As I see it: in the years to come, we’re going to look back on xenophobia in the same way that we look at racism, sexism, anti-semitism and homophobia.
It’s one of the remaining bastions of “legitimate” prejudice – whereby it’s “okay” to shut people out purely due to the geographic accident of their birth. In South Africa, you can also burn immigrant homes, loot their shops, and anoint them and their children with necklaces of burning tyres for the terrible crime of their birthplace.
But you don’t need to look at the atrocity.
I’m also an immigrant to South Africa. And while I have to pay tax in South Africa as though I were a full resident (for over a decade, I might add), and while I have to contribute to the national Unemployment Insurance Fund every month:
- For any job application, I can only be hired when there are no other South Africans that fill the requirements for that position. And the employer has to prove to the Department of Home Affairs that I am literally the last person on their list of potential applicants before the Department will agree to even consider granting a permit.
- I can never claim unemployment benefits, despite my contributions.
- I don’t have real access to credit.
- I can’t vote.
- I can’t change jobs without applying for a new permit.
- I’m completely subject to the whims of immigration regulations over which I have no voting power.
- Every time I have to reapply for a new temporary residence permit, it costs somewhere in the region of R15,000 a pop. And that’s a pure cash cost – none of the opportunity cost of my time (permit applications take up weeks of working hours, arranging multiple police clearances, medical reports, radiological reports, the list is almost endless).
- That permit application process can take as long as the Department of Home Affairs chooses to take with it.
- And if they take too long, and my permit expires, I’m automatically declared “undesirable” (their words), and I’d be banned from entering South Africa for a minimum of 18 months.
- At any time, after over a decade of living and contributing, regulations could change again, and I would have to leave my life and my home at a moment’s notice.
There is no justification for it.
The whole notion of immigration control began with America trying to shut out the waves of Chinese immigrants in the 1880s. For almost all of human history, men were free to move from place to place. But in the last 150 years, slowly but surely, each country has closed its borders and created areas where certain people are allowed and welcomed, and areas for the unwanted immigrant leeches.
How is that any different to a racist policy of segregation?
And before anyone ascends their haughty horses and declares that these immigrants are stealing their jobs and taking their money (as though, somehow, they have a pre-emptive right to those things because they were born somewhere privileged and the immigrant was not), here is an picture:
According to the last World Bank datasets available:
- Immigrants and local South Africans might send out $643 million a year into the world; but
- South African immigrants send back over $1 billion each year.
Because, South Africa, you too have sent your people out across the world. And they are sending you back far more than you are losing.
Should the world necklace them?