Traditionally, migration has tended to be South-North but of late there is an increased shift of South-South migration. South Africa has witnessed increased and very significant proportions of inflows of African migrants since post-1994. Professor Jonathan Crush has argued that South Africa has experienced three waves of migration and the most significant one is the "Third Wave" that began in 2005.
According to Crush the "third wave" of migration has seen a major shift away from circular, temporary migration of individual working-age adults towards greater permanence and more family and child migration to South Africa" and the most significant aspect of it is that "Zimbabwean migrants no longer see South Africa as a place of temporary economic opportunity for survival but rather as a place to stay and build a future for themselves and their families. On the other hand, South Africa has experienced conflicts between locals and foreign nationals and many theses have been advanced to explain the Afrophobia/xenophobia eruptions.
These recent shifts in migration trends are of great significance to Africa's oldest liberation movement, the African National Congress (ANC) as readies for its 5th National Policy Conference. One key question that the ANC needs to address is: How does the ANC balance the increased economic pressures of the poor in South Africa and the increased migration into South Africa from other regions of Africa, especially taking into account that South Africa's destiny and fortunes are tied to our continent's?
This piece argues that the ANC needs to shift its orientation and approach in partnerships and begin to consider an open and managed immigration system that does not only seek to harness natural resources and view Africa as a market but also seek to tap into the full potential of African Human Resource capacity. Such an approach is inimical to the ANC and South Africa's ethos of Pan African solidarity and decolonisation, big ideas that the ANC has excelled in given its historical role in the fight against colonialism and apartheid within the country and continent at large.
The positive aspect is that the ANC realises the gargantuan task before it as one of the key architects and drivers of the African Renaissance and New Economic Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD). In its pre-conference discussion documents, the party is alive to the fact that its fortunes are tied to the prosperity of the continent. It observes that: In line with our fellow Africans we recognise that for Africa to be prosperous it must be based on inclusive growth and sustainable development... We shall develop and participate in efforts to utilise African resources, particularly natural resources to power investments in the agricultural and marine (blue economy) sectors, as well as act in an environmentally responsible actor in development.
However, a problematique of this approach is that whilst there has been tremendous improvement and positive signals from the ANC, both party and government, as seen in the promulgation of the Zimbabwe and Lesotho Special Dispensation Permits, there is still a lot to be done. For instance, for a Cameroonian to come to South Africa they have to pay high visa fees of USD$100, yet at the same time, the African Union recently launched a passport to promote free movement under the leadership of Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
There are many African nationals who still face challenges in travelling to South Africa. My observation is that the focus seems to have been more on the free movement of natural resources to South Africa and on the other hand, free movement of capital, goods and services into the rest of the African continent, yet creating a fortress to the free movement of Africans.
I argue that the ANC needs to begin to consider migration within the context of the debates around the discourse of the future of work and how that is reconfiguring the workspace and national economies across the globe. At the moment, there is minimal and if not no debates and research on the future of work and its likely impact of the African workplace and resultant welfare of citizens. However, at the moment two contending schools have emerged, one that sees gloom due to the likely impacts of increasing use of artificial intelligence and automation in the work place.
On the other hand, there is a school which also has positives especially from technology reshaping labour markets by making them more digital, online and mobile. It is the positive school of thought on the future of work that the ANC needs to pay attention to and explore the various opportunities within it.
Anecdotal evidence points to surge in technologically related jobs and economic activities, with a significant proportion of migrants (legal and illegal) tapping into the virtual economy. Some of these jobs are around; online transcription, virtual forex trading, online tutoring, regional consultancies among many others. The virtual nature of these jobs has rendered the current fortress logic of migration obsolete and making it difficult for the ANC-led government to tap into this future of work related economies.
I propose that the 5th ANC National Policy Conference needs to rethink its migration policies, seek how to innovatively offer incentives and dis-incentives that pursue regularisation of some of these skilled migrants now operating in the virtual economy. For instance, the ANC may consider innovation related special visas to some of these illegal African migrants in the virtual economy and provide certainty of residence and at the same time the migrants contributing to the national fiscus and development. Such an approach to the question of migration may potentially answer the ANC's discussion question as it begins its upcoming policy conference.
The question is complex and no mean task as one has to understand the nexus between policy, global and local economies as argued by University of the Free State's Dr Tinashe Nyamunda commentary on the Zimbabwean economy. The ANC-led government and South Africa have been carrying the burden of the region, but hardly has it yet tapped the full potential offered by migrants to radically transform the South African economy.
The thorny question of migration in South Africa has the potential of making lemonade out of lemons if proper policy interventions are considered. Maybe, lessons from our neighbours across the South-Western and North-Western borders are imperative for the ANC in seeking answers to its policy discussion question; . Botswana and Namibia have managed to tap into African migrants to build capacity within its citizenries especially in areas such as health, education, engineering and finance.