Africans in Particular, People of Colour in General, Not Welcome

By Anna Majavu · 7 Jan 2015

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Picture: Australian Identity
Picture: Australian Identity

This year looks set to be another gloomy one for asylum seekers, as the ANC government makes a renewed attempt to deport and restrict the number of African migrants to South Africa.

Black Africans are not welcome anywhere, even as tourists, and must jump through dozens of hoops to apply for visas to enter almost every country in the world to prove their worthiness. Lately, the quest for tourist visas can even entail providing proof that they have paid their children’s South African school fees. Given that Black South Africans experience these indignities when applying for visas to Europe, Australia and North America, it is continually disappointing when the ANC government concocts new ways to keep other Black Africans out of South Africa.

A strange new form for asylum seekers now compels applicants to provide pay slips, details of property owned and to reveal how much money they have. It is still not known what this information will be used for, since governments are only supposed to assess applications for asylum based on the level of persecution faced in the home country – not the amount of money in the applicants’ bank accounts.

In 2013, only two out of 12 000 applicants were granted asylum and the new ‘asylum seekers’ form is likely part of government’s quest to rid South Africa completely of genuine asylum seekers and allow in only those with money.

It has become fashionable for governments globally to decry the fact that people of colour are seeking asylum when in fact they are ‘economic migrants’ making contrived claims of persecution. This false separation was laid bare last week when the Ezadeen, a livestock cargo ship run by people smugglers and carrying 360 Syrian asylum seekers, was set adrift off the coast of Italy, fortunately being rescued before it crashed. The passengers, who paid R60 000 each for a place on the floor in the livestock hold, have since been dubbed economic migrants even though as Syrian victims of war, they clearly deserve asylum status.

It does not seem likely that they will find homes in Italy because they have already been removed to “identification and expulsion centres” which the media is mysteriously and euphemistically describing as “immigration centres”. Refugee rights groups in Europe say that one million asylum seekers per year are detained in these centres, sometimes for years. The only people who benefit from this system are the people smugglers and multinational corporations like Group Four Security (G4S) and ‘immigration solution provider’ MITIE, which are paid billions every year to run these notorious deportation centres where human rights abuses are reported regularly.

Back in South Africa, an estimated 50 000 Zimbabweans are facing deportation soon for failing to apply for permission to stay in South Africa under the new ‘Zimbabwean Special Permit’ system. Every four years or so, the South African government attempts to get rid of Zimbabwean migrants but instead succeeds only in creating fear, panic and ultimately highlighting the deficiency of its own systems.

In 2010, the government gave just three months warning that it would end a ‘special dispensation’ for Zimbabweans. This progressive dispensation was started to allow Zimbabweans free access to South Africa during the Zimbabwean cholera epidemic of 2009, for 90 days at a time without passports and without fearing deportation. But ending the special dispensation failed mainly because the Zimbabwean government would not issue Zimbabwean passports to its citizens in time for them to apply for the permits, and also because the department of Home Affairs could not process the number of applications anyway. Similarly, Home Affairs has already admitted that the new ‘Special Permit’ system for “regularising” Zimbabweans has been plagued by “a lot of technical glitches”, including – again – the failure of the Home Affairs' call centre to answer thousands of calls from those who wanted to apply for permits.

Home Affairs’ top officials said in 2010 that they planned to follow the “regularising” of Zimbabwean migrants by documenting Malawians, Angolans, DRC citizens and others from Africa in the same way. This has not materialised, thankfully.

No similar race based country-by-country purge was planned for white migrants from Europe and North America, who are generally prized by the DA and ANC governments for the “skills” they bring to South Africa. It is for this reason that Black Consciousness activists have pointed out in the past that xenophobia in South Africa is more accurately described as afrophobia, and that the DA and ANC governments are generally afrophobic.

An astonishing tweet by COSATU general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi this week, decrying Asian shop owners in townships, indicates how far the phobia of migrants of colour has spread. “We condemn xenophobia but the current displacement of Africans even in spaza shops mainly by guys from East is not politically sustainable”, tweeted Vavi.
Being the country’s leader of organised workers, Vavi knows better than most that the biggest problem facing the South African Black working class and poor is not Asian spaza shop owners in the townships but the out-dated free market system adopted by the ANC and DA governments. Jobs in manufacturing have been slashed, profits from the mining industry continue to flow to a tiny elite, and the ANC is dead set against nationalising even the unallocated mineral deposits, which could fund the redevelopment of the whole country, let alone the mines themselves.

The privatised housing delivery programme favoured by both the ANC and DA sees a small handful of contractors getting rich by skimping on cement and by engaging subcontractors who pay workers as little as R20 for every roof they put on a house. Little wonder that the bill for rectifying all these substandard dwellings stood at R58 billion four years ago.

Instead of setting up a state run, job creating solar and wind power project, the ANC will borrow a trillion rands to build dangerous and discredited nuclear power stations. Institutional racism is deeply embedded in South Africa with the Commission for Employment Equity’s annual report continuing to reveal that whites still occupy most senior management and top management positions.

Under these circumstances, for Vavi to be tweeting against “guys from the East”, is absurd. Migrant workers are not to blame for the high levels of unemployment. Vavi’s tweet, although made against Asian migrants, will increase xenophobic sentiment in general, and consequently fuel afrophobia against spaza shop owners from Africa. Criticism of Asian migrants today quickly leads to resentment of African migrants tomorrow. Under South Africa’s free market economic system, deporting African migrants and asylum seekers and encouraging xenophobia against Asian migrants will not uplift the Black poor and working class whose lives seem set to continue to deteriorate until the ANC and DA governments are voted out of power completely.

Majavu is a writer concentrating on the rights of workers, oppressed people, the environment, anti-militarism and what makes a better world. She is currently studying for a Masters Degree in New Zealand.

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Dominic Tweedie
8 Jan

Now you know Vavi,

... don't go back into denial.

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Rory Verified user
12 Jan


We need to go back to square one. The population explosion in Africa provides the fuel for migration but only if the migrants home countries are not geared up to handle their ever increasing populations. Countries which are properly geared up for this will not experience an exodus of people looking for better lives for themselves. The trouble is many African countries are not geared up to handle their increasing populations hence we have huge flows of people migrating to other countries that appear to offer more opportunity than the migrants' home countries do.

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Maqeqeshi Verified user
29 Jan

"People of Colour"

This term is offensive. Are some people "colourless"? We need to get rid of this kind of language.

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