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PRETORIA, APRIL 24 – Several representatives of immigrants on Friday requested President Jacob Zuma to intervene in efforts to regularise their stay and be integrated in the diverse South African community.
Zuma spent five hours in a meeting with the leaders of the imigrants’ organisations at the Sefako Makgatho Presidential Guesthouse in Pretoria following rampant incidents of xenophobic violence in the country.
Frank Ntwali of the Commission for Human Rights of Refugees said in his native Rwanda, democracy remains a mirage prompting millions to cross borders in search of security and safety.
“We come to South Africa to complain but we cannot do it in our own countries. When we heard that Malawi was sending buses to take its citizens, there was no bus for Rwandans,” said Ntwali.
“The Rwandans in Cape Town were jokingly saying from South Africa we move into the sea. We don’t come here simply because we have choices. In our countries it is a life and death situation.
Ntwali commended South Africa for its democratic rule and freedom of speech and expression, which he said was rare on the continent.
“In our countries, you criticise the government or anything and you are dead. You can’t have this luxury I see here in Parliament with the red berets and whoever talking. You are dead (if you do that) in the Great Lakes region,” said Ntwali.
Amir Sheikh, chairman of the Somali Community Board said South Africa carried the hope of the continent.
“I did not choose to go to Sandton, but I chose to go to Alexandra because I saw people with commonalities with me. We were received well and cannot perceive the people to be xenophobic after giving us a shelter when we sought it,” said Sheikh.
“They have given us a living when we did not have it. I came with nothing but today I am in the middle class. It is all because of my brothers and sisters in the townships and informal settlements.”
He warned that tightening border control and immigration rules would not hamper migration across the continent.
For those who are Pan African, South Africa is the country of choice. It is our hope. We have said to President (Zuma) you can turn the home affairs department from administration to security cluster, secure the borders but as Africans we know how to come in,” said Sheikh.
“We will be here, whether we get here by traveling beneath the surface. We requested the President to prepare to receive more of us and to treat us equally and in a dignified manner.”
The Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition’s Joy Mabenge said immigrants are suffering from unfair labour practices by South African businesses.
“It would be very important for the government of South Africa to ensure the standardisation of fair labour practices,” said Mabenge.
He said Zimbabwe contributes the biggest chunk of immigrants to South Africa – estimated in excess of two million people.
“It is then important for South Africa to consider the regularisation of those that may not been regularised. This will ensure that when they compete on the labour market, they don’t offer themselves cheaply.”
“We note and do appreciate that the South African government has extended the special dispensation on Zimbabweans. It is only 250,000 of us, from the 2, 5 million that are here,” said Mabenge.
Seven people were killed in recent weeks in South Africa during violent attacks targeted at immigrants from the continent.
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