Backlash as countries urged to foot health bills of immigrants

Johannesburg – Foreign nationals and their access to public services look set to be key election issues in the run-up to the May 8 polls, but politicians have been warned not to inflame xenophobia.

Gauteng premier David Makhura this week threatened to force southern African countries to pay for their citizens’ access to health services as the burden on the resources of the country’s economic hub threatens to spiral out of control.

In his state of the province address, Makhura revealed that Gauteng’s public health system serves 20 million healthcare users every year compared to 7 million in 1994.

The province now has a population of 14.7 million, according to Statistics SA’s mid-year estimates.

Makhura admitted that the province’s public healthcare system faces tremendous pressures and challenges.

Finance MEC Barbara Creecy also acknowledged that the Gauteng government has been forced to increase its budget by billions of rand due to millions of people flocking to the province, stretching services such as healthcare and education.

However, Makhura promised that the financial and structural challenges were receiving the utmost attention of his executive and President Cyril Ramaphosa’s Cabinet.

Makhura’s main challenger for the position of the premier of the country’s most populous but smallest province, former Tshwane mayor Solly Msimanga, has also threatened to force South Africa’s neighbours to pay for the public services its citizens receive from his administration.

”The DA will seek to recover hospital and school costs from foreign embassies and will push for deductions from the Southern African Customs Union, which covers Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and eSwatini,” reads the official opposition’s Gauteng election manifesto, which Msimang launched yesterday. Should the DA emerge victorious in the May polls, Msimang wants the SA National Defence Force to deploy 22 companies to guard the country’s borders, up from 15 companies, which he believes is inadequate.

According to the DA, immigration laws must be firmly enforced to ensure that criminals are deported and all immigrants are properly documented.

Gauteng’s population has more than doubled since 1994 to 14.5 million, with annual in-migration of 300 000 people, according to the DA manifesto.

The party blames the ANC for failing to stem the tide of undocumented immigrants who have put enormous pressure on Gauteng hospitals and schools, and it wants to push for Home Affairs to do its job in documenting immigrants and preventing illegal immigration.

In its election manifesto, the ANC has also promised to strengthen border controls to improve security and manage immigration effectively.

Consortium for Refugees and Migrants in SA (CormSA) director Thifulufheli Sinthumule told Independent Media that Makhura and the DA’s statements were “purely discriminatory and xenophobic utterances”.

Sinthumule said Makhura was electioneering using xenophobic statements due to the ANC’s fear of losing power in Gauteng to a coalition of opposition parties like it did in the 2016 local government elections when it lost Johannesburg and Tshwane.

He said the xenophobic statements violated the constitution’s provision that everyone has a right to access to basic health care and the National Health Act. “How can a refugee fleeing his or her own country for political reasons ask the same country to pay for their health services?” Sinthumule described the threats against foreign nationals as “national discrimination and institutionalised discrimination”.

He accused Makhura and the DA of putting foreign nationals’ lives at risk.

Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba has previously claimed that one of the reasons for the city’s failure to provide services was the influx of foreign nationals but Sinthumule dismissed this, saying no research supports these statements.

“These are just unresearched and unverified reasons (for xenophobia and discrimination)[sic],” said Sinthumule.

CormSA has also lodged a complaint with the Electoral Commission of SA against new KwaZulu-Natal-based political party the African Basic Movement, which has promised to force foreign nationals to leave South Africa should it win the upcoming elections.

Lindelwa Dunjwa, chairperson of the National Assembly’s portfolio committee on health, said foreign nationals have the right to access public health-care services anywhere in the country.

She said foreign nationals’ being denied access to health services has not come to the committee’s attention.

Dunjwa added that the committee has never demanded that neighbouring countries must pay for their citizens’ access to health services in South Africa.

Sunday Independent

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