Friday, 24 February 2017

Speaking to Redi Tlhabi and Kieno Kammies on radio on the same day - a first!

Today I drove from Cape Town to Johannesburg and had the unusual experience of phoning in to Cape Talk and Talk Radio 702 at either ends of my journey and going on air on both stations!

I tuned in as Kieno was speaking to Keet van Zyl from Knife Capital, one of SA's leading venture capital and business accelerator firms. They were discussing the budget and why the Department of Small Business Development did not seem to be getting any traction from its R3,9 billion budget. I pointed out to Kieno that this was its three year budget but did not have time to mention it represents only 0,1% of total government spending, which says a lot about government's commitment - or lack of - to small businesses.

I did mention the important Red Tape Impact Assessment Private Member's Bill my colleague Henro Kruger has tabled in Parliament, and the disappointing news that government has reneged on its promise to match the R1,5 billion funding committed by the private sector through the CEO Initiative established last year under the guidance of none other than the Minister of Finance.

Kieno said he would invite me into the studio soon to further ventilate these issues, which I look forward to very much. It will give me an opportunity to explain why the ANC is failing in its SME policies and programme implementation, what the DA is doing differently where we govern, and what we would do as the national government.

Then, 9 hours later, as I was approaching the Vaal River, I heard Redi talking about the horrendous outbreak of violence in Pretoria these past few days, which most rational people will know has its origin in anti-foreigner sentiments amongst the perpetrators. She played the statement by President Zuma, who said the violence was motivated by protest against crime, and was not xenophobic, which she questioned, and rightly so.

But then in a conversation with Sharon Ekambaram from Lawyers for Human Rights, she quoted statistics which suggested the number of foreigners in this country had actually dropped from around 1,6 million in the mid 1990s. It was this that prompted my call.

I mentioned I had been a member of the Parliamentary Ad Hoc Committee Probing Violence Against Foreign Nationals, set up to investigate the last flare up of violence with seeming xenophobic motivations in early 2015.

I related how the Committee had received a presentation from Minister in the Presidency, Jeff Radebe, in which he stated there were approximately 5 million foreigners in SA, of which around half were here illegally.

Redi took issue with this, saying her figures came from Stats SA and that government should check its figures. After a bit of toing and froing we agreed that the true number was probably somewhere between the two.

I then said it did no good for President Zuma to deny the existence of xenophobia amongst some South Africans, mainly those living in townships and rural areas who compete for scare resources with foreigners living there. She agreed, before ending the discussion as the time was approaching 6 pm, the end of her show.

What came out very clearly in the Committee's final report was the ANC members' similar denialism about the existence of xenophobia among certain segments of our society. The reason is clear - government does not want to take responsibility for our porous borders, police and other government officials' complicity in criminal activity, and its failure to enforce bylaws.

The ANC members also objected to the DA's recommendation (my colleague Sej Motau sat on the Committee with me) that xenophobia be declared a hate crime. Our reasoning was this would get to the core motivations for the perpetration of certain crimes, rather than blanketing them in the vague category of criminality.

Joburg Mayor Herman Mashaba has come in for a lot of flak for his recent comments on illegally occupied buildings and other unlawful activities, often perpetrated by foreign nationals in SA without the proper permits. His retort is that he is bound to uphold the law, quite justifiably so.

It is my sincerest hope that an honest and constructive discussion can be had on this important issue, where facts are presented and solutions debated. Many so-called foreign nationals arrived in South Africa due to persecution in their home countries, seeking sanctuary and better opportunities here.

We should do all we can to process genuine applications expeditiously and fairly, including those wishing to start a business and create jobs, while refusing entry to those without good cause to stay here. At the same time, once here, these individuals must conform to the norms and standards of citizens of our country enshrined in our laws.

South Africa has benefited from the migration of skilled, energetic and law-abiding people from all over the world, including the recent wave from Africa and further afield. It is our duty to help them integrate into our society while ensuring fair treatment for their host communities on a level playing field.

I expect the airwaves, social media and newsprint will be full of it in the coming days and weeks, but the law enforcement agencies must be allowed to do their job and deal with illegality, whatever its origin and cause.

Our Shadow Minister of Home Affairs Haniff Hoosen issued this statement today which places our position on this issue on record.

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