New Zimbabwe.com

When migration is weaponised as a political tool

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By Wonder Hlongwa


DURBAN: The continuing influx of illegal immigrants into South Africa, their dominance of the informal economy, rampaging criminality including the hijacking of disused mines and buildings and aggravated rapes of South African women are clear signs of weaponised migration.

Weaponised migration occurs when challenging states or non-state actors exploit human migration – voluntary or forced – to achieve political, military, and/or economic objectives.

In all cases, the challenger weaponises migration by either strategically engineering the migration itself, or by exploiting migratory events under way.

Mapping the trends and identify underlying conditions that are precursors to weaponising migration against the South African state will enable military and other agencies to better develop strategies and mitigate vulnerabilities at strategic, operational, and tactical levels.

Human migration is becoming a viable weapon of many state and non-state actors to increase regional influence and objectives.

Throughout history, South Africa has been a magnet for economic migrants from Lesotho, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Congo, Ethiopia, Somalia, Malawi, Nigeria, and South Asia.

South Africa’s population census, in 2011, counted more than 2.2 million foreigners but since the majority are undocumented, this figure is far higher. The South African media and NGOs, have for far too long dismissed tensions on the ground as xenophobic.

But the recent gang rape of some eight women shooting a music video in Krugersdorp has amplified the calls by pressure groups such as Operation Dudula and Put South Africa First.

The silence of other SADC members is deafening, given the fact that most of those accused of these crimes are nationalities of the regional bloc.

Dozens of people including Mozambicans, Malawians, Zimbabweans, Basothos etc were arrested for illegally mining South African minerals and terrorising Krugersdorp communities. Not long ago a stretched SA Army patrolling the borders in a seemingly Sisyphean task of halting the flow of illegal immigrants apprehended illegal immigrants.

In March and April soldiers intercepted more Mozambicans and Zimbabweans than from any of the other four countries sharing South Africa’s 4 862km long land border, the latest available Joint Operations Division statistics for Operation Corona show. The number of Mozambicans – 1 774 – was 329 less than in March. In April, Zimbabweans numbered 1 574. This is 429 less than in March.

Other borders where illegal immigrants were halted are Lesotho (310 on the Eastern Cape border and 65 on the Free State border), North West/Botswana (22), Northern Cape/Namibia (14) and KwaZulu-Natal/eSwatini (4).

In April soldiers handed 3 763 illegal immigrants to police and immigration officials for deportation.

In this period over 30kg of copper was taken from smugglers attempting to move it into Lesotho from South Africa; and 26kg over the Limpopo/ Zimbabwe border.

Contraband, ranging from narcotics (mostly dagga) to liquor, cigarettes, clothing and footwear, were taken from smugglers attempting to access South African markets via all borders.

These statistics are only for one month and don’t mention counterfeit goods, narcotics etc smuggled into or outside of South Africa by Nigerian gangs, Bangladeshis, Somalis, Chinese and criminals of Caucasian origin.

History is awash with how state and non-state actors used human migration to achieve political, economic, or military objectives. While weaponising migration is not a new tactic, among examples are the British colonisation of North America, Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and Soviet attempts to influence Pakistani decision-making by driving Afghans to seek asylum across the Durand Line. Of course, the US is no stranger to utilising immigration as a means to achieve foreign policy objectives. In fact, the US utilised Cuban exiles when trying to overthrow Fidel Castro in the Bay of Pigs invasion.

Mass migration can work as a political tool. First, the sudden arrival of many newcomers can overwhelm housing, health-care and other resources. In South Africa, we are at a stage where the local population’s patience is at a boiling point, drastic measures need to be taken to avoid a catastrophe.

Hlongwa is a former journalist. Follow him on twitter @hlongwawonder4