November 12, 2003

New South African immigration to be renegotiated

The Mozambican embassy in South Africa confirmed on Wednesday that it was trying to renegotiate a recently passed immigration law with authorities in Pretoria, claiming that the legislation discriminated against migrant mine workers. "We have raised our concerns with the relevant authorities, and they have assured us that they will take some of the issues seriously. Our main objection is that many of the Mozambican migrant workers have worked in South Africa for 20 years. Their contribution to the development of South Africa needs to be recognised," Petro Taimo of the labour department in the Mozambican embassy declared.

According to Taimo, the new legislation introduces a 2.5 % tax on foreign miners' wages to fund training courses for South African workers. "This 2 % tax means that it is not worthwhile for the migrants to continue working in the country. South Africa might as well send them back home," he commented. The law also reduces contract periods to a six-month maximum and the workers, mainly from Mozambique, Botswana and Swaziland, are expected to leave South Africa within 72 hours of their contracts expiring. Thereafter they may reapply for another contract.

Taimo noted a 1964 bilateral agreement between South Africa and Mozambique that was "far more beneficial for migrant workers". Under the 1964 accord, Mozambicans working in South Africa's mines received 40 % of their salaries in South Africa and the remainder in Mozambique. The agreement also stipulated one-year minimum contracts that were automatically renewable for six months.

"We are not saying that South Africa must necessarily revert to the 1964 agreement. But it would be beneficial to all concerned if we continue to discuss how the positive aspects of that earlier agreement can be blended into the new law," Taimo said.

According to the Johannesburg office of the Mozambican Labour Department, there are 52.918 Mozambican workers employed in the South African mining industry, 29.020 in the agricultural sector, and 5.007 in the service sector. Jonathan Crush of the Southern African Migration Project said it would be in the best interests of both governments and the mining sector to review the existing law. He added that there was no reason why the 1964 bilateral agreement between the two countries could not run concurrently with the new immigration law. (IRIN)

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