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Joburg has a plan for migrants
07 October 2009

Executive mayor Amos Masondo and Bafana Sithole, portfolio head of community development, at the launch of the Johannesburg Migration Advisory Committee

The Johannesburg Migration Advisory Committee has been launched to look at concerns of migrants, and to help build a unified city.

MANY developing cities around the world have experienced rapid rates of urbanisation, and the City of Johannesburg is no exception. Each year its population swells as thousands of migrants, mainly from other parts of South Africa and Africa, move to the city.

Migrants stimulate the transfer of technology and capital, says Joburg's executive mayor Amos Masondo
Migrants stimulate the transfer of technology and capital, says Joburg's executive mayor Amos Masondo
These rapid rates of urbanisation have not been without their problems, with strains on infrastructure leading to various social problems, including animosity between locals and foreigners.

Johannesburg has recognised the positive part played by migrants in its economic wellbeing and has seen it fit to tackle the concerns associated with migration by establishing a body that looks at promoting integration of migrants across the city.

This body, the Johannesburg Migration Advisory Committee, was launched by Executive Mayor Amos Masondo on Tuesday, 6 October and is expected to come up with ways and means to ensure migrants become part of and contribute positively to the development of the city.

Addressing invited guests at the launch at the Klipriviersberg Recreation Centre in Kibler Park, Masondo said the City had not been sitting on its laurels concerning issues of migration. In December 2004, it had approved and adopted the Human Development Strategy, a move meant to build social cohesion among the migrant community.

To complement this, the City went on to develop a City-Support Strategy for migrants. This strategy, developed in the past 24 months, seeks to address poverty and inequality, and promote social inclusion.

In April 2007, Joburg established a Migrants' Helpdesk to help deal with some of the issues affecting foreign nationals. The desk helps migrants with access to government services, co-ordinates the City's migrant support initiatives and, together with foreign nationals, identifies and addresses key concerns and challenges.

After the xenophobic attacks in 2008, Joburg adopted an Anti-xenophobia and Common Citizenship Programme, which forms part of its long-term strategic interventions to deal with the social attitudes to xenophobia and the effects of human trafficking, and to increase tolerance of migrants.

The launch of the City's Migrants' Helpdesk in 2007
The launch of the City's Migrants' Helpdesk in 2007
"Today ... we officially inaugurate our first meeting of the Johannesburg Migration Advisory Committee," said Masondo.

The committee was based on London's experience because both cities seemed to have similar policies and patterns of handling migration. "We took this model not to copy what London does but to identify best practice and adapt it to our own specific Johannesburg reality."

By setting up the committee, the City is acknowledging that migration has its benefits.

Masondo said migrants stimulated the transfer of technology and capital between their countries of origin and their adopted countries, and contributed to enhancing the richness and cultural diversity of a city, among other benefits.

"New forms of artistic expression as well as the contribution they make to enhance competitive sports help to collectively create a better and more vibrant social-scape for the city.

"The increasingly cosmopolitan nature of many of our cities provides a basis to more effectively promote the concept of ‘strength in diversity' as we seek to build more inclusive cities," he said.

These inclusive cities, Johannesburg included, could be achieved by promoting diversity and equality among residents.

Masondo went on to say that the city was growing at a rate of between three and four percent a year and, according to estimates, the number of people living in Joburg would grow by some 3,5 million people in the next 25 years.

"These figures illustrate, in part, some of the challenges facing the City of Johannesburg in its efforts to provide housing and other services."

He also used the platform to apologise on behalf of residents to all those affected by the xenophobic attacks on foreigners in May 2008. The attacks "make us bow our heads in shame" and threatened to undermine progress made by Africa in forging social cohesion and strengthening the bonds of human solidarity.

"I trust that through this advisory committee we will create a renewed awareness about migration issues and how they affect local government. I trust that it will enable us to exchange information on practical actions to combat the effects of migration and to share our experiences of best practice."

Presenting a report on the State of Migration in Johannesburg, Ann Burnstein, the executive director of the Centre for Development Enterprise, said the City had not been well supported by a national migration policy.

"I hope migration issues affecting Johannesburg will be resolved by the establishment of the Migration Advisory Committee because managing migration requires facts rather than myths."

Concerning the results of the study, which involved a survey of 2 000 people living in Johannesburg, Burnstein said many foreign nationals were found to be self-reliant and skilled and "no more criminal than locals".

"The number of foreign nationals in the city in 2006 when the study was done was around 550 000; 13 to 14 percent of the city's 3,9 million people were foreign-born. We estimate that by the middle of 2008, 600 000 or 700 000 foreign nationals [would] be living in the city."

Burnstein also shed some light on what foreign nationals were doing in Johannesburg. The most common perception of migrants was that they took jobs away from locals, begged on streets and indulged in criminal activities.

"But the survey found different. Most immigrants are hard-working, entrepreneurial, and to a large extent are law-abiding citizens. Their normal occupations include trading, domestic work, security and business management."

The survey also found that the number of immigrants in entrepreneurial activity was 44 percent and one in four immigrants employed a South African.

She acknowledged, however, that xenophobia was a problem but was blown out of proportion. Many South Africans interviewed saw immigrants offering a positive impact on the city, and 60 percent of immigrants felt accepted.

"In general, migrants are an asset to society. Migration has to be managed and not stopped and South Africa needs a comprehensive strategy in managing migration," she said.

Then it was time for invited guests to break into groups to discuss various issues concerning migration. They looked into issues of registration and documentation of migrants, and challenges faced by migrants.

Wrapping up the day's proceedings, Masondo said the meeting was just the beginning of more things to come; there was a long road ahead.

"If we do not address these issues now, they will catch up with us. We don't want tribalism but we want to build a country on religious values. Today we met for three hours and from what we discussed, we need to come up with an action plan, a very clear programme that will map out where we are going," he said.

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Last Updated on 16 October 2009