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The dilemma of an African immigrant

trust-matsilelescaledTrust Matsilele is a political analyst and campaign strategist with over seven years’ experience. He has consulted for political parties in Senegal, Zimbabwe and Malawi on political communication. Matsilele has extensive experience as a political and business journalist; he has published articles in Forbes Africa magazine, CNBC Africa, Zimbabwe’s Sunday Mail among others. 


Being a foreigner could be one of the worst nightmares faced by many who leave their countries of origin to seek greener pastures in more privileged economies.

The pastures do not always end greener like in the case of Ernesto Nhamuave- headlined as`the burning man` and Emmanuel Sithole – `the man stabbed to death` in South Africa’s Alexandra Township.

There are many other cases where immigrants die in sea trying to reach Europe; these are only a few cases manage to get into mainstream media. For many their stories are never told. In all these cases – it’s the immigrant`s pursuit for better living conditions.

However, for many locals in South Africa and other countries with a high influx of immigrants, the immigration problem emanates from their countries’ failure to police borders.

South Africa, with a 25 per cent unemployment rate, has been battling to deal with anti-immigrant sentiment for years, with the middle-class and the poor accusing foreigners of stealing jobs and other money making opportunities.

South Africa has one of Africa’s most secure air and road ports. The border is patrolled by the South African National Defense Forces while police presence is felt from border to border.

In an effort to keep immigration in check, to enter South Africa, foreigners have to go through a number of checks by gate keepers, whilst illegal immigrants have to maneuver an electric fence and armed forces.

Legality prior employment is a fundamental challenge, employing an undocumented immigrant is in itself a criminal offense carrying a hefty penalty, so companies are nervous.

The country’s Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba, during a debate on the outbreak of violence on foreign nationals, recently said `…the Department of Home Affairs will be spending ZAR 118 million over the next three years recruiting Inspectors in order to increase its inspectorate capacity to detect and prosecute companies employing undocumented migrants, or those without work visas.`

“I think from 9/11 security has become the primary concern for most countries especially western countries, so most western states have been tightening their border controls. It is however different in Africa were borders are a combination of inadequate and outdated immigration laws, porous borders and corruption,” said Hong Kong-based security expert, Obert Hodzi.

Hodzi further warned that as far as dealing with terrorists, Southern Africa was still lax;

“Apart from east and west Africa were transnational terrorist groups have been active most parts of Africa especially in Southern Africa do not consider security seriously. You can see with the number of people who cross borders illegally in and out if most southern African countries.”

The tightening of South Africa’s visa system has also made it difficult for foreign nationals to access the country even as visitors or tourists.

According to tourist experts, the new restrictions on obtaining visas are already having a detrimental impact on tourism. Chinese arrivals to South Africa dropped 50 per cent in the last quarter of 2014 with India down 15 per cent.

By Trust Matsilele
Independent Journalist