Pretoria - The past few weeks have seen the never-ending issue of illegal immigrants and the lawlessness accompanying it in our country topping the national agenda and public discourse.
Matters seem to be coming to a head with the midnight arrest of a Pakistani national who has made the office of Home Affairs in Krugersdorp his criminal base. There he and his accomplices, including public servants, issued illegal South African passports to undocumented foreign nationals who have entered our country for various reasons that reportedly include committing crime.
While still attempting to catch a breath from such brazen criminality, reports point to the gruesome murder of about seven South Africans at the hands of illegal immigrants. This barbarism, callousness and disdain for our hospitality has sparked protests that have sometimes turned violent, especially in Diepsloot, where several undocumented immigrants were arrested, with at least one foreign national unfortunately losing his life.
These events, including the destruction of property and loss of lives, are hugely regrettable, and the need for society to comprehensively and urgently attend to the root cause(s) of these persistent flare-ups cannot be overemphasised.
Already, there has been condemnation from various quarters, with the media not being helpful in its narrow but choreographed reportage on the issues at hand.
Condemnation is good, but quickly becomes a double-edged sword in circumstances where we are selective and inconsistent while treating it as a panacea to the ills affecting the affected communities.
These flare-ups are not happening for the first time, and they will not be taking place for the last time unless and until we craft and adopt a comprehensive and well-thought-through strategy to manage and control migration while building a responsible citizenry.
In essence, we need to move beyond condemnation. We urgently have to craft and implement a multi-pronged strategy to enforce our immigration laws, engender intolerance to lawlessness, and cultivate strong patriotism among citizens.
This collective, national and patriotic effort should be aimed at restoring our country’s sovereignty and respect for the law, and ensuring that people enter our country with the proper documentation and through designated ports of entry.
This matter of mismanagement of and/or failure to implement immigration laws and policies has been with us for as long as we can remember.
It is common cause that there has been a historic failure and/or laxity in the enforcement of laws, and communities have raised the issue countless times. Unfortunately, and for some strange inexplicable reasons, the government was either too slow, or did not respond adequately, if at all.
Feeling abandoned by their government and vulnerable to armed, callous and ruthless criminals, some of whom are foreign nationals (legal or illegal), South Africans have responded in different ways, at times violently.
Instead of the government adopting a holistic view to nip in the bud the violence associated with the protests against the lawlessness and brazenness of especially illegal immigrants, a short cut of condemnations with ministers rushing to the affected areas and law enforcement agencies deployed temporarily has been our answer.
This short-termism and being reactive have not worked, as this issue is persistent, no matter how much we wish it away.
The country desperately needs a holistic, proactive and comprehensive approach that brings together all sections of society (with the government or rather state at the forefront) to at the very least stabilise the unacceptable situation while measures are put in place to resolve it, once and for all.
It is against this backdrop that I tend to comprehend the rationale to persist with the simplistic and populist approach to paint community responses and anti-lawlessness initiatives with the same brush, the isolated cases of violence notwithstanding.
While some of these pressure groups and initiatives might be hijacked for criminal and other purposes, it is disingenuous to club all of them and (mis)label them.
South Africans seem to have mastered the art of revisionism and distortion. When faced with complex problems and situations, they simply misdiagnose, mislabel, distort or revise. We need only to look at the riots last year, after which the misdiagnosis and mislabels boggled the mind.
We are now presented with another scarecrow in the form of “xenophobia”, as soon as you call out the lawlessness related to illegal immigration for what it is.
When we thought we were learning something from that mishap, we were told about “vigilantism” without any regard for the proper context and appropriate responses.
Let us not fool ourselves and think that we will resolve this problem through resorting to labels and other antics that skid around the real issues that include systemic failures, corruption, incompetence and a lack of political will.
Active citizenry should be encouraged and supported while the governing party that prides itself on being the leader of society ensures that the government does what it has been mandated by voters to do – govern!
My lived and most probably other South Africans’ lived experience is that “condemnation” has become a “feel-good” activity.
Sadly, it does not go far enough in addressing the root cause of the turmoil that has in the past engulfed, and is currently engulfing, communities regarding the brazenness and lawlessness that are attributable to the government’s failure to effectively attend to illegal immigration in the first instance, and our immigration regime, including effective border management.
Given the ANC’s claim to be a leader of society, one is also tempted to ask: where are ANC structures in the mix? Preoccupied with senseless, internecine factional battles as always?
The ANC is inexplicably and disappointingly missing in action, and for it or its government to appear to only condemn is not very helpful. It is just reactive.
The ANC claims to be a leader of society, but that very society is leaderless and rudderless on these illegal immigrants and other issues.
To state the obvious, nature abhors a vacuum, and we should therefore not act surprised or shocked (our favourite retort) when all manner of groups and tendencies emerge and take root.
This dereliction of duty by members and leaders of the ANC has proved costly, not only to itself, but to our country as a whole.
The ANC seems not to learn from the message stemming from past electoral performances that lethargy, not being responsive, incompetence, laziness, aloofness and arrogance are unacceptable and punishable.
Hence, the consistent downward trajectory of the ANC’s electoral fortunes.
For us to not only bring this runaway illegal immigration train under control, but to steer it in the right direction, including respect for our country’s laws and the preservation of our sovereignty, the ANC should ensure rigorous implementation of immigration laws and policies.
Society is leading itself, and prudent and effective implementation of practical programmes on issues that affect citizens directly is its saving grace.
Leadership also includes taking and implementing “unpopular” decisions consistently, without fear, favour or prejudice.
Part of what the ANC and other patriotic partners should do is engender a strong sense of patriotism through actual programmes implemented within and across communities.
The Basic Education Department also has to infuse this within the system while the media, particularly the public broadcaster (SABC), should be drawn in instead of being preoccupied with, or being part of, ANC factional battles and peddling some predetermined narrative regarding the illegal immigration issue.
A conversation should also ensue regarding military conscription as part of instilling discipline and engendering patriotism.
Before I am lynched, let me hasten to point out that the conscription should, as a matter of principle, not be apartheid-style but should rather be conducted within our democratic ethos and other considerations.
The work presently being done by the Home Affairs Department, particularly, should be commended and supported by all patriots.
The establishment of the Border Management Authority (BMA) is a welcome development, and we should ensure that it does not deteriorate or morph into another failed or endemically corrupt government agency.
The BMA must be properly resourced, managed and led to allow it to even exploit technological developments like drones as part of augmenting our border patrol and control exercises and measures.
Investigations, and disciplinary and legal actions must also be ramped up to flush all these criminals out of the system.
The ANC and its government have their work cut out for them, and there is no time for procrastination or PR stunts as South Africans are restive.
Together with society, the government can win this war against lawlessness in defence of our sovereignty and nascent democracy.