Can Xenophobic South Africans accept Ramaphosa's plans to open SA's borders to Africa?

Can Xenophobic South Africans accept Ramaphosa's plans to open SA's borders to Africa?

- President Cyril Ramaphosa and other African leaders have called for “open borders” for free trade and movement for Africans

- South Africans may not be open to the idea, given the recent xenophobic attacks that have plagued the country

- Politicians will need to lead the way in their commentary, if Africa is truly going to become open to free trade

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President Cyril Ramaphosa met with other African leaders on Human Rights Day to discuss the African Continental Free Trade Area, which will open South Africa's borders to the rest of the continent.

While various African nations came together in their numbers to sign two documents on free trade and movement, there are concerns that xenophobic attacks in South Africa will hinder the contracts.

44 countries signed the African Continental Free Trade Area agreement, while 43 signed the Kigali Protocol committing to working towards the changes.

“The easy movement of people across borders and countries should never be seen in a negative sense by us as South Africans.

“People, as they move, got something to contribute. And similarly when we move as South Africans, we move to other countries, we know that we have something to contribute, so let’s treat them like we want to be treated,” Ramaphosa said.

Professor Loren Landau from the Wits University African Centre for Migration and Society believes that while the concept of so-called “open borders” has been discussed, it will be more of a “short stay” accessibility.

“What I suspect will be implemented is visa free travel for short periods of time, i.e., not to work or establish residence. At least in the medium term.”

Landau said that system wouldn’t be that different to the way things currently work with Mozambique, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, and Botswana.

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There is, gathered, a potential open door for politicians to move even further towards the populist narrative regarding immigrants.

“What it may do is lend grist to the nationalist, populist mill. If politicians chose to make immigration a point of mobilisation – as they have increasingly begun to do – then this serves as a powerful rallying point.”

According to Landau, the overall “united Africa” policy presents a real potential to economically and politically empower Africans across the continent. The obstacles, however, may be too large to overcome.

“Changing demographics over the next decades will mean millions trapped in places where their economic prospects are minimal. Allowing them to move to more prosperous and secure spaces offers them possibilities and – if planned for – can bolster the continent’s economic prospects.

“That said, I think there are substantial obstacles that are unlikely to be overcome. These not only include nationalism in South Africa and elsewhere, but leaders keen to maintain sovereignty and European aid which is offering billions to limit African mobility.”

Landau said the South African government still has a lot of work to do to curb xenophobic violence.

He cites improved policing and better urban planning as the basis for ensuring that people have the resources they need.

With some South African politicians occasionally fueling the xenophobic rhetoric, all politicians will have to make changes to the comments they put out.

“However, as South African politics become more competitive – the incentive to mobilise support on communitarian grounds will only increase.”

Open African borders may take a while to truly become a reality.

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