The quote: "There are no permanent friends or permanent enemies, just permanent interests" from former US senator Carol Moseley Braun is among the most well-known political phrases in the world.
Thomas Sankara of Burkina Faso was assassinated in a coup d'état orchestrated by his close associate Blaise Compaoré; Ian Khama, the former president of Botswana, switched from supporting Mokgweetsi Masisi for president to abandoning the party and siding with the opposition against his own chosen successor.
In South Africa, Julius Malema was instrumental in securing Jacob Zuma's election as president of the ANC in December 2007 and, by extension, president of South Africa in 2009 (ousting Thabo Mbeki).
However, during this time, Malema switched sides back to Mbeki: “We were misled by this man, the president of the Republic of South Africa”, said Malema during the debate on Zuma’s State of the Nation Address in 2016.
Malema would later become one of Zuma's most important adversaries, ultimately leading to Zuma's removal in 2018. And when Cyril Ramaphosa succeeded Zuma, Malema had the famous ‘Nkandla Tea Party’ with the now former president.
From praising Adv. Thuli Madonsela to criticise her; from criticising the appointment of Adv. Busisiwe Mkhwebane as Public Protector to defending her when she was ultimately impeached and later welcoming her at the Winnie Madikizela-Mandela House as a member of the party...Julius Malema has been consistent in changing his positions to suit his political objectives.
And as a politician, there is nothing wrong with that. After all, politicians ought to adapt to the changing dynamics of the landscape they find themselves in.
One wonders then, why Malema has not revised his views on his party’s migration policy despite the fact that there is growing sentiment of native migrant animosity in South Africa: it is true that foreigners in general and those from African countries in particular have been scapegoated for South African problems by politicians manipulating the material conditions of the poor for their own electoral gains.
It is also true that any group of citizens in the world are more inclined to protect themselves against perceived social and economic threats. These two points are not mutually exclusive - two truths can co-exist.
This article merely leans towards the latter. This is important because as far as migration in South Africa is concerned, discussions usually fall short of nuances that explain the changing nature of the South African society - usually revealing a bias that narrows the discussion to South Africans as xenophobic - sidestepping the broader complexities of immigration dynamics.
In a nation where more than 50% of the people live in poverty, there is fierce competition among the poor for resources, access to jobs and housing.
The South African government is struggling to adequately cater for its own citizens' social and economic needs, with the documented unemployment rate sitting above 30% of the country’s total working population.
This is a very alarming statistic and it explains why local citizens feel threatened by foreign immigrants coming to settle in the country. They feel vulnerable that they come to compete with them with the little that they have to make a living.
One of the major talking points in next year’s elections will be South Africa’s migration policy and its porous borders.
The EFF is a leftist Pan-Africanist political organisation and has advocated for a united Africa and doing away with borders – rightly so.
However, Malema’s failure to understand that a united Africa does not equate to lawlessness and porous borders is of paramount importance in this article.
In January 2021, Malema urged foreigners to find “creative” ways to enter the nation – an invitation for them to cross the border illegally.
Similarly, in November 2021, the leader of the red berets said: “I am not prepared to take a platform to say ‘foreigners must go home’. I would rather not be the president of South Africa. I will be the president of my children at home”.
A 2022 United Nations Security Council (UNSC) report highlighted how ISIS has used its South Africa-based members to transfer funds from ISIS leadership to ISIS affiliates across Africa.
The Middle East is a warzone because of the rise of the Islamic State.
Therefore, the report by the UNSC is a reflection of how South Africa has also become a fertile ground for foreign nationals seeking to commit acts of crime.
In recent weeks, South Africa has witnessed a number of children who died allegedly from food sold by foreign owned spaza shops, while it has been discovered that there are unlicensed factories that produce the very same goods consumed by the poorest of the poor.
There are a number of videos on social media that show how foreign nationals have brandished firearms at South Africans demanding answers on the goods they sell and in August, the police had a standoff with zama zamas who mine illegally.
Politicians are in the business of public buy-in. And one of the ways the native migrant animosity has found expression in politics is through the rise of parties like ActionSA and the Patriotic Alliance.
The EFF has grown from strength to strength since its formation 10 years ago and while it’s difficult to measure how it will perform at next year’s polls, it is plausible to believe that Malema’s views on illegal foreigners and porous borders might affect the party.
Again, I emphasise Malema and not the EFF because the top brass of the party has not been as vocal on this issue as Malema has been – which gives credence to the views that he is the EFF and the EFF is him.
Perhaps Malema believes that he will be less of a pan-Africanist if he advocates for stronger border control and only legal foreigners and refugees, but he must remember that Africa’s philosopher “king”, Thabo Mbeki, championed African Renaissance, without advocating for porous borders and illegal foreigners.
Gumbi is from the Institute for Pan African Thought and Conversation at the University of Johannesburg.