Caution or xenophobia? Navigating the human trafficking issue in SA

It's not controversial to believe that desperation and poverty breeds crime and around Africa, and that desperation and poverty are hardly a scarcity across the continent. In South Africa, we generally have it better than most so it's no wonder that South Africa would attract people from the rest of Africa. Are those coming through the borders predisposed to a life of crime? Are they poor and desperate? Are they happy to profiteer on the good that's left in South Africa? That's probably true of some, but looking at Twitter, one wouldn't be blamed for believing that South Africans seemingly...
It's not controversial to believe that desperation and poverty breeds crime and around Africa, and that desperation and poverty are hardly a scarcity across the continent.

In South Africa, we generally have it better than most so it's no wonder that South Africa would attract people from the rest of Africa.

Are those coming through the borders predisposed to a life of crime? Are they poor and desperate? Are they happy to profiteer on the good that's left in South Africa? That's probably true of some, but looking at Twitter, one wouldn't be blamed for believing that South Africans seemingly believe this of all foreigners, especially when it's seen to result in human trafficking.

Let's get it straight, even if a disproportionate number of trafficking cases are linked to a country like Nigeria, it wouldn't automatically translate into all Nigerians being traffickers, nor would it translate into all trafficking cases being linked to Nigeria. The same could be said of any country by the way.

It's not like all South Africans are angels though, and it would be folly to pretend that all serious crime is perpetrated by foreigners. The numbers simply don't add up and the manifestation of xenophobia does sometimes lead to crime itself, which is rather telling.

But the desire to impose blame and disdain on somebody is strong, and given even a small potential to do so is enough incentive, it's not surprising that this is what we're seeing today. Why? Because all the incentive is there.

From a legal perspective, it's a rather open secret that South Africa's borders are rather open themselves. Perhaps not in the way that one can walk across but with the under-resourced and over-burdened asylum seeker process the way that it is, you would expect some bad results. How bad? We're talking about known corruption in the system, extensions of 6 months at a time going on for over a decade, and simply a lack of any visible enforcement.

One need only spend a few moments at a refugee reception office to witness the chaos and abuse of the system.

Given that this is known, it's easy for a lazy mind to simply conclude that all foreigners have gamed the system and when gaming the system is compounded with perceived success, you're bound to make an envious enemy or two.

So can it be prevented?

It would be tedious and difficult to justify kicking a person out after keeping them on waiting list limbo for years. It may even be unethical. There are simply too many loose ends that make the process evil.

What about kids born to foreigners in South Africa? What about businesses set up in the meantime? What about marriage and how is the abuse of that prevented? All of these issues and many more build over time and make it increasingly difficult to apply the correct filters to the process.

Again, South Africans may see this and express anger, even if the anger is no more warranted than that of a racist.

The point is that it is present. Addressing the anger seems to translate as a capitulation to the evil. In other words, people may say that if you do something to satisfy the xenophobes, you're giving in to xenophobia but that need not be the case.

One can address the causes of the evil to prevent the evil manifesting.

Sure, you're not going to be able to go into peoples' homes and lie in wait to hear if they say something xenophobic before arresting them. Inability to adequately address what is said and done in homes is not an excuse to address what is said and done in the streets.

Fortunately, this is possible. Foreigners have something to add to South Africa but the manner in which South Africa compels them to operate creates a lot of hatred.

If we review the system properly, shore up the refugee intake system so that limbo lingering is brief, and create a more prudent channel for economic migration, then rid both systems of corruption, we could have a pretty strong thing going.

Before any of that happens though, we should take a long hard look at ourselves and ask why it is that we want to put South Africans first and how that would look. I bet you every answer will come back as some form of foreigners are committing crimes that South Africans aren't committing and taking jobs we never had to begin with.

Oh and you know what would be a better way of addressing crime? Catching the criminals and prosecuting them to the helm.

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