Townships’ problem ‘isn’t foreigners, it’s gangs’
Panel of xenophobia experts challenges the idea that migrants and refugees are straining township economies
While crime, unemployment and inadequate service delivery are sometimes blamed on the arrival of foreigners in SA, a panel of migration experts has challenged this idea, saying city governance is the root of such problems.
In townships, they said, the role of gangs was key. “This is an issue of township governance, this is an issue of the fact that of our townships are run by gangsters,” said Loren Landau, chair of the African Centre for Migration and Society at Wits University.
Others on a panel debating migration and xenophobia at the Scalabrini Centre in Cape Town included Popo Mfubu, a lawyer with the refugee rights unit at the University of Cape Town, Scalabrini’s head of advocacy Sally Hurt and child protection officer Sindisiwe Moyo.
They were anticipating an increase in xenophobia leading up to the May 8 election.
Mfubu noted that while SA’s refugee laws were progressive, poor implementation and the difficulty of accessing the correct processes had left many refugees undocumented.
In addition, amendments to the law that had not yet come into effect would make it even harder for migrants to be legalised.
“There are always challenges in implementation, so the manner in which the South African government, in particular home affairs, implements the Refugees Act, is the problem,” he said.
The closure of the Cape Town refugee office had resulted in many migrants remaining undocumented, creating more hardships for them.
Landau challenged the idea that an overabundance of immigrants and refugees was straining township economies, and he said politicians would not gain political leverage from taking a xenophobic stance.
They were more likely to profit by addressing the impact of gangs in townships. “Our townships are run by gangsters, and sometimes they attack foreigners, sometimes they attack gays, and sometimes they attack other groups they don’t like,” he said.
Sally Hurt, head of advocacy at Scalabrini, said similar resentments were to be found in the area of health services.
“When we start seeing this destructive narrative about people burdening the healthcare system, we have to start thinking about it in terms of how the healthcare system works,” she said.
Scalabrini research had shown migrants who came to SA were generally healthy, and did not come to seek health care. They paid for the services in the same way as South Africans.
The lack of planning for services was a government failure that meant the system was under strain, said Hurt, not just from migrants but also from the movement of South Africans. These internal migrants accounted for much more additional need than that caused by foreigners.