SA feels, mulls over ‘pull effect’

The South African government feels that there is a need for countries in the southern African region to attain healthy economies in order to retain their people.

Over the years, South Africa has become the favourite destination for many neighbouring countries’ job-seekers because of a strong economy and now the host country is feeling the heat as it’s own people are finding it difficult to find employment.

The South African Home Affairs minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said tightening border controls was all very well, but strenghtening the country’s neighbouring economies was even more important.

“You have to deal with push factors in various communities that lead to the flooding of people into South Africa,” Mapisa-Nqakula told the Johannesburg branch of the Black Managers Forum.

She said South Africa was “a pull country” in the region.

Security issues such as border control had been over-emphasised in the home affairs department. More attention should be placed on the positive role immigrants could play. “Little attention is given on how immigration can play a role in economic growth.”

The minister said amendments to the Immigration Act of 2002 made it less difficult for skilled personnel to enter the country.

Policies to attract foreign skills had been sensitive to the employment needs of South Africans.

“We must, however, appreciate the fact that a developing democracy such as ours might not have all the critical skills we require, and that there might be a need to attract foreign skills in a regulated manner,” she said.

There were now a variety of permits which allowed skilled foreigners greater flexibility in working in South Africa.

As part of the Joint Initiative for Priority Skills Acquisition, the extent of skills scarcity in the country was being investigated.

“Once these have been determined, I will be able… to publish a new list of scarce skills for quota work permits in terms of which foreigners can come into the country to seek employment,” she said.

Mapisa-Nqakula said the growing perception that all foreigners were criminals was “very xenophobic”.

She said in a group of criminals there might be one or two foreigners. Based on this, people would formulate the perception that illegal immigrants were responsible for all crime.

“We need to deal with these perceptions. Xenophobia is spreading like wildfire,” she said.

Mapisa-Nqakula said it was important to note that dark-skinned foreigners were the objects of xenophobia and not, for example, Russians and Bulgarians.

She said millions were being spent on deporting thousands of illegal immigrants every week.

“It seems futile, when you deport them, they say: ‘Madam, I’ll be back here next week, thank you for the free trip to visit my family’.

“We need a good strategy to deal with the issue of borders.”

Mapisa-Nqakula said she was happy with transformation in the home affairs department, which has had serious capacity problems

The minister admitted her department had “lots of bureaucracy”, inefficient officials and turnaround times which where “not what one would expect”.

Problems with identity documents (ID), such as people selling or stealing IDs for fraudulent use were the result of “internal pollution”.

This was a problem that would continue as long as people were moving south towards South Africa, she said.

The introduction of the new “smart card” identification system, as well as the national ID system which sanitised the previously manual system of fraudulent information would curb these problems.

“I am hoping (this technology) will be the ultimate solution to our problems ‘ I don’t know,” she said.

The minister said people had been fired, arrested and charged on a regular basis, but despite this corruption in her department did not stop.

“We keep preaching, the net is closing, but every day one or two people are being pounced upon.”

Mapisa-Nqakula said she felt this was a problem which arose from the “I must get something” mindset which people adopted in order to sabotage the previous system.

“It has become part of our culture . . . we must just keep preaching and having disciplinary procedures.” She appealed to the private sector to help improve customer service in the department.

July 2006
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