Johannesburg - Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR) have slammed the actions of the EFF saying the party’s campaign targeting migrants, is unlawful and described it as “downright vigilantism”.
LHR joined the growing chorus from civil society organisations following a statement from the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, calling for a collective call to stop attacks on migrants.
EFF leader Julius Malema made the rounds on January 19 at the Mall of Africa to inspect the employee lists of various restaurants, apparently with the intention of assessing the ratio of foreign-born to local employees working at these establishments.
The action, accompanied by a call from Malema to hire more locals, prompted many to question whether the party had abandoned its previously established stance as a Pan-Africanist organisation that once called for the abolishment of South African borders.
Sharon Ekambaram, from the Refugee and Migrant Rights Programme at LHR, said any immigration infringements should be dealt with by the Department of Labour.
“There are policies in place. You cannot arbitrarily take the law into your own hands. Other political parties, by their silence, are also blaming the migrants for the high rate of unemployment in South Africa. This is very worrying,” she said.
In a statement released this week, the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation said it was gravely concerned about the recent targeting of migrants in their homes and at their workplaces.
“The calls made by several political parties and community activists to forcefully remove migrants from their homes, and to count the number of foreign nationals employed in South African restaurants, are profoundly disturbing. Actions such as these can easily escalate into the widespread xenophobic violence we saw in 2008 and in subsequent years, ” the statement reads.
This year marks seven years since Mozambican tuck-shop owner Emmanuel Sithole was stabbed to death in Alexandra, pictures of which made the front pages.
“Yet it seems as though this recent past is lost in our collective memory, along with horrific scenes of Ernesto Alfabeto Nhamuave being set alight by a mob in Ekurhuleni. It must be remembered that in 2008, 62 people – 21 of whom were South African – were killed in the brutal xenophobic violence.
“Despite this, we continue to see xenophobic sentiment actively being fuelled, with little to no sanction for those behind the inflammatory vitriol and the recurring attacks,” said the foundation.
The foundation and 23 other civil society organisations said the flagrant disregard for the human rights of migrants, the rule of law and the Constitution, was something that required immediate intervention by law enforcement agencies, the government and leaders in all sectors of society, including Chapter 9 institutions, and the South African Human Rights Commission.
Ekambaram said not a single party had come forward to speak out against the EFF and blamed them of scape-goating and putting populism first.
“President (Cyril) Ramaphosa was in Nigeria recently and told African leaders that South Africa is not a xenophobic nation. Yet, nobody has been brought to book. We have a very powerful Constitution and nothing is being done to stop these brazen unlawful acts,” she said.
But, ActionSA leader, Herman Mashaba. told Saturday Star the use of violence was unacceptable when we lived in a democratic state.
“I have been consistent in my efforts, since I was mayor of Johannesburg in 2016, to deal with the migrant issue, legally. If you are in SA illegally, it’s the duty of Home Affairs to get them out. I believe strongly in the rule of law. If citizens are not happy with what the government is doing, vote them out,” said Mashaba.
DA Shadow Deputy Minister of Home Affairs, Adrian Roos, said South Africans across the board had taken to mainstream and social media to voice opinions on the issue of migration and unemployment and whether the two are linked.
“What is clear from this discourse is that the government is missing in action when it comes to solution-driven actions. With the spectre of xenophobia always on the horizon, it is critical that the distinction between legal and illegal immigration, as well as its perceived links to the out of control rise in unemployment , be addressed.
“The national action plan to combat racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, rightly calls for us to steer away from our legacy of discrimination based on the grounds of ethnic origin and policies of divide and rule.
“This discrimination allowed every person of a specific ethnic origin to be treated as one single unit, labelled as an enemy and blamed for any government shortcoming,” he said.
The party said it has a vision for South Africa where every individual had the opportunity to live the life they value and where they lived in freedom under the rule of law.
“That means that a foreigner who enters on a work or business visa should be able to operate freely and without hindrance. The weak immigration management approach of the Department of Home Affairs seems geared to create opportunities for deployed cadres to elicit bribes.
“A lack of confidence in immigration’s willingness to enforce law and order has also seen individuals and groups take the law into their own hands,” Roos added.
The DA stressed that the Department of Home Affairs needed to take the lead on intergovernmental engagement to protect legitimate foreign businesspersons who were creating opportunities, and focus firmly on tackling irregular migration in our economic hubs.
The ANC and EFF did not reply to media queries from the Saturday Star.