By Beaven Dhliwayo
Like other parts of the globe, Zimbabwe today commemorates International Migrants’ Day, a day meant to enhance mechanisms that protect refugees and people on the move.
Since time immemorial, migration has been viewed as a brave expression of the individual’s will to overcome hardship and the zeal to better their lives.
Now, due to rapid globalisation coupled with improvements in communications and transport, it has been made easier for many people to move to other countries in search of greener pastures.
Lately, the concept of migration has attracted global attention, making it one of the hottest topics due to racism in many countries across the globe.
Mixed with elements of unforeseen phenomena, emergencies and other complexities, the challenges and difficulties of international migration require enhanced cooperation and collective action among countries and regions.
This new era has created challenges and opportunities for societies throughout the world.
It also has served to underscore the clear linkage between migration and development, as well as the opportunities it provides for co-development, that is, the concerted improvement of economic and social conditions in both countries of origin and destination.
For the protection of migrants, the United Nations (UN) is actively playing a catalystic role, with the aim of creating more dialogues and interactions within countries and regions, as well as propelling experience exchange and collaboration opportunities.
In Africa, the UN should also see to it that a wave of xenophobic attacks that occurred in South Africa from the early 2000s are addressed, as it is now a problem of the African continent.
The world witnessed black-owned businesses being looted and destroyed while several lives were lost.
What continues to be worrying is that despite the xenophobic attacks happening at sporadic intervals, the South African government and its police force appear to be impotent to solve this problem once and for all.
On the other hand, some commentators in South Africa place part of the blame for the violence on foreign criminals.
Those responsible for previous waves of xenophobic violence in South Africa, including the 2008 violence that left 62 foreign nationals dead and the attacks against foreign truck drivers earlier this year, have rarely faced any penalties for their crimes.
Most worrying on its part, the South African government does have records that show data on persecution or threats against foreign nationals.
Reports show that 70 percent of foreigners in South Africa are from Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Mozambique, while the remaining 30 percent are from Malawi, Eswatini, Namibia, India and other countries.
Despite the reluctance of South Africa to collect data and monitor xenophobia, the African Centre for Migration and Society (ACMS) has been doing so since 1994.
Through ACMS’ Xenowatch tracker, data is collected from media reports and also from observers, victims and activists.
According to the tracker, violent attacks peaked in 2008 and again in 2015.
Data for this year’s attacks show that the number of attacks nearly reached the 2015 levels.
In 2008, attacks against refugees and migrants saw more than 60 people killed and thousands displaced. Fast forward to 2015, similar violent attacks occurred and the worst affected cities were Johannesburg and Durban.
That same year, the South African government launched an initiative that was meant to raise public awareness on the effects of xenophobic attacks on the country, as well as to improve access to services for victims of discrimination.
Although this was a noble move, xenophobic attacks are still common in South Africa as evidenced by the recent September 2019 bouts.
What the South African government needs to do now is to first publicly acknowledge that attacks on foreign nationals are xenophobic.
Politicians in South Africa regularly complained that the influx of foreigners was a burden on their jobs and the health sector, among other basic needs.
After accepting that this form of violence is xenophobic regardless of the motivations of such, the police should thoroughly investigate, arrest and bring to justice the attackers.
If perpetrators are not held to account for their evil deeds, then others will not be discouraged from continuing the cycles of xenophobic violence.
This International Migrants Day, President Cyril Ramaphosa and his administration should join the rest of the world and start prioritising the safety of foreigners and guarantee their security.
Harsh penalties should be imposed on attackers to deter others from continuing the vicious cycle of xenophobic violence.
It is clear that the recurrent occurrence of xenophobia is caused by lack of effective policing to protect foreign nationals and their businesses.
What should be clear to South Africa is that xenophobia threatens African economies, as well as their moral standing.
Businesses both from the continent and outside feel threatened because people are wary of investing in a hostile environment and risk losing their properties to looters.
On the other hand, xenophobia contravenes the spirit of pan-Africanism, especially its laudable ideal that Africans share a mutual bond regardless of their geographical location.
If this continues, African economies will crumble, hence South Africa should reclaim its role in the African renaissance.
To boost the future economies of the continent, there is need to embrace the spirit of pan-Africanism, moored in the African philosophy of ubuntu.
Using the spirit of ubuntu, as adopted by African leaders and diplomats, for political expediency should be a thing of the past.
Today, as nations celebrate International Migrants Day, pan-Africanism should be a call to self-introspection with the aim to make it a lived daily experience for the societal good.
The UN and African Union should help Africa achieve this noble cause which is capable of boosting the continent’s economies.
Without unity, even the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), which has the potential to raise intra-African trade by 15 percent to 25 percent, or from US$50 billion to US$70 billion, by 2040, will be just a dream.
It is imperative to shape the characters of the youths across the continent to make them understand that human co-existence is not a function of nationality, but of humanity.
Going forward, nations should encourage collaboration between institutions and stakeholders working on migration issues to highlight that the phenomenon is crucial for development, and that it is a global issue which cannot be ignored.