Immigration: pastures not so green.

Author:Commey, Pusch
Position:South Africa

With first world infrastructure, natural beauty, well-functioning systems and institutions, a good economy and democratic governance, there are various reasons why immigrants choose to come to or even settle in South Africa. The streets of Johannesburg, for example, have become a veritable Tower of Babel boasting all forms of language. But as Pusch Commey reports, the melting pot that South Africa is purported to be, is actually not so great when it comes to the thorny issue of hostility towards African immigrants.

It had been in the pipeline for some time. And when it became the law of the land, it sparked consternation. But since the end of apartheid, South Africa has become an attractive destination for immigrants from all over the world, but more so from neighbouring southern African countries. A new amendment to the Immigration Act of 1994 had to be enacted to meet changing circumstances.

Europeans and Americans have found cities like the picturesque Cape Town ideal for retirement and leisure. Then there have been Asians coming mostly from China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, and Thailand, many of whom have found a niche in business, mostly in the retail, restaurant and entertainment sectors.

However, the largest group of immigrants to South Africa comes from within Africa, either as economic migrants, professionals, refugees or students. Well represented are Zimbabweans, Somalians, Ethiopians, Congolese, Mozambicans, Malawians and Nigerians.

But it is in the melting pot of the City of Gold, as the migrants' preferred city--Johannesburg--is nicknamed, that one finds significant numbers of people from every country in Africa, Anglophone, Francophone or Lusophone, apart from those from other parts of the world too. It is not surprising to meet

Egyptians, Ivorians, Liberians and Senegalese living on the same street. There have even been cases of inter-marriages between different migrant nationalities.

Sadly however, amid this melee, the widely reported episodes of xenophobic violence against foreigners has given South Africa the bad name of being an anti-immigrant nation. But the reasons behind xenophobia run deep. In 2007, random attacks on foreigners led to the death of more than 40 people some of whom turned out to be Southern African foreigners who were accused of taking jobs, housing and even women from the locals. The high unemployment rate in South Africa has always fuelled this perception although most foreigners are self-employed.


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