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JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - JUNE 17: Immigrants watch as others jump the queue to apply for asylum as refugees at a government refugee center June 17, 2008 in Johannesburg, South Africa. Officials were overwhelmed by the crowd of thousands that appeared Tuesday morning, after a three day weekend in South Africa. The wave of immigrants crossing illegally from Zimbabwe continues, despite the xenophobic violence against immigrants last month. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
Xenophobic practices continue to threaten the lives and livelihoods of foreigners while generating enduring fear and insecurity By Bongani Siziba South Africa’s Constitution is one of the most inclusive and progressive in the world - a hard-fought achievement to be proud of. Under section 29 of the Constitution, everyone has the right to basic education. “Everyone” includes every person within the borders of South Africa - irrespective of race or place of birth. This has been upheld by the Supreme Court of Appeal: “Human dignity has no nationality. It is inherent in all people citizens and non-citizens alike simply because they are human.” But as the constitution states - this has not applied to many refugee children, many of them still face discrimination because of their foreign status.
Xenophobic practices continue to threaten the lives and livelihoods of foreigners while generating enduring fear and insecurity
By Bongani Siziba
South Africa’s Constitution is one of the most inclusive and progressive in the world – a hard-fought achievement to be proud of. Under section 29 of the Constitution, everyone has the right to basic education. “Everyone” includes every person within the borders of South Africa – irrespective of race or place of birth.
This has been upheld by the Supreme Court of Appeal: “Human dignity has no nationality. It is inherent in all people citizens and non-citizens alike simply because they are human.”
But as the constitution states – this has not applied to many refugee children, many of them still face discrimination because of their foreign status. Schools are turning away immigrant children without documents, flouting Department of Basic Education (DBE) instructions and a court ruling.
Fantine Degeza (14) is a refugee child from Democratic Republic of Congo living at Paint City Bellevue camp in Cape Town a home to about 1500 people with more than 300 children.
At this camp – it is not an uncommon sight to witness children roaming around all day long as most of these children do not go to school.
They face multitudes of risks including being affected by crime, substance abuse, safety unequal access to health care and education. Degeza is one of the unlucky ones here, she is not going to school because she does not have proper documentation.
She says she has been denied her rights as a refugee child, she now spends her time helping her mother who is a street vendor.
“As children here we have been denied our rights, l am speaking for many children here we are not at because we do not have proper documentation,” Degeza said “We are asked to go and get proper documentation while our peers continue with their education” she continued.
The South African Human Rights Commission released a position paper on inclusive basic education for undocumented children. The paper addresses all children who, for various reasons, are unable to obtain documentation that allows them to access government services.
This includes South African children whose birth has not been, or is unable to be, registered in terms of the Births and Deaths Registration Act; stateless persons; and migrants in an irregular situation.
According to United Nations High Commission for Refugees Africa (UNHCR), it is estimated that 164 million children around the world are affected by child labour – 600 000 of whom are in South Africa. While the ILO says more than 160-million children globally are labourers – well over half of them range between the ages of five and 11.
However, migrants in South Africa face many problems integration has been another challenge it has been observed that competition for jobs between locals and migrants especially in the informal sector, is an important factor that triggers xenophobic incidences notably in 2008 and 2015.
Another bone of contention is that of access to housing. The above scenarios have implications for the image of South Africa in the committee of nations.
In March 2022 foreign businesses were attacked in Gqeberha, Eastern Cape. Many foreigners especially those of Ethiopian origins fear of being attacked or called derogatory names. Levels of xenophobia in the city started to rise when politicians tried to charm voters with anti-migrant rhetoric ahead of the local elections in South Africa.
Many were beaten, their stock taken, and chased from the area, accused of taking what belonged to locals. A shop operator speaking on condition of anonymity told the Sunday Express that they were so aggrieved that their efforts to uplift impoverished people in the area is disregarded.
He added that foreigners have a role to play in the upliftment of South Africa.
In South Africa, xenophobic practices continue to threaten the lives and livelihoods of foreigners while generating enduring fear and insecurity. This adversely affects the quality of asylum and directly works against local integration as a form of protection or as a durable solution.
While being mistreated and violent sentiments continue to be daily bread for many migrants in South Africa – over the years there has been an increase in migration of immigrants from African countries to South Africa.
This migration has led to even more cultural diversity in South Africa. Romantic relationships which lead to intermarriage between African migrants and black South Africans are becoming more prevalent in society.
This has created a need for intermarriage to be understood and theorised in an African context. But many of those intermarried couples are negatively affected by external stressors.
Ike Okhunugwa (58) has been living in South Africa for a decade – he is married to a South African woman who he says he married out of love – but since then he has faced disapproval from her in-laws and the community.
“Society will always see bad even in something good, l married my wife out of love but l am labelled as a Kwere Kwere who is taking advantage of a South African woman to get papers,” Okhunugwa said
“What many locals do not get is that we are all Africans and we are allowed to integrate, they hate us for marrying locally but are we not all Africans” he added.
South African First (SAF) President Mario Khumalo, whose political party is behind the #PutSouthAfricanFirst hashtag, said the government has failed to enforce the country’s immigration laws, give locals access to business spaces and punish corporates that flout labour policies.
Accusing the state of rewarding illegal immigrants with jobs and business rather than deporting them, Khumalo said the ANC government has put the security of the country and its people at risk.
Over the years there have been accusations that the Department of Home Affairs is failing to enforce immigration laws and rewarding illegal immigrants with jobs and special permits.
According to Home Affairs, the Special Permits are not a permanent feature of the SA immigration policy. They are one of the tools available worldwide to manage and regulate immigration. Such exemptions have been used in the management of migration in SA since 1937.
The beneficiaries of these exemptions have evolved as SA moved from being a Union, to a Republic and democratic South Africa. Corruption, in the form of sale of IDs, is something the Minister of Home affair Aaron Motswaledi said he does not tolerate.
He recently beefed up the capacity of the Anti-Corruption Unit in the Department to root out corrupt elements. He has put the anti-corruption drive high on the agenda. For more than a decade corruption, poor policy choices, and deteriorating governance have weakened South Africa’s criminal justice institutions and its economy.
The recent outbreaks of violence, mostly against foreigners in the cities of Tshwane, Johannesburg, and Ekurhuleni, are a warning sign that the government cannot afford to ignore.
Among this growing tide of dissatisfaction and anger are those who seek easy targets to blame. While most South Africans are not xenophobic, there is a sizable minority who are.
Unscrupulous politicians, looking to distract from their failures, fuel these sentiments by blaming foreign nationals for crime, unemployment, and a range of other social ills. This makes foreigners particularly vulnerable to attack.
Siziba is a Photo-Journalist based in Johannesburg. This reporting was made possible by internews: Inspires Investigative Reporting.
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