CAPE TOWN – An inter-ministerial commission will present a revised immigration policy for South Africa
to cabinet in a month’s time, Presidency Minister Jeff Radebe said at the World Economic Forum on Africa on Friday.
“We are looking to complete it in a month. It will then go to Cabinet,” Radebe told ANA after an at times testy panel discussion on migration.
Rabede, who heads the commission, said the new draft policy would deal with “everything, refugees and economic migrants, all of it”.
During the earlier discussion, Radebe’s insistence that an African solution was needed to the mass influx of asylum and job seekers into South Africa from the rest of the continent, met with some dissent.
The minister said unofficial estimates put the number of migrants in South Africa at six million.
“That is about ten percent of the population,” he said.
“We need an African solution in South Africa. We need infrastructure delivery across our borders so that we can create opportunities in all African societies so that we have a vibrant economy.”
Fellow panelist Ann Bernstein, head of the Centre for Development and Enterprise, suggested that this was unrealistic because of delivery timelines. Infrastructure development requires time and history had proven that it does not stop migration.
“I am in favour of development of African countries and the more the better. But we have to be a lot more realistic about South Africa’s migration policy. We need to manage migration,” Bernstein said.
“Government cannot be making ambiguous statements. We need a short term and a medium term strategy.”
She noted that since the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta) came into force in 1994, immigration to the United States had accelerated as economic benefits kicked in.
“Nafta did not stop migration across the border, in fact it got worse after Nafta.”
Radebe countered that realism meant considering facts. He said that while South Africa was reeling from a wave of xenophobic attacks in April, the government heard warnings that increased instability in Burundi could lead to a refugee problem from the Great Lakes region.
”As sure as the sun rises … more than 100,000 people have fled Burundi,” he said.
This showed, Radebe added, that it was impossible to for one single country to resolve its migration problems without addressing regional, political and economic problems.
“We should not underestimate the challenges here.”
Responding to a question from the floor about why anti-foreign sentiment was so flammable in South Africa, Radebe said the cause for the violence that left at least seven people dead in this year’s xenophobic attacks had its roots in apartheid.
“We come from a history of violence, it permeated into this new democratic society,” he said.