There are instances when it is a matter of semantics, and a waste of time, to argue about how a certain situation should be defined. One such instance is the useless debate about whether South Africa is a failed State, or whether it is on the verge of becoming a failed State.
Recently that windbag, and perpetual blower of hot air, Fikile Mbalula, indulged in the same futile exercise. Of course, Mbalula had no other option, but to argue that SA is on the cusp of becoming a “failed State”, but that it is not yet there, and that the only way to prevent it from plunging over the abyss is to one more time vote for the African National Congress (ANC), the very party that brought us – after thirty years of miss rule – into such an unmitigated and undeniable mess that even he, as the Secretary General of the ANC, has no more latitude left, but to argue about how only a few minutes are left before the midnight clock tolls. Talk about desperation, to call under such dire circumstances on our long-abused South African citizens to vote for you once again.
I, for one, have no time to indulge in this esoteric exercise of how many angels of death one can get to dance one last high-noon waltz on the tip of the sword of Damocles. Just as I was writing this sentence my computer screen went dead, and darkness descended. Another four hours of load shedding, while I am desperately trying to hold onto my line of thought, so that it does not disappear together with the powerlessness that one experiences at such moments. Such has become our daily bread.
However, it drives home the undeniable harsh reality: We are in a mess! Whether we are already, in terms of academic definitions, a ‘failed state’, or on the verge of becoming so, is truly irrelevant: We are in a mess. It is in the context of this undeniable mess that I hosted a few days ago one of my regular, ‘In My Crosshairs’, Twitter Spaces, with the topic highlighting the urgent need for stricter border control, and the deportation of illegal undocumented foreigners.
Of course during the marathon four and a half hours that the intense discussion lasted we, the participants on the Space, did not escape the bane of load shedding, and the resultant poor cellphone network quality. In South Africa life has become a perpetually worsening obstacle course to navigate.
With dogged determination, we pushed ahead with a discussion that became one of the rare reality checks of the disgraceful general state of disaster that we find ourselves in. The Twitter Space is recorded, and I urge readers to make an effort to listen to the recording that is readily available: https://twitter.com/i/spaces/1ZkKzXAyWjWJv. It provides one of those rare moments when South Africans did not continue to indulge in what has become the national sport of bullshitting each other but actually looked straight into the proverbial mirror. What confronted us was most disconcerting.
Through the ebbs and flows, and sometimes downright inaudibility, of a collapsing cellular phone network on the back of our disintegrating electricity network, the inescapable reality nonetheless was driven home: If we do not address the serious problem of millions of illegal undocumented foreigners that put an unbearable strain on our very limited, and poorly managed, resources we will never manage to turn the economy of our country around, or even have a semblance of hope to address the needs of South Africans, and create a better life for all our citizens.
That is the inescapable bottom line, and anyone who tries to say anything else is talking a load of poppycock. This was the context in which we discussed the strange notion that it may somehow be xenophobic, or even anti-African, to insist that illegal, undocumented, foreigners should be deported back to their countries of origin. Underlying this argument is an assumption that nation-states should not exist on the African continent, and that acknowledging their existence is to subject oneself to colonial dictates.
While no sensible scholar of history will deny that the Berlin Conference of 1884, which mainly determined the borders of countries in Africa, was a construct of Western colonialism, it is truly quite extraordinary to deny the existence of those countries and their borders – even when the very countries and the African Union (AU) have accepted them, and these countries have representation in the AU, based on their acknowledged existence. Like all other countries in the world, the respective existing African countries have representation not only in the AU, but also in the United Nations (UN). All the independent African countries execute their national sovereignty and control their territory within their existing borders, which are in terms of international law recognised.
It is truly extraordinary that while all other African countries insist that international migration and refugee laws must apply, there are some who argue that South Africa should somehow be the only exception. The reality is that any illegal undocumented foreigner in any country throughout Africa will not be allowed to have freedom of movement, nor will they be allowed to get employment and be economically active. There are numerous examples throughout the African continent that all such illegal undocumented foreigners are apprehended and confined in refugee camps from where they are expeditiously deported to their countries of origin.
This is similar to the same application of international migrant and refugee laws throughout the world. Why should this be the case – as a benchmark and international standard for all countries – but inexplicably South Africa should be the exception? Until all African countries can on an economically sound basis, and on the basis of universal and binding legal decisions by all the countries of the AU, agree to abolish the boundaries of nation-states on the African continent, there is no sound legal, nor economic rationale, to disregard the nation-states of Africa, and their sovereign borders.
This basic acknowledgement is not disregard of the colonial history of our African continent, nor is it in any whatsoever antagonistic to the ideals of Pan-Africanism. It is in that context that the African Radical Economic Transformation Alliance (ARETA), of which I am the President, acknowledged and celebrated Africa Day on the 25th of May. We did so, while at the same time insisting in our Ten Point Plan To Save Our Country, that South South Africa’s borders must be strictly controlled, and that illegal undocumented foreigners must be apprehended and deported to their countries of origin, in terms universally applicable international law.
It is very simple until it is practically legal and economically possible to have a united Africa without sovereign nation-states, there is no other sensible option, and thus sovereign African states exist, and internal migration law is applied and enforced by them. This is the case in our Southern African Development Community (SADC) neighbouring countries, and throughout the African continent. Let any South African try to enter any of these countries undocumented and illegally, and see what will happen: That South African will most certainly be apprehended, confined in a refugee camp, and deported within the shortest possible period of time.
Why on earth should the same application of international law not be applicable to the citizens of those countries equally so here in South Africa? Any argument trying to justify such a glaring discrepancy is devoid of any logic. Once one understands this, it becomes clear that no sophistry or so-called ideological contortions can replace the issue of simple law-and-order, that is universally applicable.
During the discussions in the Twitter Space there were a small minority of participants who tried to advance the argument that South Africa should countenance this fundamental contradiction, and flouting of international law, because fellow African countries supported our liberation struggle, and provided refugee status to members of the various South African liberation movements, and their liberation armies. However, the operative phrase is that refugee status was granted, and this was done in terms of international law.
The South Africans who fled South Africa, and went into exile, were never given free rein in any other country, including African countries. None of the South Africans in exile was ever treated outside the strict prescripts of international migration laws that regulate refugee status. No South African exile was allowed to work and freely participate in the economies of those countries. Nor were they allowed to leave the refugee camps in which they were confined, except in the instances where they applied (again in terms of internal migration and refugee law) to leave any camp for a strictly defined period of time, and were given a permit to do so.
It is a total romanticisation to create the erroneous impression that South African exiles could do as they wished, and had freedom of movement in any other country. Ask all South Africans who were in exile, and they will tell you that without exception this was never the case, and that the law was extremely strictly applied to them. Any South African exile who, for whatever reason, did not comply with the strict controls imposed on them, in terms of their refugee status, was harshly dealt with.
There are numerous examples of South Africans who have failed to comply, having been severely physically assaulted, shot, and very quickly deported. I do not understand why we should now fairy tales, and lie, about what really happened. Nor can it be justified that South Africa must now supposedly disregard international law, and treat illegal undocumented foreigners leniently, while other African countries never did so.
May I conclude where I started with this article: Over an above the unassailable legal reasons with regard to the implementation of international law we cannot – and should not – allow any undocumented foreigners free rein in our country, because we simply do not have the resources and infrastructure to provide for the extra burden of millions on illegal foreigners, utilising and consuming our scarce resources.
The harsh fact is that our economy is under severe strain, we have the highest unemployment rate in the world, and the biggest inequality gap between the rich and the poor. Allowing millions of illegal undocumented foreigners free movement and economic participation in our very fragile, and resource-strapped country will destroy any hope to economically empower South African citizens, and will eventually doom us to total economic collapse, and become a permanently failed state.
That is a fate too ghastly to contemplate. To insist that this should not be allowed to happen is certainly not xenophobic, nor anti-African. It is simply common sense. It is on the basis of this understanding that ARETA will not waver in our insistence that our borders must be strictly controlled, and that illegal undocumented foreigners must be deported forthwith.
There is really no other reasonable solution if we want to give our nation a chance to rebuild our economy, and to save ourselves from the deep abyss that we are now staring down.
Ambassador Carl ‘Mpangazitha’ Niehaus is the President of the African Radical Economic Transformation Alliance (ARETA).