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.
#PutSouthAfricansFirst Movement is making waves in South Africa. The group of activists are calling for government to put the needs of South Africans ahead of foreign nationals.
As part of their rolling mass action, on Friday they marched to the Gauteng Premier’s office to vent their frustration.
#PutSouthAfricansFirst Movement’s National Chairperson, Victoria Mamogobo, says the nationwide protests that South Africa has seen is a sign that the government is oblivious to the reality in the country.
Mamogobo was speaking outside Premier David Makhura’s office, where the various organisations under the #PutSouthAfrucansFirst banner, marched to submit a memorandum.
They called for a safer, cleaner and sustainable community.
The group says the South African government should deport all foreign nationals who have been in the country since 1994.
“It is unfortunate that we have to fight hard to force the government that we elected in power to represent us; we have to twist their arms using force in order for them to listen,” Mamogobo says.
“What kind of government is this that fails to protect its citizens and our country? What kind of government is this that doesn’t want to build a strong wall to protect its citizens?” she asks.
Mamogobo says migrants who have been neutralised should not be spared.
“They must go back home to fix their countries and fight their governments. Those who have a problem with this request are welcome to leave with foreigners. When they leave, because they will leave our country whether they like it or not, there shall not be peace in the Republic, for as long as foreigners are here,” says Mamogobo.
South African First (SAF) political party is among the organisations that are part of the #PutSouthAfricansFirst Movement.
Party president, Mario Khumalo, says he honoured the invitation to join the march because it is based on the national interest. Khumalo wants only the undocumented immigrants to be sent back to their countries of origin.
“The current situation in the country is very shaky, the level of unemployment in the country and a number of undocumented foreigners in this country. Our message is very clear. We need to have strict border regulations undocumented immigrants need to go back to their country; they have no legal bases to be here, with drugs young girls are getting prostituted by the very same people who come to the country undocumented we don’t know who this people are so we need to put the interests of South African citizens first,” says Khumalo.
He says the migrants have nothing to contribute to the South African economy.
“99% of the immigrants who are in South Africa are not even supposed to be here. They have illegal documents so how are they contributing to the economy.”
“How can they contribute to the economy of this country selling sweets on the streets? How are they paying tax? The only people who will add contribution to South Africa is people with scared skills, poor people should not come here. We already have poor people in South Africa,” says Khumalo.
Voice It In Action (VIIA) President Kgothatso Moloto was also part of the march. He says they are hoping that the government will put in the work to enforce the laws and avoid unnecessary violence.
“The government has neglected proper implementation of immigration laws, so we are here to request that the government start putting in the work to ensure that laws are enforced. When laws are not enforced, this create unnecessary violence and hatred, that should be stopped we shouldn’t be hating each other,” says Moloto.
Some of the issues highlighted in the memorandum include the tightening of the country’s borders and the use of healthcare facilities by illegal migrants. They say this leads to a shortage of medication, which then increases the country’s mortality rate.
A representative from the Premier’s office accepted the memorandum on Makhura’s behalf and promised to respond to the protestors’ demands within 14 days.
Some South Africans have slammed the group as xenophobic, saying they forget that various countries helped end apartheid and also housed activists who were exiled due to that regime’s oppressive laws.