Several parts of Gauteng province, particularly areas in which foreign nationals from other parts of Africa live or conduct business, were recently engulfed by violent clashes as locals tried to push them out of the country. Police say about 12 people were killed during the clashes with dozens injured. The Weekly’s Martin Makoni asked University of the Free State Political Studies and Governance senior lecturer Dr Ina Gouws about the possible root causes for the disquiet and why people have resorted to violence as a possible solution. Makoni also asked Gouws how government could effectively deal with the problem and what the general populace could do to ensure a peaceful living and working environment. Excerpts:
There have been violent attacks on foreign nationals from other African countries in some parts of Gauteng in recent weeks with locals demanding they must leave as some of them are undocumented and involved in criminal activities, among others, how best can this be addressed?
This issue requires broad Good Governance application. Deliver basic services effectively such as water, electricity, housing, education, health care, and so forth. Then ensure sound economic policy; don’t make it difficult to start a business or to do business in the country, move away from industry monopolies by opening up the markets and allowing competition, provide support by lower business taxes. Most economists will agree that this will create jobs and therefore get more people out of poverty, make them self-sufficient and relieve pressure on the Government budget towards grants. Conflict such as this can almost always be laid at the foot of economic strife and poverty.
The scenes of violence and destruction experienced in Gauteng have shocked the world, what do you think motivates people to be so brutal to others?
Conflict such as this can almost always be laid at the foot of economic strife and poverty. That the attacks are particularly violent seems to be a result of frustrations reaching boiling point and with a government seemingly unwilling or unable to address said frustrations.
South African nationals involved in the attacks on the foreign nationals claim that government has let them down for a long time and is not creating employment for them, what do you think government should be doing to ensure there are more jobs?
Like I stated earlier, it is important to have a sound economic policy because that will open more opportunities for business for everyone and not just a select few. It shouldn’t be so difficult to start a business like we see now. A growing economy like ours does not need monopolies. Markets should be opened up to allow for competition and once there are businesses running, it means more people are able to find jobs and they can lead better lives.
The locals also claim that the country’s borders are too porous and as a result, criminals find it easy to come in, how best can that addressed?
This debate is being complicated by populist and nationalist politics. Calls for effective border management are being vilified by politicians who propagate ‘free movement’ between countries in Africa. Border management does not have to restrict entry into a country, but certainly manage it. There are various agencies which should be involved in ensuring that the necessary screenings take place and that the necessary documentation gets issued. Cross-border crime, human trafficking, loss of customs revenue, drug smuggling and such are real problems and currently with our porous borders these are certainly not addressed properly.
Does that mean movement around the continent for African nationals should be tightened even further at a time when globalisation is fast taking root?
It is necessary to know how many people enter the country, how long they plan to stay and what their intentions are while they are here. Legalising the status of foreigners or immigrants may very well appease negative perceptions about them as well as preventing exploitation. How strict the measures should be to improve border management is certainly up for debate, and should be debated vigorously. But that this issue needs serious attention is evident. However, turning to violence and destruction against foreigners who came here under whatever circumstances is most certainly not the answer and those guilty of these acts should face the full extent of the law.
The SA economy hasn’t really grown in recent years, how much of this failure to grow can be attributed to the influx of foreigners into the country?
In my opinion, none. The economy is not growing is because of either good policies like the National Development Programme not being implemented effectively and efficiently, or bad policies such as the difficulties to start and sustain small businesses, or policy uncertainty as with land reform and double speak on the role of the Reserve Bank. Add rampant corruption and incompetence as well as stifling service delivery and you have the negative growth we have experienced.
How much do you think foreigners have helped the country’s economy grow and in which particular sectors would you say they have contributed positively?
How much they have helped the economy grow is a question you should pose to an economist. What is reported is that foreign-owned shops are targeted. These shops more than likely provide some jobs and certain goods needed in communities. As far as cultural diversity goes there is no doubt in my mind that their contributions have been mostly positive.
Is it really possible for different nationalities to live in harmony in South Africa without fighting for resources?
Yes. If the issues addressed in previous questions regarding governance and economic growth is addressed and if border management is effective, it would certainly make things easier. But, the spirit of Ubuntu, of empathy and tolerance should be strong enough to ensure peaceful coexistence. We seem to have lost these values as a society.
Which key sectors do you think foreigners should not be allowed to enter so that locals can operate there, and do you partnerships in those sectors could make the situation better?
All sectors should be available to foreigners, in keeping of course, with our country’s employment legislation and other policies.
If the unrests and concerns raised by people in Gauteng are not resolved, what do you think could happen to the country?
The violence will escalate, spread and it could be difficult to start addressing the issues raised by the people.
How do you see South Africa’s future relations with other countries in the region given the violent disturbances, what should it be telling other countries?
The relationship between South Africa and other countries on the continent suffered in the wake of these violent disturbances. Blaming and finger pointing should be avoided and the real socio-economic problems mentioned earlier must be addressed. Those guilty of instigating and committing these crimes should face appropriate consequences. Time has run out for vague and sweeping statements for opportunistic political gain. People are suffering, scared and uncertain. This makes diplomacy difficult.