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On the third and final day of the pre-visits, the NCOP (National Council of Provinces) delegation went to Jeppe Police Station on a fact-finding mission. During his presentation, the Acting Support Head of Jeppe Police Station, Mr Terence Reddy, told the delegation in no uncertain terms that the police station is situated in a war zone. They are faced with aggressive criminals and it is normal to find a number of people being murdered at once.

Not only that they are also over-stretched. One police official services 1 000 residents of Jeppe. “We really don’t have the tools of trade. Currently, we have 40 police vans instead of 81. This makes it difficult for us to conduct our work.”

The influx of foreign nationals who deal in illicit goods and commit various kinds of crimes makes the situation worse. “We would apprehend them and refer them to Home Affairs for deportation. But we would again apprehend the very same foreign nationals down the line,” said the Visible Policing Head of the Station, Mr Mathepela Hlakotsa.   

How they get back, we don’t know, said the Acting Commander of Johannesburg East, Mr Azwinndini Nengovhela. He suggested that this could be resolved if the Home Affairs and the National Prosecuting Authority can work together to reverse this tide.

What shocked the members of this delegation was the fact that the station is functioning without a budget. “We are yet to be allocated our budget for this financial year,” said Mr Hlakotsa.   

“This is unacceptable, you should have spent 65% of your budget by now,” said the Leader of this delegation, Ms Lungelwa Zwane.

“How do you then conduct your work without a budget? That is a concern we have to take up with the powers that be,” she added.

The scariest scenario of the impact of migration on Gauteng’s healthcare system emerged when members of the delegation visited Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital. In April this year. There were 1 637 foreign nationals’ babies that were delivered at the hospital. “Foreign patients are not planned for in our annual operational plans. And they tend to arrive very ill,” said the CEO of Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital, Ms Gladys Bogoshi.

“And the challenge,” she pointed out, “is that their maternity cases have no antenatal history and as such, they contribute to morbidity and mortality at the hospital.”

Most mother who give birth at this hospital are undocumented, she said, and this has led to newborn babies not being registered and unable to apply for birth certificates. “Some of them give false personal information which creates challenges in cases when they pass away.”

And most of them are unable to pay an outstanding bill of R237 million, and she said in the 2017/18 financial year R1 billion had to be written off from the hospital books due to unsettled debt.

Your presentation has given us the grimmest account of the impact of undocumented foreign nationals on Gauteng’s healthcare system, explained Ms Zwane. “What we have heard is shocking and gives us the cold facts about the impact of migration on service delivery in Gauteng.”

On top of that, the hospital has to house undocumented foreign patients that have nowhere to go when they are discharged at a cost of R4 500 a day.

“That is too much,” said Ms Zwane, “even a decent hotel does not charge that much for a day. We have now got the real sense of this problem. And it’s a ticking bomb that needs to be detonated sooner rather than later.”

Asked if foreign nationals infringe on the privileges of South Africans, the CEO responded: “Yes they do, for the R1 billion that has been written off would have benefited South Africans.”

Later on the NCOP delegation held a public meeting in Dlamini, Soweto, to hear the views of the locals about the impact of foreign nationals on Soweto’s economy and other service delivery imperatives in Greater Johannesburg.   

Several members of the public decried the fact that foreign nationals have squeezed the locals out of the township economy. They called upon government to intervene and help the locals to start up small businesses and reclaim the township economy.

To many members of the public the ownership of Soweto’s economic zones by foreign nationals has had a negative impact on the well-being of local entrepreneurs.

One resident remarked: “We have a small cake, why you compel us to share the cake among us and the foreign nationals. This is bound to create conflict.” 

Some accused them of occupying RDP houses that were meant for them. One member of the public claimed: “I am a South African. I have been on the housing waiting list for years, but when the RDP houses at Bram Fischer were allocated, there were foreign nationals who got allocated houses and I never got one. Why is our government prioritising foreign nationals over us?” 

Some urged the members of the NCOP to relook and rethink the migration policies of our country to ensure that due process is followed to ensure that undocumented foreign nationals are not granted undue privileges or are allowed to enter the country.

There was also a persistent call for the tightening of our porous borders. They urged the NCOP to ensure that South African borders are stringent to ensure that undocumented foreign nationals don’t get easy access through our borders. 

In her closing remarks, the Chairperson of the NCOP, Ms Thandi Modise, agreed: “We heard you. As the NCOP we are of the view that it is always ideal to come to you to listen to your concerns. It’s programmes like Taking Parliament to the People that invoke our inter-governmental mandate. In November we will come back with the MECs, the mayor, and the members of the Cabinet who will all respond to your concerns.”

On migration, she said there was a study that was done on a foreign national that used a false name to collect ARVs in different hospitals in Gauteng. And it emerged that over a moth’s period she collected ARVs of 12 patients.

This is not to say that all foreign nationals are bad, she pointed out. There are those that bring much-needed expertise in the country in fields such as science and maths. But also there are undocumented foreign nationals that have a negative impact on our country’s service delivery imperatives. That is a reality we, as the NCOP, want to address. And we don’t have to shy away from such a responsibility, she emphasised. “If there is a need of shifts in our immigration policies or an amendment of this legislation, we have to explore all those options as the NCOP to ensure that we put the service delivery interests of South Africans first.”  

By Abel Mputing

21 September 2018