Mamphela Ramphele: Do we have a permissive atmosphere for lawlessness in South Africa?

In African culture, we are often stopped in our tracks and compelled to go into a reflective mode when things seem to fall apart, Mamphela Ramphele asks. How does a society which has human rights embedded in its Constitution, and one that prides itself in Ubuntu, find itself in an atmosphere that permits lawlessness?

In African culture, we are often stopped in our tracks and compelled to go into a reflective mode when things seem to fall apart. We would then ask ourselves the question: what rituals have we neglected to perform that have brought us this misfortune?

Last week former president Thabo Mbeki, an elder in our midst, commented that: "There is trouble, trouble, trouble everywhere. Lawlessness suggests that South African society had a permissive atmosphere that allows for this kind of crime."

So where does this permissive atmosphere for lawlessness originate from? How does a society which has human rights embedded in its Constitution, and one that prides itself in Ubuntu, find itself in an atmosphere that permits lawlessness? 

We neglected a number of rituals at the beginning of our transition to democracy. First, coming out of a human rights abusive apartheid system we should have deliberately undertaken cleansing ceremonies beyond the Truth and Reconciliation Commission process, to acknowledge that we have been polluted by our ugly past, and to then commit to invest in promoting healing of the wounds of divisions and humiliation of the majority by a minority.

Unhealed trauma tends to bedevil personal development and social relationships from generation to generation. The tolerance of brutality in interpersonal relationships including gangsterism, gender-based violence and public violence needs to be understood within this context.

Second, like all transitions in life, we should have invested a lot more time and resources to nurture a culture of respect for human dignity, human rights and responsibilities. The human mindset does not easily shift simply because a decision has been taken to shift. Much more is required to help people leave familiar psychological anchors to their lives and adopt new ways of being and doing things.

Our institutions such as schools, faith-based communities, workplace personnel development, including the public service, should be encouraged and supported to help citizens to embrace and live the values of Ubuntu.

Third, embracing new values requires leadership at all levels of society to model change: at home, community, faith community, workplace, business leadership, public service and political leadership. It is very important that as a society we acknowledge the harm done to our psyche as a nation by unashamed public looting of resources by our leaders in both the private and public sectors. 

To add insult to injury, the abuse of power by faith-based leaders has made for a complete loss of trust in leadership and institutions of society. It is hard for shared values of Ubuntu to survive the impunity of abuse of power by our leaders that have been exposed over the last few years. The fabric of society is being pulled asunder.

Fourth, the failure of our government to maintain the security of our national borders violates one of the fundamental pillars of our integrity as a nation.  No citizen anywhere in the world would accept the violation of national borders by millions of migrants who come in and out of our country as they please without feeling vulnerable. 

We have allowed criminal syndicates to settle here without any fear of the law, because our systems are seen as ineffectual. Human traffickers see us as an easy target because of poor law enforcement capabilities.

South Africa should have a clear comprehensive immigration policy and effective protection and management of our borders so that we know who enters, why, and where they live and what value they add to the well-being of our nation. Our current migration policy rests on the Immigration Act of 2002 and Refugee Act of 1998, but implementation has been wholly inadequate.  

We need a total revamp of our systems so we can welcome refugees as part of our international obligations, and attract the skills we need from foreign nationals who choose to settle here.

International migration is a fact of life across our interconnected global system. As we press ahead with the essential and long overdue integration of the African continent as agreed by our leaders, we need to ensure that the rules of the game are clear and embraced by all.  We also need to actively promote African unity as a spiritual, emotional and socio-economic imperative to right the wrongs of the carving up of Africa by colonial conquerors.  

The 2005 Report of the Global Commission on International Migration established by then UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, recommended greater attention to enhancing the governance of international migration It specifically focused on the need to promote coherence in national policy and implementation; capacity to govern and regularise migration to reduce competition and conflict with nationals; and co-operation between governments to leverage migration as a force for good.  

Our government needs to acknowledge the weakness in the governance of migration as a key contributor to the anger and lawlessness we are currently experiencing in our cities. We urgently need to enhance policy coherence to leverage migration as a source of scarce skills to drive our socio-economic development. 

We need to audit the skills of our border management teams to ensure that they have the right values of Ubuntu and professionalism and the capacity to work across borders with others. Leadership is needed from the Presidency to ensure the whole of government approach to grasping the nettle of irregular migration. 

It cannot be left to the police or the army. We need all public and private sector leaders to co-operate to restore the integrity of our borders and collaborate with our neighbours to build a stronger Africa.

- Mamphela Ramphele is the co-founder of ReimagineSA.

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