The inhumane and degrading treatment of African foreign nationals is a threat to democracy and freedom in South Africa, Home Affairs Minister Naledi Pandor said on Thursday.
“Our brothers and sisters on the African continent played an important role in the achievement of democracy and freedom in South Africa,” she said in a speech prepared for delivery in Pretoria for World Refugees Day.
“They extended hospitality and asylum to many of our exiled leaders and their families during the oppression of apartheid.”
She said Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Angola, Lesotho, Zambia, Tanzania, and Botswana paid an “even higher price” for supporting the anti-apartheid struggle.
“Many of their citizens perished in raids into their territories by the apartheid security forces.”
She said using force or threats of violence to resolve grievances in South Africa was unacceptable.
“Anti-immigrant violence is inseparable from the evil of racism. The insidious nature of rising levels of ethnicism in our society is another cause for concern.
“We need to re-commit to the non-racialism we believed in during the days of our struggle against apartheid. We need to teach our young people to recognise bias, intolerance, and racism and arm them with the skills to combat these forms of discrimination.”
She said more needed to be done to teach people the value of diversity and the advantages of living with people from different cultures.
“We will not shirk our responsibilities under our refugee law or international conventions. South Africa remains one of the most liberal countries in regard to the benefits asylum seekers and refugees are allowed in our country.”
In South Africa, refugees and asylum seekers could move freely, work and enjoy basic services, Pandor said.
“It is true that we do not grant refugee status easily. Show me a country that does. But we do take longer than we should in determining refugee status.
“We are taking steps to process applications more efficiently and fairly.
We are reviewing our procedures and implementing a fast-track capacity to process application status.”
Her department was working with international organisations to strengthen partnerships so “durable” solutions could be found for problems affecting refugees. South Africa was always open to refugees.
“Because we understand the importance of family and we understand the pain of losing the support and security of a family,” she said.
“I would like to reassure refugees here today of our admiration and support for [their] strength and resilience in the face of huge adversity.” – Sapa