1 June 2002

SOUTH AFRICA: Controversial immigration bill

President Thabo Mbeki on May 30 signed the controversial Immigration Bill into law. Speaking in the National Assembly on Wednesday, May 29, Mbeki admitted that the bill approved a few days earlier by Parliament might not be sufficient to help attract the skilled foreigners South Africa needed. It is estimated that South Africa has a shortage of between 200.000 and 500.000 skilled workers.

Replying to questions in the National Assembly, Mbeki said the government was open to suggestions regarding changes to the legislation. "We have clearly to focus on the matter of what kind of immigrant we want in South Africa so that we are better able to address the challenges that we face. The Immigration Bill may not address all these matters that we wanted."

The National Council of Provinces last week passed the controversial bill, which all political parties agreed was severely flawed. The National Assembly approved it one week earlier. Home Affairs Minister Mangosuthu Buthelezi piloted the bill through Parliament and to his chagrin saw it radically redrafted by the African National Congress during the parliamentary committee stage. Critics have argued that the quota system, which was part of eleventh-hour amendments introduced by the ANC could hinder the import of skilled persons. This view was shared by Trade and Industry Minister Alec Erwin who after the bill was adopted by the Assembly called for quota system to be amended by the NCOP. However, this was not possible because of the June 2 constitutional deadline for a new immigration law on the statute books, or for an amendment of the current Aliens Control Act. The ANC then agreed it would ask Buthelezi to introduce amendments as soon as possible once the law was promulgated.

In reply to another question in the Assembly on Wednesday, May 29, Mbeki repeated comments made in his Opening-of-Parliament address in February, that lack of skills in the country was one of the economy's primary weaknesses. "There are obviously some very clear weaknesses in the economy, one of them is of course the skills problem. We have to focus on that particular matter of addressing the skills problem, which lies at the base of the levels of unemployment in the country," he said.

Apart from politicians and business also the Congress of S. A. trade Unions (COSATU) critizised the Immigration Bill heavily. “A quota system giving almost total discretion to an old-style department, which is still influenced by xenophobic and racial mindsets is a recipe for problems.” (MAIL & GUARDIAN)

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