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October 2008, Volume 15, Number 4

South Africa: Riots, Policy

At least 62 people, a third of them South Africans, were killed in anti-immigrant violence in May-June 2008, prompting 20,000 foreigners to move into tent camps around Johannesburg for protection. Migrants from Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and Congo bore the brunt of the attacks, but Somalis and Ethiopians were also targeted, probably because they often operate shops in the informal settlements occupied by the poorest black South Africans and many immigrants.

By August 2008, many of the displaced migrants were complaining about their treatment at the hands of the South African government, which initially asked South Africans to treat their "African brothers" with respect but later asked migrants living in the camps to register in order to receive six-month temporary permits. Camps set up to protect migrants were closed in mid-August, prompting complaints from some migrants that they had no where to go because their houses had been destroyed.

South Africa signed the 1951 Geneva Convention, but migrant advocates say the South Africa government is slow to process applications for asylum. Some 46,000 foreigners applied for asylum in 2007. Opinion polls suggest that most South Africans do not welcome immigrants.

Credible estimates of the number of irregular migrants in South Africa range from 500,000 to one million. Most are Zimbabweans who become irregular after they enter South Africa with visitor visas and overstay. There may be 500,000 Zimbabweans in South Africa, although some put the number at two million or more; Zimbabwe has about 14 million residents.

Policy. Surveys suggest that many adults from neighboring countries have worked in South Africa, over 80 percent of Lesotho adults, 30 percent of Mozambique adults, and 25 percent of Zimbabwe adults. Some were legally in South Africa on nine-month contracts to work in the mines; irregular migrants were often employed on commercial farms, in construction and as domestic workers.

The Employment Bureau of Africa (TEBA) reported that employment in South Africa mines fell from 200,000 in 1990, half of them foreigners, to a low of 100,000 between 1998-2001, when about 55 percent of mine workers were foreigners. Rising gold and platinum prices expanded mining employment to about 165,000 in 2006, but only 40 percent of mine workers were foreigners.

Apartheid ended in 1994, and South Africa has been grappling with migration from other African countries since. The Immigration Act of 2002, fully effective in 2005, eased the entry of skilled workers while stepping up efforts to locate and remove irregular migrants; 260,000 irregular migrants were removed in 2006.

One reason for the strong emphasis on migration control between 1994 and 2004 is that the Department of Home Affairs was the leader of the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) rather than a member of the ruling African National Congress (ANC). When the DHA bill was introduced, some unions pushed the ANC to be tougher on migration, and a proposal to establish independent immigration courts was dropped. The ANC took over leadership of the DHA in 2004.

A policy review underway in 2008 is expected to produce a new migration policy framework and legislation in 2009.

The 2001 census reported a million migrants in South Africa, including 688,000 from neighboring Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries and 228,000 from Europe. Immigrants continue to arrive at the rate of about 1,000 a month, including half from other African countries. However, the number of temporary work permits issued to foreigners declined from 4,000 a month in the mid-1990s to 1,000 a month in 2000, as the South Africa government told employers to train local workers.

The 15 SADC countries in 1995 drafted a protocol on free movement and in 1998 another on facilitation of movement. The IFP-led DHA opposed both, but now the ANC-led DHA signed a revised facilitation of movement protocol in 2004. The MHA has since 2004 moved to conclude free-movement agreements between South Africa and neighboring countries. DHA Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula has endorsed using migration to South Africa as a tool for the faster development of its neighbors.

In 2004, South Africa introduced the Joint Initiative for Priority Skills Acquisition (JIPSA) to make it easier for employers to hire skilled foreign workers while speeding up the training of South Africans to fill vacant jobs.

Economy. South Africa has a labor force of 18 million and an unemployment rate of 23 percent— the rate has been stable for the past several years. Almost 60 percent of the four million unemployed have been jobless a year or longer, and many jobless youth have never held a job.

Between 2004 and 2006, employment expanded by about 700,000 a year as the economy grew over five percent a year, but job growth slowed in 2008. South Africa, which has six percent of the 809 million people in sub-Saharan Africa, attracts 18 percent of the FDI that flows to sub-Saharan Africa.

South Africa changed its Labor Force Survey (LFS) in 2008 to remove 1.3 million subsistence farmers and others in the informal sector. The LFS was reduced from 140 to 79 questions, and discouraged job seekers were defined as those who do not have a job for three reasons— there are no jobs in the area, no jobs at the appropriate skill level, or the respondent has no hope of finding work.

South Africa had about 100,000 emigrants between 1990 and 2005, but the destinations of these South Africa emigrants reported 400,000 South Africa arrivals; "packing for Perth" is the phrase often used to denote plans to emigrate. Many professionals, especially minorities, seem dis-satisfied in South Africa and hope to leave. Health minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang told Parliament in June 2008 that South Africa had a shortage of 40,000 nurses, including 11,000 vacancies in Kwazulu Natal.

Several organizations try to persuade South Africans who have left the country to return. Moving companies report that Homecoming Revolution and the Come Back Home Campaigns are successful, with 150 South Africans returning from the UK for every 100 who moved to the UK in 2008. The government's Global South African campaign enlists the Diaspora to help accelerate South Africa development.

There are about 38 million Blacks in South Africa, almost five million whites, and almost five million colored and Asian residents. White South Africans of British descent (up to the third generation) have the right to move to the UK.

In August 2008, strikes called by the two-million strong Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), an ally of the ruling ANC, brought mines and factories to a standstill. Unions are complaining that some workers are being laid off because of a lack of electricity.

The ANC-controlled government has since 1994 tried to transfer wealth to South Africans via a Black Economic Empowerment policy. Instead of creating a "rainbow middle class," BEE has mostly benefited a handful of ANC-connected Blacks, many of whom borrow money to buy shares of firms so that firms can bid on government contracts. However, with the shares acting as the collateral for the loans, sharp drops in the stock market threaten Black partners, who may walk away as some did after stock markets fell sharply in 1997-98.

South Africa wants to have 30 percent of its arable farm land in the hands of Blacks by 2014, some 24.6 million hectares. Land redistribution is being done by buying farm land and transferring it to Blacks; about 4.8 million hectares had been transferred in this way by 2008. Rising commodity prices raise land values and make land redistribution more expensive; the government says that it must pay R55,000 a hectare for sugar cane land and up to R100,000 ($11,800) a hectare for orchards and vineyards, although it has budgeted only R4,000 ($475) an acre to buy land for transfer.

South Africa plans to be the first African country to host the World Cup in 2010, a soccer sporting event expected to draw 400,000 foreign visitors. South Africa had over nine million foreign visitors in 2007.

Botswana. Botswana, which gained its independence from the UK in 1966, discovered diamonds in 1967. DeBeers began mining them in 1971, and by 1990 diamond, manganese and copper mines controlled by De Beers accounted for 50 percent of the country's economic output. DeBeers and the Botswana government are jointly praised for avoiding the natural resources curse, which can strike when money from oil, gold, or other natural resources earned by outsiders enriches only a small elite often associated with bad governance.

Botswana in 2006 had an average per capita gross national income of $6,000, more than the $5,400 in South Africa, raising the question of how much to credit DeBeers's corporate social responsibility for Botswana's development. DeBeers Botswana operations are a 50-50 partnership with the government, and the firm built roads, schools and hospitals for its workers that are also used by non-employees.

De Beers has offices around the world that buy rough stones; the firm controls supply in order to keep diamond prices high. However, diamonds are not scarce, and DeBeers inventory rose just as Canadian and so-called "blood diamonds" began to enter the market in the late 1990s. De Beers responded by ending its efforts to buy third-party diamonds and focused on increasing demand rather than controlling supply. De Beers supported the Kimberley Process to dry up the supply of blood diamonds.

Robyn Dixon, "Global turmoil threatens South Africa effort to create a black middle class," Los Angeles Times, October 11, 2008.