Sunday 6 July 2014

Has immigration reform in the Republic of South Africa been motivated by hatred of foreigners?

Has immigration reform in the Republic of South Africa been motivated by hatred of foreigners?

Are the new visa requirements being placed upon foreigners intent upon entry into South Africa: a government attempt to accommodate xenophobia, or a reasonable attempt to secure our borders?

A few years ago the hunting industry were up in arms, releasing a bugle call through their accomplice, the media, in a desperate attempt to stave off South Africa’s still standing new firearms regulations. The industry claimed that the economy would lose at least a billion from its important GDP (gross domestic product) figures. The regulations went ahead nonetheless. South Africa very seldom bases its policy upon the interests of the various business or society lobbies.

With major international movies and television series being shot significantly, or largely, or exclusively in the Republic of South Africa, the entertainment industry, especially in the Western Cape, has seen a major boon. Like Costa Rica or Canada: South Africa had set itself apart as a cheap and easy place to film a major production, especially those set elsewhere. International actors could be quickly flown in and paid in full for the scenes they shot. Unlike Canada, where a good portion of actors have to be local, international companies seem to prefer to avoid the South African distinctive accent. For these filmings to continue we are told: these international companies should be able to continue fully importing their labour force, and merely using South Africa as staging ground. Perhaps then South Africans could have hundreds of thousands of jobs, feeding and serving these foreign actors. After all, international productions still do need lowly paid extras in nonspeaking roles and uncredited stagehands to ensure everything goes smoothly.

Just as was the case when the hunting industry made a call to arms: it is highly unlikely that the government will listen to the concerns of the film industry. The government has their own researchers and their own economists. It is rare for the government to rely on outsiders to make their decisions. Granted, South Africa is a participatory democracy. The government certainly must take account of the views of industry and civil society, but it is generally the case that the government goes with its own research. It is unlikely that any amount of campaigning will cause the government to about turn, even if hundreds of thousands of lowly paid jobs are lost.

America and Britain, similarly, have very strict visa restrictions. South Africa, previously known for the weakness or liberal status of its immigration laws has been ideal for international film corporations, who like to ship actors in at the last minute in accordance with a tight and dynamic schedule.

South Africa faces very few external threats that its intelligence organisations have not been able to snuff out quietly and effectively. What it also faces is status as a nation sometimes called the America of Africa. Immigrants from across the theatres of war which have overcome large parts of the continent, in hope to find sanctuary and safe harbour in a nation once only known as a harbour for ships: have been swift to latch onto low-paying jobs. They have always been quick as well to apply for government benefits that many South Africans did not know existed. Among the results has perhaps been the deep xenophobia that a plurality of South Africans have been diagnosed with. Most black South Africans according to recent surveys: have a deeply negative view of non-South-African Africans. This is especially so among those who struggle to eke out an un-lavish existence in rural areas and shantytowns. These people directly compete with refugees, and migrants seeking the betterment of their lives, from a place South Africans call ‘Africa’ or ‘Up North’.

Most of the temporary immigrants who come to South Africa to film are not from Africa but from Europe and America. Some critics have pointed out that simply applying stricter visa regulations to immigrants from Africa: would prevent the movie industry experiencing massive losses.

There is very little xenophobia among South Africans for people from anywhere but Africa. The same regulations in their laxity which have allowed the film industry to blossom: have also been a godsend for destitute refugees fleeing to South Africa.

As I have stated many times: GDP is a false indicator. Lumping all parts of a population together, and counting the wins of a small part as though they were the wins of all the population: is an artificial measure. Likewise: jobs which are lost are sometimes somehow replaced with better jobs.

It is easier for us who do not compete with foreigners for low-paying entry-level jobs: to condemn the xenophobia of those who do, and it is those who are best off in the economy who have the least proportional demographic of xenophobic individuals. We might well compete with foreigners on an international level. However, competition relates to something where one person bests another. That is to say that the person who is better at a thing or can do it cheaper succeeds over another who is less of an asset to those who consume the services of these individuals, while the less efficient, less cost saving or less effective competitor fails. The South African government did not step in to save the textile industry, when it allowed cheap imports from China and similar massive job losses were incurred. The government did not step in to save the hunting industry and the sports weaponry industry when it introduced new gun regulations.

South Africa is struck by a unique dilemma: to compete with other destinations for the filming of international media productions: these productions must hire foreign staff who are brought in through easy visas. Competition will always exist for South Africa. South Africans cannot do the jobs of these foreigners to the satisfaction of the foreign film companies. These visa restrictions make it harder for these productions to hire foreigners. As a result of which the industry believes it will fail. The industry does not believe that South Africans could do the same job as these foreigners do. It is therefore begging the government to allow foreigners to take jobs in South Africa: because it does not believe that if South Africans had to be relied upon as the labour pool for these organisations: that the industry could compete with other international destinations.

The industry has a very free-market approach as opposed to the protectionism that a visa affords. Ultimately a visa is almost always a protectionist measure. A government does not desire its own citizens to have to compete with the best in the world. As a result such a country becomes less competitive on the global scale and less attractive to business.

It is highly likely that the government is seeking to combat things such as human trafficking, drug smuggling, and many other criminal enterprises. It is equally likely that the government desires at least some of the roles of productions filmed in South Africa to be removed from foreigners who are brought in and that the desire of those in power is for these jobs to be placed in South African laps.

The argument of industry is ultimately this: international productions would not want to film in South Africa if they were forced to use South African actors. The visa regulations are likely largely in response to the massive rise in xenophobic attacks across South Africa. When lives are at stake in the mind of the government, a couple of job losses usually take a secondary position of importance. Whether the easy influx of foreigners and deeply liberal immigration laws of South Africa are the reason for the xenophobic attacks, or whether an alleged culture of violence and a deficit in the devotion of resources to security forces and to those engaged in policing are to blame: the new visa requirements no doubt will be welcomed most gleefully among the poorer parts of South Africa who have seen jobs they once made a living out of being taken by desperate foreigners who would do their job for far less.

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