By Unathi Sonwabile Henama
On Thursday afternoon 25 May 2017, Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane flew to Lusaka. Maimane was going to Zambia to attend the treason trial of Hakainde Hichilema, Zambia’s main opposition leader. The DA leader arrived in Zambia, on Africa Day, to attend and observe the treason trial of Zambian Opposition Leader Hakainde Hichilema on Friday at the Lusaka Magistrate’s Court.According to local media, Maimane was told that his presence at that trial would, somehow, undermine the integrity of the court – and then he was put on the first plane home, minus his cellphone, which was confiscated by police. The United Party for National Development leader has been under house arrests for several weeks after he was accused of obstructing President Edgar Lungu’s motorcade. Upon his arrival in Lusaka, Zambian Police boarded the aircraft, aggressively confronted Maimane, and took his private cell phone from his possession.
The DA released a statement: “In stark contrast to the spirit of Africa Day today, an act akin to the tactics of the Apartheid government has occurred at Lusaka Airport this evening…It is a deeply shameful day for the Republic of Zambia, when a Leader of the Opposition from South Africa cannot pass freely into the country.” What is without doubt is that UPND leader Hakainde Hichilema is not a political prisoner but a criminal suspect. Zambia is a sovereign country, with sovereign laws which must be respected by all in the continent of Africa and the world at large. The deportation of Mmusi Maimane is a crisis that must not go to waste because it forces Africans to have an uncomfortable conversation. The government of Botswane had applied visa requirements on Julius Malema, the leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters. According to a 2014 EFF statement ‘’ The Economic Freedom Fighters condemns the refusal by the autocratic military government of Botswana to grant the CIC Julius Malema a visa… First the CIC Julius Malema has been subjected to a process where he is the only citizen of the 50 million plus South Africans who needs a VISA to visit what is a SADC country. Secondly, Botswana treats the CIC as the only leader of a party represented in the Parliament of South Africa who cannot be permitted to visit Botswana. Essentially, Botswana has rejected a representative of the people of South Africa in parliament a right to visit the people of Botswana, treating him as if he is a terrorist’’. The experience of Malema has not captured national discourse like the experience of Mmusi Maimane.
The majority of Africans that seek to visit South Africa legally are faced by two challenges, a visa system that is unfriendly and the worst service at Beitbridge. African countries where there is a visa requirement to visit South Africa experience a military like operation, which has meant it’s easier to attain a visa to visit the USA than to visit South Africa. Africans that seek to attain legal entry to South Africa are treated with suspicion and visa applications without balancing the benefit South Africa accrues when people visit our country. There is an abuse of the asylum seeker system which has been one of the contributing factors in xenophobic violence in South Africa. However, the abuse of the asylum seeker system has hardened attitudes amongst those that issue visa, which should not be case. The White Paper on Migration which is currently out for comment, seeks to ensure that South Africa benefits from skilled migration for a country with a skills mismatch, where the unskilled do not have the skills required by the economy, practically locking millions of South Africans from formal employment. The visa system must be used to drive economic growth.
The second conversation from this crisis is that Beitbridge Border post is the busiest border post in the Southern Hemisphere, which is known for its historical abysmal service and rampant corruption. The Border Post serves about 10 000 travellers each day and approximately 4000 cars pass through the border each day with the figures soaring to 30 000 travellers and 10 000 cars per day during public holidays. There seems to be no political will to resolve this issues which has meant that millions of Africans that make use Beitbridge, are subjected to congestion, long queues and the poor state of facilities. Corruption has become so rampant that for almost everything someone has to dip into their pockets to get things done. The deportation of Mmusi Maimane from Zambia should lead to a greater conversation that places the conduct of South African officials at the centre of the discussion. This crisis must not go to waste.
Unathi Sonwabile Henama teaches tourism at the Tshwane University of Technology and writes in his personal capacity.