Johannesburg – Generalisations are unfair and this is the reason why migrants are calling for the scrapping of being tarred with the same brush.
In existence since 2008, the African Diaspora Forum (ADF) held their annual general meeting (AGM) on Monday and committed themselves anew to being part of the solution in South Africa, not the problem.
Executive director Ngqabutho Nicholas Mabhena says the ADF is home to every African. “We have now extended the invitation to migrants from Asia. We are also working with the Chinese.”
“We face the same challenges,” says Mabhena, a Zimbabwean national.
Within the ranks of the ADF AGM minutes, a quick glance shows a membership from across the continent.
People left their countries for a myriad reasons, the majority of them as economic migrants, says Mabhena. “Those from the DRC and Burundi were running away from war while people from Lesotho and Zimbabwe were coming as economic migrants. The absence of economic development in our countries makes people want to come to South Africa.”
He says xenophobia is un-African. “We tend to blame victims. People who come to South Africa are victims.”
If it’s not war that pushes people out of their home countries, it is also often because politicians are failing to grow their economies. “They run to where they will be safer,” Mabhena says.
“But because unemployment is rising in South Africa, when they get here, they find they have to compete for resources with locals. When a councillor does not deliver in an area, blame is shifted to migrants. Residents think: “If you were not here, we were going to be catered for.”
He points out that migrants make economic contributions in the communities they find themselves in. “You will know that in the main migrants do not build shops, they rent what is available. That is a business transaction. South Africans benefit from renting out their backyard rooms to migrants.”
He is sad that there will always be a minority that uses migrants as scapegoats, evinced by the breakout of narrow nationalism.
Just this week, the ADF noted, nine people were killed, among them seven Somali and two Malawians in Khayelitsha, Cape Town.
The ADF is awake to the reality that employers exploit migrant workers, who they pay poorly. “Employers take advantage of vulnerable workers.” Mabhena adds that the special worker permits granted to Zimbabweans in 2010 were a welcome relief. “They were then able to take their employers to the CCMA,” he says.
He says the ADF participated in the formulation of legislating international migration laws, which were gazetted in 2017. Issues such as the cross-border visa needed to be addressed.
“People who come in and out of the border, like drivers, domestic workers, people in construction, you need to document them. You also need to manage that movement.”
The ADF has created a number of commissions: “We need to build social cohesion. We should be part of communities where we find ourselves, to do away with this ‘Us’ and ‘Them’ mentality. We continue to run programs to ensure that we get visible policing in communities. We’ve been going to communities to foster this spirit of coexistence. We want to show that we are the same people as we go to the same churches, funerals, soccer matches ,etc.
“This is what the ADF seeks to do.”
Mabhena says crime is blamed on migrants. “Statistics do not support that. That does not mean there are no migrants involved in criminal activities. We condemn them, that ‘s why we have an anti-crime unit. We need to work with communities to isolate criminals. To work together with community policing forums (CPF), with the police and other law enforcement agencies. We will be sending out a strong message to criminals that all of us are opposed to criminal gangs. If I commit a crime, I should be arrested as a criminal not because I come from Zimbabwe.”
The AGM has taken note that there is a high level of criminality in our communities, “further noting that this criminality is associated with undocumented migrants; (ADF) is concerned with vigilantism which appears to be well-coordinated with the support of some government officials and political parties; and further noting our condemnation of the arbitrary and brutal killing and rough justice meted out to alleged criminals by vigilante groups”.
Among the ADF resolutions were that they would strengthen and capacitate their Anti-Crime Commission.
They also vowed to fight crime irrespective of who is involved, be they South Africans or migrants and go on a drive to educate and sensitise migrant communities about respecting the laws of South Africa, not to accept or trade in stolen or fake goods and to become whistle-blowers in their communities to expose and report criminals to the law enforcement agencies.
It will perhaps go a long way if, as they resolved to do, they would “engage South African communities on the push factors and that migrants in general are victims of their own governments, hence the migration”.
Asked about what the ADF did with the perception of Nigerians being drug lords, Mabhena said at their last crime summit in Hillbrow, they invited the police.
“We also identified other hotspot areas, where we asked that street cameras be put up. We do indeed try our level best to get into those communities.”
Not everyone is peddling drugs, indeed: “We do have migrants who earn an honest living, wake up in the morning to go to work.”
Amir Sheikh from Kenya is the newly elected chairperson of the ADF.
He says they are speaking to Operation Dudula, “we have regular meetings”.
The envisaged National Shutdown that did not happen on Friday, June 10 was among the matters discussed with Dudula and its leadership, Sheikh says.
“We are working with them in terms of community development,” Sheikh adds.
Expired goods are also another thorny issue that the ADF are adamant they caution their members against. “Businesses are open for inspection by environmental health officials or the community. Best-before goods can still be traded by law. But for the safety of all, the agreement is that they should be removed and disposed of,” says Sheikh.
They preach the mantra of respecting all South African laws, by-laws included, to their members. They urge them: “Be on the right side of the law.”
Mabhena has the last word: “We agree with Operation Dudula on the issue of unemployment, not how they implement this.”