With elections only a month away, the Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town held a round-table discussion on xenophobic violence and immigration. Picture: Marvin Charles/Cape Argus
Cape Town - The issues of immigrants and xenophobia that can stir emotions in the run-up to elections were discussed at a symposium by experts.

There were concerns that these issues run the risk of divisive campaigning and heightening the threat of xenophobic violence.

Last year’s comments by Health Minister Aaron Motsoledi about immigrants overburdening the health system was used as an example of how this could lead to anti-immigrant feelings. He said South Africa needed to review its immigration policies to control the number of undocumented and illegal immigrants in the country.

“The weight that foreign nationals are bringing to the country has got nothing to do with xenophobia, it’s a reality. Our hospitals are full, we can’t control them,” Motsoledi said at the time.

Sally Hurt, head of advocacy at the Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town, said: “There is a strong need to shift the narrative and health is a big topic as we lead into elections.

“Across the country we have a two-tier health system, public funded and private funded,” she said, adding that primary healthcare should be free at the point of service.

“In South Africa, our health care act states that facilities have to keep a file on the people that they assist and that file should contain their personal information.

“But what the act does not say is that you can be refused service if you are unable to provide those details,” Hurt said.

She said that it was something immigrants have to keep in mind mostly because some do not possess the necessary documents.

“If you cannot provide identification, you should not be denied health services.

Commenting on Motsoledi’s remarks, Hurt said: “Neither the things we have seen from politics or from civil society’s side or state is accurate statistics and without those statistics we are unable to make comments about how that burden may or may not be.

“When these comments are made, we have to start asking for statistics and facts. We don’t have those statistics and we would like to look into it,” she added.


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