SA has sunk to a new low as the march against foreign nationals begins

Dr Pali Lehohla is the former Statistician-General and former head of Statistics South Africa. Photo: Thobile Mathonsi

Dr Pali Lehohla is the former Statistician-General and former head of Statistics South Africa. Photo: Thobile Mathonsi

Published Jan 23, 2022


SOUTH Africa, at its deepest and lowest period in its history, was marked by the people confronting the government and its state machinery.

Be it Sharpville, the historic Women’s March, June 16, or indeed, the historic push by the United Democratic Front – are some of the historical movements.

We have, as a country, sunk deepest today, but the march is of a different nature. It is a march not against the government, but against foreign nationals.

Such sporadic xenophobic attacks were seen before and notably in 2007 and 2008, but then the government was very visible when these happened and intervened.

Again, in 2019, these sporadic attacks happened, sparking the Nigerian business to send an airline to evacuate Nigerians.

At the funeral of the then president of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, South Africa was poised to face a major international backlash because of those incidents, however justified or unjustified. Our President Cyril Ramaphosa made an honest statement at the funeral, conceding the pain that we as fellow Africans were impugning on one another, saying it was unacceptable. In a powerful rendition, he appealed to South Africans and the continent to find a lasting solution to our management of migration.

His plea drew a resounding applause and approval. Almost instantaneously raising hope that we should inch to that moment.

The Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), awaiting to be signed into law, was blossoming on the wings of this renewed hope.

But alas, no more than two years later, the beginnings of this march against foreign nationals has just begun. It sows the seeds that will germinate the undermining of AfCFTA.

Obviously, locals have no jobs and face daily struggles that are simply unbearable and untenable. When crime is thrown into the mix, it becomes more explosive.

While South Africans commit heinous crimes daily, when a foreign national commits a crime, as South Africans, we get uptight and secure additional reason for having an Operation Dudula, which saw South Africans take to the streets in Diepkloof, Soweto, targeting the illegal clean-up of migrants.

However, to our credit as a nation, the move by society to vet foreign nationals’ credentials remains peaceful to date.

But there is no guarantee that it will remain so for long. It is bound to explode. The reasons are clear for this happening.

When foreign nationals cannot trade, they will not have the next meal, and in equal measure, when a local does not work, there cannot be the next meal. This brewing conflict is among the victims of our failed country systems.

The elites in Zimbabwe, South Africa, Nigeria, Mozambique, Somalia, Ethiopia, Pakistan, and Europe, hobnob and are avoiding addressing this scourge brewing among their citizens.

In 1981, the very tragic and deliberate murder of 14 Ghanaians packed in a cell without ventilation was perpetrated in Togo.

As students from the University of Ghana, we marched to the Togo Embassy in Ghana and left with the Togolese flag that we burnt on campus.

People Against Gangsterism and Drugs (Pagad), tortured by drugs and violence on the Cape Flats, had a noble mission, but in time, the movement degenerated into criminal activity.

In the current milieu in our country, the movement that attempts to deal with illegal immigrants – a matter for government – is likely to degenerate into a movement it did not intend.

Herein lies the danger. Such will disrupt the rickety and juvenile AfCFTA movement as this is bound to rupture relations between African nations.

By all counts, South Africa lost its standing among nations from when Nelson Mandela ascended to lead, not only South Africa but in the context of Africa.

At its height, was his stewardship under the leadership of President

Thabo Mbeki for securing South Africa’s rights for hosting the World Cup on behalf of Africa.

The Constitutive Act of the African Union inaugurated in eThekwini in KwaZulu-Natal and the creation of Nepad, as well as the Africa Peer Review Mechanism under the Mbeki term, set the stage for AfCFTA and worked towards and anticipated a South Africa in a better Africa and a better world.

In this ensuing movement of establishing the credentials of illegal immigrants by citizens, the absence and silence of the government, as in many a crisis that confronts us today, is too deafening for comfort as we enter our lowest moment yet.

Our systems are too broken by corruption. Perhaps Zondo Mark II has to convene and ask the question – where is the director-general, where is the deputy minister, where is the minister, where is the deputy president, and where is the president before this turns into a powder keg?

Dr Pali Lehohla is the former Statistician-General and former head of Statistics South Africa. Meet him @,za and @Palilj01.

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