In 2019, Cabinet adopted the National Action Plan to Combat Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance (NAP) in response to the growing incidents of violence against immigrants, in particular, African and Asian. The government, through NAP, commits to respect human rights by promoting, protecting and preventing human rights violations of immigrants.
To successfully address the prejudice and violence against immigrants, the NAP proposes an evidence-based approach which includes a baseline study to review government policies, programmes, activities, needs, human and institutional resources for the elimination of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. Further, it seeks to address the problem of xenophobia and related intolerances by rolling out awareness campaigns, gathering complaints data, responding to complaints, promoting social cohesion and ensuring government departments provide equitable services to all people.
Given the escalation of xenophobic messages and threats of violence against immigrants, there is urgency for all of government to adopt and align their policies and practices to avert possible violence. The recent reports by the Centre for Analytics and Behavioural Change (CABC) and Human Rights Watch (HRW) reveal distressing facts about the level of xenophobia and related intolerances in this country.
The HRW report reveals several incidents of routine xenophobic harassment, violence and extreme intolerance against African and Asian immigrants in several South African cities. The report reveals that foreigners are scapegoated and blamed for government failures in delivering basic services, economic insecurities, high unemployment levels and high crime levels.
The CABC report also reveals that a sophisticated, orchestrated and dangerous trend is emerging on social media, particularly on Twitter, where it is driving key narratives on anti-immigrant and xenophobic conversations. The report reveals that xenophobic messages are being curated and amplified by a dedicated network of connected users using a make-believe character, “Lerato Pillay”.
Other xenophobic messages and related intolerances lack subtlety as they are driven openly by organisations. For instance, the “Mzansi Patriotic Front” has been calling for “mass deportation of all foreigners with citizenship or not”.
Another organisation calling itself All Truck Drivers Foundation (ATDF) is campaigning for only South African nationals to be employed as truck drivers, and embarked on violent protests that included blocking highways and attacking immigrants working as truck drivers. The Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans Association (MKMVA) in Durban recently handed a memorandum to premier Sihle Zikalala demanding, among other things, “the banning of foreign nationals from employment across professions”.
South Africa is built on a constitutional promise of human rights, human dignity and non-racialism that makes xenophobia and related intolerances unconstitutional. The NAP provides a useful policy and strategy to counter all forms of discrimination and related intolerances. However, for NAP to succeed all government departments must integrate NAP into their policies and strategies.
People or organisations who promote xenophobia and related intolerance need to be held accountable for threats of violence or xenophobic violence. In previous xenophobic flare-ups, people who instigated xenophobic violence were not held accountable despite such violence resulting in the destruction of property, displacement of thousands of immigrants and causing deaths.
There is a need to support the NAP by passing the Prevention and Combating of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill (the Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill) B9-2018 into law. Under this bill, any act intended to be harmful or to incite harm or promote or propagate hatred and related intolerances on the basis of race, nationality, religion and other criteria is criminalised and prosecutable as a statutory crime.
For NAP to be effective in addressing xenophobia, racism and related intolerances will require Parliamentary oversight through its Parliamentary committees to monitor that all government programmes, measures, policies and strategies are aligned with the NAP. By doing so, it will be sending a positive message that government is taking the issue of xenophobia and related intolerances seriously.
Unfortunately, developments like the proposed Gauteng Township Economic Development Bill have the potential for further regress and need to be scrutinised in terms of impact with regard to the commitments made in the NAP. Gauteng’s MEC for Economic Development recently published the bill for comment. The bill seeks to reserve certain business activities in “designated townships” exclusively and solely for ownership and operation by South Africans or immigrants with permanent residence permits.
Section 7(3) of the Gauteng Economic Bill empowers the MEC to add new, or delete, listed business activities on the basis of citizenship. This provision is discriminatory in terms of Section 9(3) of the Constitution and in terms of the NAP vision because it unfairly discriminates on the basis of nationality and citizenship and clearly demonstrates how much work needs to be done at all levels of government.
For NAP to achieve its intended purpose it should be located within all government departments. All government departments’ policies and strategies should be reviewed to ensure that they are aligned with the Constitution and NAP. The Cabinet and Parliamentary portfolio committees should monitor the implementation of NAP to ensure that all policies and practices are aligned with the Constitution and NAP.
The Gauteng Economic Bill and similar government policies must be challenged and declared unconstitutional and unlawful as they are designed to promote discrimination against immigrants.
- Themba Masuku is a programme manager at the African Policing Civilian Oversight Forum (APCOF).
OPINION: >Themba Masuku