Does ‘human trafficking’ need a new definition?

Combating human trafficking has become one of the biggest global challenges, attracting high-level pledges of support from world leaders, especially in the West.

Barack Obama and Pope Francis both urged universal commitments in the fight against it; the UK has enacted a modern slavery act; and in 2016, the United Nations (UN) Security Council held its first-ever thematic debate on human trafficking. Targets to end human trafficking have been included in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and the UN Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons has called for new approaches to the problem, particularly in conflict settings.

In February, US President Donald Trump promised to bring the ‘full force and weight’ of the US government to combat the ‘epidemic’, and in March the UN Security Council said that ‘at a time of division in so many areas, this [fight against human trafficking] should be an issue that can unite us’.

Yesterday, on World Day against Trafficking in Persons, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) called on all to ‘act to protect and assist trafficked persons’. This is an important message, but how much impact can it have in Africa where the international definition of the problem doesn’t always fit the context?

What the West sees as human trafficking is, in Africa, simply a quest for a better life

Human trafficking is a crime that reduces a person to a commodity to be bought, sold, exploited and abused. It is an umbrella term that includes a variety of criminal practices, including forced labour and modern slavery, sexual exploitation, organ trafficking, child labour, child soldiering and child marriage.

African responses to the issue have been ambiguous. Despite ratification by all but two African nations of the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime’s (UNTOC) protocol on trafficking in persons, the issue is rarely high on the agenda. While the African Union (AU) Commission did, in 2010, launch its Initiative against Trafficking (AU.COMMIT), the issue remains low on the list of priorities for the regional bloc.

From the narrative of international reports on Africa, however, trafficking presents a scourge on the continent’s development, affecting every region.

In Central and West Africa, traditional practices of poor or rural families sending their children to live with city-based relatives or unknown families for education in exchange for household chores are widespread. Lack of oversight can of course lead to this situation being abused. Children from Benin, Guinea, Mali, Togo, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Liberia and Sierra Leone are housed by rich families in capital cities sometimes in modern slavery-style conditions.

North African children work in agriculture, artisanal gold mining, water collecting, construction and mechanics. Some reports suggest organised gangs force street children to serve as thieves, beggars and drug mules in Algeria and Tunisia, while Sudanese and Egyptian children have been trafficked to Saudi Arabia and Italy for forced begging.

In Africa, efforts to counter trafficking are almost all linked to the control of irregular migration

In Southern Africa, men, women and children are exploited in brick-making, domestic service, agriculture, artisanal mining and fishing. Reports of forced and exploitative labour have increased as the mining, manufacturing and agricultural sectors expand in countries such as Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique and Botswana.

However the definition and analysis of a problem depends very much on perspective, and the question is: Does internationally accepted terminology around human trafficking adequately capture the reality that fits the African context? Often what the international community labels as human trafficking are in fact locally acceptable labour practices that offer the only meaningful employment available.

Children can be viewed as potential economic earners, either through their labour, particularly as domestic servants for girls, or through early marriage of daughters, which has the dual advantage of providing a dowry and protecting familial reputation. While those practices shouldn’t be condoned, anti-trafficking programmes rarely offer long-term sustainable alternatives for equal prospects for economic or social advancement, nor options to abate it or stamp out its drivers.  

Moreover, despite the fact that human trafficking is a borderless crime, and that the UNODC estimates that 90% of sub-Saharan Africa trafficking flows are short distance, in the African context there is a strong propensity to link human trafficking and irregular migration.  

With the rising rates of migration towards Europe, new life has been breathed into regional initiatives on managing irregular migration, such as the Khartoum Process in East Africa and the Rabat Process in West Africa. And it is increasingly here where anti-human trafficking initiatives are couched, alongside efforts to counter the smuggling of migrants.

This makes the situation for African governments even more complex.

Anti-trafficking programmes rarely offer long-term alternatives for economic or social advancement

Yes, migrants and refugees are extremely vulnerable to exploitation and abuse, and the smuggling of migrants often leads to situations of forced labour. But migration and the contexts in which it occurs are vastly different to those envisaged by the authors of UNTOC. The terminology used in the convention and its protocols, and the neat distinctions provided between human trafficking and smuggling, are increasingly incapable of capturing the complexity of human movement in 2017. 

Individuals with divergent histories, experiences and reasons for movement are travelling together along the same routes. While there are some who do not consent to the travel (or at least aren’t fully informed of the purpose of the travel), most move fully aware that they will face bribes, threats, violence and abuse along the way. Still others enter ‘transport for work’ agreements with their smugglers. Often this results in protracted periods of forced and bonded labour.  

For many Africans, migration to the Gulf, Europe or North America – no matter how this is achieved – is an exceedingly positive economic and development proposition for themselves, their families, and through remittances paid later, their communities and their nations. African economies benefit from more than $35 billion annually in remittances. The risks and abuses of the journey are seen as the price to be paid for generational return. 

When viewed from the perspective of African states and their people, more often than not what the West deems as human trafficking is simply a quest for new opportunities and a better life.  And vocal international campaigns are perceived as an effort to restrict those opportunities.

So it is no wonder that some African governments do little more than pay lip service to a discourse that is largely shaped outside of Africa.

With AU reforms, a ‘new African Renaissance’ is possible

Member states of the African Union (AU) all agree that the institution needs to be reformed to make it more efficient. Implementing the reforms is even seen as leading to a ‘new African Renaissance’, in the words of the AU Commission chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat at the opening of the 29th AU summit in Addis Ababa on 3 July.

But despite general agreement on a more streamlined AU, with more self-financing by African states, a number of countries raised objections at the recent summit in Addis Ababa about the process that produced these decisions on reform. Most of these decisions were taken at so-called retreats of heads of state – both at the July 2016 summit in Kigali, where a decision was taken around financing the AU, and in January 2017 in Addis Ababa, when reforms were agreed to by African leaders.

These retreats were for some the only way to move forward. But for others, it was an informal discussion and a way to achieve consensus without going through the normal decision-making channels.

Several countries raised objections about the process that produced the decisions on AU reform

And this is where the problem comes in. Some states believe that the decisions didn’t follow the regulations set out in the Constitutive Act of the AU and should be referred back to another summit for them to be adopted following the right channels.

Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame is the main architect of the reforms. Leaders at the Kigali summit tasked him with setting up a commission and drawing up a plan, and a report was presented at the 28th summit in January. At the recent Addis Ababa summit, Kagame stressed that ‘the independence and self-reliance of our continent is an existential question for our continent’.

Through the so-called ‘Kagame reforms’, Kagame is ensured of playing a leadership role for years to come, since they entail, among others, creating a Troika of heads of state to ensure leadership of the institution. The Troika would be made up of the current AU chairperson, his predecessor and his successor – and would require a change of the AU’s Constitutive Act.

Meanwhile, a team of leaders has been nominated to oversee the reforms: Chad’s Idriss Déby, last year’s chair; the current chairperson, Guinean President Alpha Condé; and Kagame, chairperson for 2018.

Working with a small group of willing states is much easier than with all 55 AU members

The plan on financing the AU through a 0.2% levy – also considered to be problematic by commentators – is headed by Donald Kaberuka, former head of the African Development Bank and now AU special high representative for funding the AU and the Peace Fund. The levy plan has become the ‘Kaberuka plan’.

History has shown that change in the AU comes through consensus and by including the organisation’s big powers.

In the early 2000s the important changes made to transform the Organisation of African Unity into the AU were also largely driven by personalities: South Africa’s former president Thabo Mbeki, Nigeria’s former president Olusegun Obasanjo, Algeria’s President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and Senegal’s former president Abdoulaye Wade. They led the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (Nepad) initiative to create continental infrastructure and attract investment for continent-wide development projects.

It wasn’t an easy process and took some time to implement – from the Lomé summit in 2000 to the inauguration of the AU in 2002. Key organs of the AU like the Peace and Security Council only started work in 2004. Others, like Nepad and the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM), were based on voluntary accession so were a little easier to get off the ground.

Whether they are the ‘Kagame reforms’ or the ‘Mbeki reforms’, the AU needs to change

Working with a small group of willing states is much easier than trying to get all 55 countries to work together. Nepad has 20 members and the APRM has 35.

The current AU reform process is not to everyone’s liking. According to those involved, these reforms could see some AU officials lose their jobs. A proposed sanctions regime could also see those not paying their dues excluded from decision making. And an audit of AU financing could shake up the institution.

Some say the process will stall due to strong opposition within and outside the AU, and could eventually fizzle out.

The AU is a relatively young organisation compared to its counterparts elsewhere in Africa, having been created in 2002. Organisations like the European Union (EU), created in 1957, are equally difficult to manage and reform, despite the financial and administrative capacity of EU institutions. The United Nations Security Council saw its last reform in 1966 when the number of members (permanent and non-permanent) increased from 11 to 15.

But such defeatism is disastrous for Africa’s only continental institution. Whether they are the ‘Kagame reforms’ or the ‘Mbeki reforms’, change has to happen or the AU will continue to be seen by many of Africa’s inhabitants as simply irrelevant.

As South Africa’s leaders quarrel, the real struggle continues

If you watch political events or have even a marginal interest in politics, South Africa is a distracting place. Today, in Parliament, there’ll be a secret ballot vote of no confidence in the president. Then there are the details of how the Gupta family has wormed its way into apparently every nook and cranny of the government, and the decisions as to who will leadthe ANC post-2019 dominate our headlines.

These are important matters; they are pivotal in determining the direction South Africa will take in the coming years. But the constant state of ‘crisis’ and the concomitant instability is delaying our ability to deal with the complex and sticky problems associated with poverty and inequality.

To Patrick (not his real name), this political ‘noise’ is not even a distant distraction; but it does have a serious impact on his life and on his ability to imagine a more positive future for him and his children. Because while headline stories play out in newsrooms, hotel conference rooms and homes in Saxonwold and Sandton, he is struggling to water his vegetable garden, get himself up and to work in the morning, recover from the constant ailments that plague him, and be a good parent to his two children.

If SA remains distracted by politics, the cycles of poverty and deprivation will continue

Patrick’s story is about the difficult stuff we have to get right if we are going to shift from a country at war with itself to one where there truly are equal chances at success and well-being for all.

Patrick lives in an old but solid home in a small peri-urban township. He’s lived here all his life. He is in his early 40s, a few years younger than I am. In his younger days he drank and smoked a lot.

He left most of that behind some years ago, but his body has not forgotten. His kidneys remind him when they ache in the mornings. His ribs and hips remind him after a long day of physical labour, and he often gets sick. The clinic is close to his home, but he doesn’t trust the nurses – he feels they’ve given him bad advice, or the wrong medication too many times, and so he seldom seeks help there.

I don’t know if the nurses get it wrong or not, they seem dedicated and hard-working; but Patrick has written them off, and rather struggles along with his poor health. The nurses also don’t have the medication that might help his underlying depression. For that you need to go to a clinic in a distant township and the taxi fare is beyond his means.

Because he often doesn’t feel well, he frequently misses days at work. And on Friday one of his friends beat him up over a dispute about music. He hasn’t been able to get to work all week because his eye is swollen and bruised and his body hurts. But mostly he just doesn’t feel as if anything is worth the effort.

A recent survey found that 16.8% of caregivers suffer from anxiety and depression

He is employed by a small local nursery where he started working only a few weeks ago. When he doesn’t turn up for work he doesn’t get paid, and his absence means that the nursery starts falling behind, and that affects turnover.

His wife left him a few years ago, mostly because of his drinking, but also because the fighting was constant. He tries to look after his children, but when he came home battered and beaten on Friday it upset his daughter and he had to send her back to her mother. He usually has the children for the weekend. It didn’t help his sense of failure.

Patrick lives hand to mouth – so when a few days have passed without any pay, he and the children go to bed hungry. Then the children struggle to concentrate at school, are lethargic and difficult, get angry and lose respect for their father who is unable to provide – that’s what their mother says anyway.

There are many days when Patrick feels angry and frustrated or trapped and hopeless. He is certain there is little he can do to change his life, or make sure his children have a better life than his. He is short of the things theorists call self-efficacy – the belief that you can succeed at certain tasks, or change your circumstances for the better. If you don’t have it, it is very much harder to set and achieve goals, and consequently to change your circumstances.

This is pretty much how nearly one in every five people living in his community feels. We know this because a recent community-wide survey (as yet unpublished) found that 16.8% of caregivers suffer from clinical levels of anxiety and depression. This seems to undermine collective efficacy, which is sometimes described as the ‘glue’ that holds communities together. It is what will make some communities good at fighting crime and violence, and others unable to make any change at all.

Government officials struggle to stay motivated when their political head’s attention is elsewhere

There are several ways in which the political drama plays into this: listening to the news, watching food prices increase and feeling abandoned by political leaders make us feel quite hopeless about the future. It also makes delivering the kinds of programmes that can support Patrick and his children more difficult, not least because social service budgets are getting increasingly tighter. It is also hard for government officials to retain their motivation, and drive forward complex, co-ordinated social programmes when their political head’s attention is elsewhere.

If we remain distracted by political crises for much longer, we will continue to miss opportunities to put in place the comprehensive social programmes that can break the cycles of poverty and deprivation that repeat themselves through generations. This is why resolving our governance crisis is critical and urgent.

Can the ANC Turn South Africa's economy around

South Africa in 2017 is an infinitely better place than it was in 1990, when negotiations for the country’s future started between the National Party, the African National Congress (ANC) and others. The past decade, however, has been wasted. Things have not been getting better fast enough to allow South Africa to move ahead in terms of key development indicators, such as levels of extreme poverty, employment rates and reductions in inequality.

For things to improve, South Africa will need to grow its economy much more rapidly and it will need to channel that growth into improvements in income and the living standards of poor people, while reducing the gap between the various income classes. Only sustained higher levels of employment can achieve this goal.

The country needs to make a choice between its current strategy of high-wage, high-productivity over labour-intensive job creation.

The extent of unemployment in SA is severe, it is disempowering and debilitating

As economist Nicoli Nattrass writes, ‘Post-apartheid development strategies [have] contributed to an economic growth path that benefitted insiders (those with jobs), exacerbated unemployment and thereby undermined inclusive development.’ This, she argues, ‘reflects the power of organised labour (to determine labour policy), economic constraints on government policy (notably the need to avoid a debt crisis) and the political appeal of a growth path premised on “decent” jobs’.

For South Africa, labour-intensive growth would constitute meaningful radical economic restructuring.

Ahead of its national policy conference in June, the ANC circulated a series of discussion documents. According to the report on economic transformation, radical transformation was about ‘fundamentally changing the structure of South Africa’s economy from an exploitative exporter of raw materials, to one … based on beneficiation and manufacturing, in which our people’s full potential can be realised’.

‘A clear objective of radical economic transformation must be to reduce racial, gender and class inequalities in South Africa through ensuring more equity with regards to incomes, ownership of assets and access to economic opportunities,’ said the document.

Few South Africans will disagree with this understanding of the need for change. But here, like elsewhere, the focus is on the potential impact of trickle-down economics – the belief that the creation of a small black, moneyed elite (like the sprinklings of chocolate on a cappuccino) will filter down below.

South Africa’s national soccer team, Bafana Bafana, has had 22 coaches since 1992 but it has not succeeded because we have not created a pipeline of talent that feeds and sustains the team. The ANC wants instant gratification. However, it takes more than throwing money at the coach to build a successful team. It takes sustained investment over decades by an entire system geared towards excellence.

In its current configuration, the ANC is an obstacle to inclusive growth

Without a generational and a policy revolution, the ANC won’t prosper and South Africans will suffer, because it is likely that the party will govern until the 2024 elections as part of a coalition, although not in Gauteng.

South Africa needs policies and approaches that will equip the country for a different future – and ones that allow the economy to gain momentum over time, for this is a long road that needs to endure beyond even the 2034 time horizon set out in Fate of the Nation.

‘The economy has to walk on two legs,’ argues UCT economist Anthony Black in his book Towards Employment-intensive Growth in South Africa, ‘with massive growth in employment at the low end, accompanied by increased dynamism in the “advanced” sector. More rapid growth in the labour-intensive sectors will create new sources of demand, upgrade skills and produce new, small firms. All of this will galvanise the “advanced” sector.’ 

Much more decisive steps are needed to change the country’s current mediocre growth and employment prospects. 

The extent of unemployment in South Africa is severe; it is disempowering and debilitating. It will destroy us if we do not confront this challenge. More than any other problem, it points to the need for innovation in thinking about the country’s economic future, the courage to implement policies and to hold one another accountable. The country needs meaningful radical economic reform.

Only significantly higher levels of employment can reduce inequality in South Africa, and only significantly higher levels of employment can reduce poverty. None of this is possible without growth. In its current factional and confused ideological configuration, the ANC is an obstacle to inclusive growth. Its most likely future configuration – which is increasingly black nationalist, populist and ruralist in orientation – will compound that challenge.

Decisive steps are needed to change SA’s mediocre growth and employment prospects

Getting to a high growth and employment trajectory, as modelled in Fate of the Nation, will require, for one, modernising the ANC and reversing its current rural and traditionalist mindset, replacing it with one that is appropriate for the two economic legs that Anthony Black refers to.

Education also needs to be dealt with – particularly the hold that the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union has on schools and on the Department of Basic Education. Senior government officials simply cannot serve both the union and government. 

Partnership with the private sector is required, where the state is responsible for regulation and redistribution, and the private sector for growth and employment, necessitating a smaller, more capable civil service and a positive partnership with business.

There also needs to be a focus on growing small and medium-sized business as the main employment and wealth creators, and reducing the capital intensity of the economy in favour of labour intensity. This can only be achieved by moving towards a more flexible labour market and embarking on a new partnership with labour and business.

Government must benefit all South Africans – whether they are black, white, poor or wealthy – by adopting an inclusive, non-racial, class-based interpretation of society. Class, not race, should determine our analysis if South Africa is to find an appropriate theoretical framework that sits comfortably within its Constitution and Bill of Rights, and that will support economic progress.

The question is, who within the ANC can provide this quality of leadership?

Without elections, the DRC’s economy will continue to slide

Despite their efforts to convince the Congolese population that they have their best interests at heart, the ruling majority and the government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have lost control over a key element of day-to-day life: the economy.

The Congolese franc has depreciated dramatically, driving inflation and eroding – on an almost daily basis – the purchasing power of the country’s citizens. Civil servants have started a nationwide strike in protest against their disappearing salaries, and human rights organisation La Voix des Sans Voix sounded alarm bells about the rising cost of living and the impact on the Congolese people. This week the Banque Centrale du Congo (the Congolese central bank) forecast that annual inflation in 2017 would reach 45% against 20% in 2016. 

Nothing to do with elections? Not quite.

The prices of copper and oil – key revenue earners – remain depressed globally, which makes things difficult for the commodity-dependent DRC. The government is desperate to resume International Monetary Fund (IMF) budgetary support, which was stopped years ago over a lack of transparency in mining contracts.

The international community must see that the push for Kabila to go is coming from within

The hurdle is the political crisis caused by the failure to organise elections in 2016. Under pressure from some of its key constituents such as the European Union and the United States, the IMF, due to send a delegation in September, has said that it will re-engage if there are important political concessions.

Meanwhile, despite its aggressive criticism of the international community over its response to the political crisis, and especially over sanctions, the government has gone to various embassies in Kinshasa asking for financial support. It has not been forthcoming.

Last week the president and his family lost more credibility when the Congo Research Network and Pulitzer Center published a report detailing their extensive business networks. A day later Global Witness published a report saying US$750 million in government revenue derived from the mining sector went missing from government coffers between 2013 and 2015. 

But like South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma – who is also one of President Joseph Kabila’s closest allies – Kabila is not one to let facts get in the way of his narrative. Various family members have refuted allegations of corruption, nepotism and wrongdoing, while the government and Kabila insiders continue to pretend that the current political crisis is a mere technical delay that isn’t their fault.

The DRC government and ruling majority have lost control over the economy

The pool of those willing to buy this sham is shrinking, and a growing number of people, organisations and countries see the crisis for what it really is: a plan to hijack power for as long as possible.

In recent weeks, there have been two key developments: first, the announcement by the head of the Commission Electorale Nationale Indépendante (CENI, the independent national electoral commission) that elections could not take place in 2017. Second was the nomination this weekend of Joseph Olenghankoy, a member of the opposition co-opted by the Congolese government following the death of Étienne Tshisekedi in February, to head the Conseil national de suivi de l’accord (CNSA) – the 31 December accord follow-up committee. 

Olenghankoy split from the Rassemblement de l’opposition (Rassop), the main opposition grouping, after Tshisekedi’s death, and created a rival Rassop that has virtually no political base. Kabila and his political allies have taken advantage of splits to cherry-pick individual opportunists with the aim of appearing to uphold the terms of the 31 December political accord.

The accord says the head of the CNSA must come from the Rassop, and Kabila’s supporters have held the nomination up as evidence of compliance. But this strategy to stage-manage the transition arrangements while trying to appear legitimate started backfiring when Kabila appointed another dissident opposition leader, Bruno Tshibala, as prime minister in April. Few have any doubt about the government’s real intentions.

In the wrangle that followed Tshisekedi’s death, the opposition were accused of selling out the country in a quest for its own access to power. At the time, it seemed flummoxed by Kabila’s violation of the 31 December accord and did not have a Plan B.

A united front in the DRC may even awaken slumbering regional organisations like SADC and ICGLR

This weekend the Rassop held a conclave and emerged with a new battle plan: a two-day stay-away in August followed by a civil disobedience campaign. It has also demanded that the CENI publish the updated voters lists by the end of this month. The call for the stay-away is risky – especially because it is for two consecutive days, which is a long time for people to refrain from engaging in informal economic activities.

Since the start of the crisis, the key point of such public demonstrations has always been to show the government that the population is against Kabila and to use this as leverage. Anti-Kabila sentiment and the desire to have elections and move on are as high as ever.

The opposition is calculating that the population knows that government is to blame for the December political agreement being in tatters, and that it is again willing to demonstrate its disillusionment and force publicly. This kind of pressure is important for external observers as well. If the international community – and African countries in particular – don’t see that the push for Kabila to go is coming from within, it will be harder for them to take action. 

Given the somewhat tarnished image of the Congolese opposition, it would also be effective if civil society organisations associated themselves with a general protest campaign. A united front would go a longer way, maybe even awakening the slumbering regional organisations such as the Southern African Development Community and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, who should be playing a role in the crisis.

The alternative – to sit and watch indefinitely as Kabila continues his charade – will come at a high price, and as always, the Congolese population will have to pay.

Both Africa must move beyond its organised Crome cliches

Organised crime is a serious and growing menace in South Africa. And with its debilitating social and economic effects on the country, it requires immediate attention. However, the sources of organised crime and its perpetrators are highly contested.

In South Africa much of the blame for crime – especially organised crime – is put on foreigners living in the country, resulting in increased xenophobia. But this is misleading, as South Africa’s long history of the problem has been linked to apartheid, and clearly predates the arrival of particularly African immigrants, who mostly came to the country only after 1994.

The perception of foreigners dominating organised crime in South Africa is most evident in the recurring incidents of xenophobia. Xenophobic attacks are often framed as social rage against crime committed by foreigners, rather than a symptom of the country’s endemic socio-economic problems such as unemployment, corruption, poverty and skyrocketing retail prices.

Linking organised crime to foreigners is not new, nor is it unique to South Africa

Framing xenophobic incidents as a response to crime diverts attention away from these issues, a convenient outcome for the government, which has been quick to support this narrative. This has led to some justifying their attacks against fellow Africans, particularly Nigerians and Somalis, as an attempt to cleanse communities of pervasive drugs. President Jacob Zuma concurred with this sentiment, stressing that, ‘We cannot close our eyes to the concerns of the communities that most of the crimes, such as drug dealing, prostitution, and human trafficking, are allegedly perpetuated by foreign nationals.’

Politicising crime in this way is disingenuous – it blurs understanding of the true social, political and economic drivers of organised crime, and misconstrues the triggers of xenophobia, both of which hold implications for appropriate policy responses.

The belief that organised crime in South Africa is run by foreigners is anchored in harmful clichés that connect nationals of different countries to various crimes. For example, Nigerians are linked to drug trafficking, fraud and internet scams; Tanzanians to heroin trafficking; Zimbabweans to armed robberies and cash-in-transit heists; Russians and Italians to mafia and gangsterism; and Chinese nationals to wildlife crimes. Pakistanis are linked to human trafficking, Mozambicans to arms smuggling and house robberies, Somalis to violent extremism and terrorist financing, and Botswanans to poaching.

Police and court statistics don’t contain sufficient information about perpetrators’ identities

These clichés belie the complex nature of organised crime and the multiplicity of actors, including the corrupt networks of local syndicates and the alleged involvement of South African law-enforcement personnel.

The only way of knowing whether foreigners are involved in crime is through analysing the South African Police Service (SAPS) crime statistics, which would help substantiate the percentage of crimes committed by foreign nationals compared to those involving locals. This is important not only for determining the extent to which foreigners are involved in crime in South Africa, but also for a better understanding of the sources of crimes for the purpose of developing effective responses.

The problem, however, is that the official crime figures released by the SAPS don’t contain sufficient information about the identity or country of origin of perpetrators or suspects.

The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) also has statistics that could clarify the conviction rate of foreigners. But the NPA annual report – the only public document that provides statistical information on the prosecution and conviction of crime suspects – doesn’t consistently provide information on the country of origin of those it convicts. For example, the entry for the conviction of Henry Okah (sentenced to 24 years in prison on 13 counts of terrorism in 2013) refers to him as a national of Nigeria, but makes no similar description for the defendants or suspects in the other cases dealt with that year.

This means that public knowledge regarding foreigners’ involvement in crime in South Africa isn’t based on solid empirical research. The lack of data or public access to it also means that when foreigners are arrested, their cases are generalised to strengthen existing clichés attached to their countries. Often such cases receive greater media attention than those committed by South Africans.

Given the violence associated with xenophobia, the need for empirical studies on the participation of foreigners in crime in South Africa is long overdue. Such studies would provide an evidence-base for effective responses to organised crime.

The need for empirical studies on the participation of foreigners in crime in SA is long overdue

Of course, linking organised crime to foreigners is not new, nor is it unique to South Africa. Transnational organised crime, which cuts across national borders, has long been recognised as a global problem. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, it generated US$870 billion in 2009.

Globalisation has driven transnational organised crime – including cybercrime, the trafficking of arms, drugs and people, and various environmental crimes – to unimagined global levels, and has made the crimes more widespread and their responses more complex. The increasing flow of goods, services and people coupled with porous borders, corruption and lawlessness have opened up spaces for the global underworld.

While few countries possess the capacity to deal effectively with transnational organised crime, the South African government must be pro-active in countering the problem. It should avoid the tendency – apparent in many countries in Europe and North America – to blame foreigners. The state should tackle internal weaknesses like corruption that provide a conducive environment for transnational organised crime.

In South Africa there appears to be little political will to strengthen the leadership and capacity of law enforcement agencies such as the NPA and SAPS. In particular, the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (‘the Hawks’), and the State Security Agency, have been denuded of skills and experience.

Unless the public is informed and law enforcement agencies are enabled and encouraged to fulfil their roles effectively, perceptions about organised crime and who commits it are unlikely to change.

Employment must be central to South Africas Economy

Only an economy where employment is placed at the centre of economic policymaking will work for South Africa. This will require a complete shift in mindset.

To achieve rapid growth, South Africa needs foreign and domestic investment, and that requires confidence in the future, which, in turn, requires stability and political coherence. It needs the involvement of all sectors of society – rural and urban, rich and poor.

That means increasing the supply of skilled workers through improved education and by encouraging inward migration of skilled people and a more flexible labour market. It also means investing in healthcare and infrastructure to increase the productivity of workers.

South Africa should not, of course, abandon its efforts at global change through membership of BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) and other clubs. But evolution is more likely than revolution, and economic diplomacy is not well served by constantly criticising some of our major trading partners while remaining silent on the excesses of others.

Of these objectives, finding a way to create a more flexible labour market remains the least likely. But an environment needs to be created in which employers are willing to take on new entrants to the labour market so they can accumulate the required work experience to make them valuable and productive employees. This will happen only if employers can also terminate employment contracts under reasonable circumstances.

No growth path will succeed in SA if improvements in productivity don’t outpace wage increases

On a practical level, South Africa need look no further than the 18 million still living in the former homelands who are locked into poverty. In line with the approach advanced by Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto Polar, the transfer of communal to individual private property rights in these areas would empower many rural South Africans.

This way, dead capital would become bankable assets. Most of the land in these areas belongs to the government, and not to the communal leaders. The transfer of land to individual ownership is a prerequisite for rural transformation and growth. Such change requires a modernist government committed to economic growth as a priority, not to the traditionalist policies and ‘big man’ leadership of yesteryear.

No growth path will succeed if improvements in productivity don’t outpace wage increases. The National Development Plan, explains Nicoli Nattrass at the University of Cape Town, proposes to compensate workers for their wage restraint ‘by lowering their cost of living … whilst continuing to support skill development and productivity growth in dynamic economic sectors where there is more space for wages to grow without undermining employment or profitability’.

However, she says, the ‘counter-narrative about higher wages necessarily being good for productivity and economic growth is standing in the way of any kind of employment-promoting class compromise in South Africa’.

A growth orientated, employment-intensive pathway inevitably means reviewing and cutting back on the 700 or so state-owned enterprises that give a miserly 2.9% average return on investment.

SA government consumption is 30% of GDP – double the global average for upper-middle income countries

A first step could be to ensure that all these enterprises have proper boards of directors, with the relevant commercial and other expertise, who can run them in a financially responsible manner. These companies should also be subject to comprehensive and independent performance audits, including tender processes and risk-management frameworks. The results should be made public and form the basis for the newly constituted boards of directors to take things forward.

There are instances where state control and leadership are needed, such as investment in strategic manufacturing sectors, state support of research and development, and so on. But state-owned enterprises in the mainstream economy, such as South African Airways, that perennially underperform should be self-sustaining or be sold off.

It means ending the subsidies whereby Cuban engineers and medical doctors are imported at great cost to the taxpayer instead of employing South Africans or encouraging skilled inward migration, which is free. It means cutting back on perks for government ministers and officials. It means a state that is committed to quality.

South Africa generally has a higher cost structure than most other countries at comparative levels of development. Government consumption in South Africa is 30% of GDP, roughly double the global average for upper-middle income countries and some 8% higher than the average for high-income countries.

Admittedly, some of this expenditure is due to social grant payments, but nevertheless, the management of South Africa is too expensive. There are too many unproductive senior officials and too few at lower levels who actually do things like teaching, policing and providing healthcare.

State-owned enterprises that perennially underperform should be self-sustaining or be sold off

We need a strong, capable state as a regulator of a much larger private sector. The state must be an investor in key sectors to spur innovation, to direct much more research and development funding, and, above all, to channel resources in a manner that deals with the historical legacy of apartheid.

But a strong state doesn’t need to be a big state, and the current trend that has seen the steady increase in the size of the civil service while outsourcing core government functions to a network of patronage clients must be reversed.

There are many reforms that could derive greater efficiency from the government and reduce corruption. For example, amendments to laws and the Constitution to remove the powers of the president to appoint directors-general (often against the wishes of ministers) and the requirement for merit-based appointments (including cabinet appointments) based on minimum education qualifications are obvious starting points.

A second reform would be limiting cadre deployment, and instead appointing and promoting senior managers and officials based on merit and qualifications. Then there is the obvious need to reduce the size of the cabinet to probably half its current number, to consolidate ministries and departments, and do away with most deputy ministers.

Other obvious reforms would be to strengthen the legal powers of the Auditor-General to allow for the enforcement of its recommendations. This would help to rein in South Africa’s 35 national government departments, nine provinces, 278 municipalities and more than 120 state entities.

Although the Auditor-General enjoys relative freedom in South Africa, institutions are not compelled to heed his audit findings. This too needs to change

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