Mabhena’s quest for citizenship is currently been handled by the Lawyers for Human Rights.

Legal expert Sally Gandar says the issue of statelessness does not only affect migrants, but South Africans whose births were never registered.

She is urging the government to introduce better measures to assist the previously disadvantaged communities to avoid them or their children ending up stateless due a lack of resources, among other issues.

She says birth registration enforcement by government is not enough in combating the risk of being stateless from childhood.

Laws anti-migrant friendly

Rights Activist Nobuhle Agiti says South African laws are not migrant friendly.

She feels that the government’s 16 days of activism campaign is xenophobic, as it does not include migrant women.

“We have an issue when it comes to police stations; when you go to report a case sometimes they ask you about your nationality something which is not relevant to whatever you would’ve gone there to report, so we go through so much as migrant women” said Agiti.

She adds that one of the women she was helping with a GBV case died due to the police delaying to assist her because she was a migrant.

The Gauteng Community Safety Department has denied assertions that the government’s GBV programmes discriminate against migrants.

The department’s Ofentse Morwane says that while the department’s programmes cover all women, police handle issues of undocumented persons.

Police in Gauteng have on the other hand dismissed bribery claims against officials as hearsay.

Gauteng Police Spokesperson Mathapelo Peters says, “Police have a responsibility to victims of crime. Those who feel they were treated unjustly have a right to lodge a complaint with the police or IPID (Independent Police Investigative Directorate).”

According to Statistics South Africa, 45.5% of international migrants settle in Gauteng.

While it is unclear how many of them are undocumented – the number is said to be extemely high.

Undocumented persons should be deported once found – but the Constitution prohibits public entities from refusing to assist those who need help.

According to the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), Human rights are applicable to all people, therefore everyone in the country is entitled to human rights by virtue of being human.

“Section 27 of the Constitution entitles everyone to access basic healthcare services and no one may be denied emergency medical treatment, which means even undocumented migrants may not be refused emergency medical treatment on the basis of their lack of documentation; but they may be held liable to pay fees for any other health services,” the commisison says.