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Bring back pass laws, say black South Africans

Flood of unwanted immigrants could put the clock back, reports Karl Mai er from Johannesburg
Pass laws may make a comeback in Nelson Mandela's new democratic South Africa. Many black people who were victimised by them under apartheid in the past are now looking with favour on controls for immigrants.

The new targets of such measures would be the millions of African immigrants, mostly illegal, who are flooding across the borders in search of jobs and peace in South Africa's industrial heartland, the PWV region recently renamed Gauteng.

"In any country you have to control the people who are coming in," said Angie Pamaila, 28, a black liaison official at the massive Ponte building apartment complex, which has a high number of Zairean residents. "Sometimes I think we need influx control again," she said.

"The people here do not want them," Lucky Baloyi, 27, a member of a pro-ANC `self-defence unit' in Alexandra township. said. "They come here and work for low salaries and take jobs and land that the people of Alex need."

For some, control laws already appear to be force. Abdul Milazi, a journalist for the Star newspaper, was detained on 19 December for the fourth time in three months by police in Johannesburg's Hillbrow area, which has a high concentration of immigrants.

"The police stand around on street corners dressed like township tsotsis [criminals], stopping anybody they suspect to be an illegal immigrant," he wrote in the Star.

The steady stream of African immigrants turned into a torrent after President F W de Klerk's National Party government lifted the ban on the African National Congress, freed Mr Mandela from jail, and initiated negotiations which led to the country's first all-race elections last April.

Since then, thousands of Africans, and to a lesser degree Asians and Europeans, have arrived each month.

"In the past a guy living in Somalia thought that if he came to South Africa, the police would beat him or kill him," Col Bryan van Niekerk, head of the police's border control office, said.

"In 1990, with the new opening and the unbannings, we were caught with our pants down. South Africa was a closed, rigid system, and we did not really understand what was happening in the rest of Africa."

Estimates put the number of illegal immigrants at 2 million. The Department of Home Affairs said in December that it had deported 60,000 illegal aliens in two months - 50,000 from Mozambique.

Last year, illegal aliens cost the economy about £30m in housing, health care and policing, Dr Greg Mills, the Director of Studies at the South Africa Institute of International Affairs, said.

Police sources said that 8 per cent of all serious crimes were committed by illegal aliens. Up to 100 African criminal syndicates have joined dozens of Asian ones in using South Africa as a market and transit point for vehicles and drugs.

Traditionally, Mozambicans have dominated the inflow of immigrants as severe poverty and a 17-year-old civil war between Joaquim Chissano's Frelimo government and the Renamo rebel movement, which was backed by South Africa's white minority government, sent hundreds of thousands across the border.For between £30 and £60 a family could hire a guideto bring them across. Hundreds of penniless young women who made the journey were sold into slavery. Others landed jobs on white-owned farms for as little as 40

pence a day, while still others made their way to the townships around Johannesburg."Many of these people are exiled here as a result of the destabilisation policies of the South African government," Nkele Ntingane, a founder member of the civic organis ation community group in Alexandra township, said.

"In recent years, however, the composition of immigrants has changed to include arrivals from countries such as Zaire, Nigeria, and Somalia, where civil war or kleptocratic governments have ravaged the economies. Many bring skills which black South Africans do not have."

With South Africans increasingly anxious that Mr Mandela's African National Congress led-government fulfill their expectations of the April elections by improving job prospects, housing, and health care, prejudice against immigrants is growing.

But many observers believe illegal immigrants are used merely as scapegoats.

"The white-controlled economic of South Africa was developed largely through African labour from Mozambique, Lesotho etc," Herbert Vilakazi, professor of sociology at the University of Zululand, wrote in the Star.

"It is ironic that we now tend to regard Africans from these states as aliens."Checking the trend will take years. It cannot be stopped simply by stepped-up patrols by the police and army on South Africa's massive borders, said Col van Niekerk.

"It is very much like the American problem with the Mexican immigrants," he said.