The South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (SATAWU) expresses concern with the planned reopening of land ports of entry on 15 February 2021. Although we agree with revitalising the economy through the opening border posts, we, however, believe that the latter process should in the meantime be halted. By delaying the opening of ports of entry, the country will be in a better position to address both the health crisis and expedite the rolling-out of the much-awaited vaccine to health workers and the general public.
The opening up of borders at this stage has the potential of presenting a greater health risk for the country. As it stands, the South African public healthcare system is already over-burdened by decades of internal structural crises. Some of these crises include but are not limited to, prolonged waiting time, shortage of health workers, outdated technologies, shortage of medicine and equipment, poor infrastructure and unequal distribution of resources between public and private healthcare. An influx of unregistered migrants may result in a catastrophic situation for the ailing public healthcare system in question.
Though land ports of entry have been closed, air as well as seaports, continue to operate normally. Given how the initial variant of the COVID-19 appeared in South Africa, logic would dictate that all ports of entry should be closed. COVID-19 entered the country after a South African citizen returning from a trip to Italy, tested positive for the virus. Air travel was responsible for transporting and transmitted the virus from the global north to the global south. The decision to restrict mobility by only closing land ports of entry reproduces the idea that poor African migrants, in contrast to their non-African counterparts, are subservient human beings with no value to offer South Africa.
The contradiction is further seen in the recent State of the Nation Address (SONA), where President Cyril Ramaphosa speaks of plans to revitalise the trouble-hit tourism sector. It is contradictory because the tourism sector receives a significant percentage of its revenue from mostly white foreign leisure migrants. It can be argued that the needs of predominantly wealthy white foreigners (referred to by media outlets as tourists) are catered to, whereas black, destitute, vulnerable migrants, have their movements restricted. The politics of leisure and capitalist accumulation have to a greater extent superseded the politics of survival.
The blatant reproduction of historic racial prejudices in the government’s response to the selective closing and reopening of various ports of entry is not only disappointing but worrisome and unfortunate. Restricting the mobility of African migrants in contrast to their non-African counterparts makes the government appear to be maintaining and reproducing structural inequalities that deliberately disadvantage the black majority, both in South Africa as well as the diaspora.
It is of concern to us that the inequalities of capitalism continue to express themselves on a global level. The global north continues to have policy sway and developmental influence over the global south. For centuries, the global south has had to bear the burden of the crises produced by the global north. With this said, we strongly believe that challenges and restrictions affecting the mobility of Africa migrants can only be resolved by delinking the continent from the exploitation and dependency on the global north. In the absence of this, African leaders will continue to operate as white souls trapped in black skins, thus perpetuating the deprived people’s syndrome and inferiority complexes. African migrants, in general, should not be blamed for the health, social and economic crises created by the global north through the assistance of economic hitmen in the global south.
Because COVID-19 is a respiratory infection transmitted from person to person, the union believes that mobility restrictions, in general, are necessary for mitigating the exponential increase of cases. Accordingly, all air, sea and land ports of entry should at this interval in time be opened for the transportation of essential goods contrary to leisure. Our call to temporarily restrict mobility should not be misconstrued as support for global neoliberal principles. Neoliberalism advocates for the unrestricted movement of money as opposed to people. It is our view that limiting mobility will ease the strain on South Africa’s public healthcare sector, the disease burden will be more manageable and the government will be in a better position to roll-out the immunisation programme to individuals willing to take the vaccine. All ports of entry should be opened to all once the country’s internal health challenges are adequately resolved.
Issued by: South African Transport & Allied Workers Union
For more information, contact
SATAWU General Secretary: Jack Mazibuko: 082 660 4793
SATAWU Deputy General Secretary: Anele Kiet: 071 021 1903