The relations between South Africa and its neighbours have come a long way, in a partnership forged during the struggle era.
Many provided refuge, shelter and some military training to soldiers of uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK) and the Azania People’s Liberation Army (Apla). This enabled them, especially MK, to make their manoeuvres into and out of South Africa for targeted attacks against the apartheid regime.
It was a sacrifice and risk by these states because they suffered retaliation by the white Pretoria regime for harbouring so-called “terrorists”.
Some, like Angola and Mozambique, had to make costly compromises at the expense of their credibility.
They signed agreements with the regime — the Nkomati Accord with Mozambique and the 1988 Tripartite Agreement conditional for granting of independence to Namibia, leading to the withdrawal of Cuban troops from Angola.
Subsequently, in the early ’90s, MK camps in Angola were dismantled with MK cadres being flown to Nigeria, much to the chagrin of then-ANC chief, Oliver Tambo.
Post-liberation was always expected to be payback time for South Africa. It’s blackmail indeed. It’s based on “look after us, we looked after you”. None cared to understand that the conditions were different.
They were different in that there was very little political migration (exiles) resulting from the suppression of the opposition in countries like Eswatini (Swaziland) under King Mswati III and Zimbabwe under Emmerson Mnangagwa. Therefore, there could be no justification for the mass exodus from these countries — especially Zimbabwe — after the regime change from Robert Mugabe to Mnangagwa.
Those who currently cross the borders into South Africa do so not for political reasons, but merely to seek greener pastures (for the educated) and economic survival (for the poor masses). Post-Mugabe, poverty and joblessness became the main causes for people in Zimbabwe to want to come to South Africa.
In the process, they also contribute to and complicated existing local problems such as the escalation of shacks in urban and peri-urban areas, crime, and competing for jobs with local masses. Off course, the locals also play a part in these problems.
The political principals in those countries have given up on ever being able to revive the economies of their countries. Having exploited or abused the resources they inherited, the leaderships there have thrown in the towel – as none have come up with strategies on how to stem the tide of an economic meltdown or even complete economic downfall in their backyards.
Their economies are dead – Zimbabwe’s in particular. The empty shops and the sky-high fuel price illustrate that. The little that is left is reserved for the benefit of the elite and their families. The elite shop in South Africa, Europe and the Far East, because there is nothing to buy in their country or things are too expensive for their liking.
Often, we hear of monies being stashed in Swiss bank accounts and billions flown to places like Dubai to prepare for future refuge, in case things go awry.
Many of the leaders in those countries hardly trust their own health systems – hence they would fly to the Far East to seek medical help when they or their families get sick.
Some of the governments in the neighbouring countries have decided to abdicate their responsibility to revive their economies by letting their citizens loose on South Africa. That way the citizens are not a burden on them but on another country, a nation with chaotic immigration laws. It’s like deliberately letting your cows loose to graze on your neighbour’s farmland at night and fetching them back at dawn so that they don’t die of hunger because you allowed your own land to go barren.
This has caused South African resources to be over-stretched. The country simply can’t cope with the numbers.
The fiscus, whether Tito Mboweni’s National Treasury likes it or not, is forced to budget for foreign nationals inside South Africa for Covid-19 and food parcels because they had become part of the health, education and social security systems — corruptly or legally.
The fact that, on 27 March, eSwatini declared a partial lockdown as a result of Covid-19, instead of a full lockdown like in South Africa, must be seen against this backdrop.
If it was a full lockdown, it would have meant Swazi citizens would not be able to travel to South Africa and therefore would starve within the country’s borders. So, the partial lockdown could be deliberate to ensure eSwatini’s economic survival as well as for its citizens in South Africa.
In a statement on Friday, the Communist Party of Swaziland (CPS) expressed concern that the Mswati regime had “failed to adequately track and test for the spread of the virus and therefore infections can hardly be measured”.
In fact, according to CPS, there is no national emergency or disaster coordinating committee in existence as a response to the pandemic. This undermined the impact of the virus on the population – a time-bomb for the tiny country.
Lesotho does not even talk about Covid-19, leaving the impression that the virus does not exist in the Mountain Kingdom. It is the same silent strategy employed by eSwatini.
The economies of these countries are negligible. Their relationships with South Africa are rather parasitic than mutually beneficial. Many Lesotho, Swaziland and Botswana citizens cross the borders monthly to access grants at neighbouring South African towns in the Free State, Eastern Cape, North West, etc.
This could be attributed to corrupt state officials who solicit bribes and compromise the systems at home affairs (IDs) and the rest of the state value chain.
For every ten children born at Gauteng public healthcare facilities, six are foreigners from fellow African countries. There are on average three foreign pupils in each former model C classroom at any given time. Foreign African professors are preferred for jobs in South African institutions of higher learning and on the boards of some top firms.
As a way to stem the tide of the “skip-the-border” exodus into the country, it is incumbent on South Africa to be proactive in finding solutions. It should rather help these nations grow their economies and create jobs for their citizens.
With land that was forcefully expropriated from whites in Zimbabwe (so-called land-grabs), South Africa must help with a strategy to till the land and empower people with agricultural skills, export products and create jobs. This and other strategies could return Zimbabwe into the SADC’s food basket it once was.
The Zimbabwean government ought to allow people to return home with their education and skills to help revive the country’s economy. This could be possible with the creation of a conducive environment for people to be free to go back home without fear.
Work is under way to stop some of the bad practices in South Africa. The department of employment and labour has initiated the capping of foreigners employed in certain sectors of the economy. Among the strict conditions, employers have to tell why a South African could not be hired for a particular job offered to a foreigner.
* Eric Naki is the political editor at The Citizen.
For more news your way, download The Citizen’s app for iOS and Android.