Ramaphosa says MEC's foreigners rant could have been handled differently

President Cyril Ramaphosa
President Cyril Ramaphosa
Image: GCIS

President Cyril Ramaphosa has conceded that Limpopo health MEC Phophi Ramathuba could have raised “in another way” the matter of the strain on the province's health system caused by undocumented immigrants. However, he maintains South Africans are not xenophobic.

Ramaphosa was responding to parliamentary questions from opposition leaders who said the problems around undocumented immigrants were created by the governing ANC which was now “scapegoating” foreign nationals. 

However, the president told the National Assembly that South Africans were not xenophobic, that they were in fact quite welcoming and that the law has to be observed in the matter of migration as is the case in any other country, specifically in Africa. 

“Home Affairs is dealing with enormous challenges and I believe they are doing a good job, particularly now that they are setting up a border control authority that in itself is going to help us ensure there is legality and that the migration we cannot run away happens within the legal framework,” said Ramaphosa.

MEC Ramathuba recently told a Zimbabwean admitted to a Limpopo public hospital that “they were to blame” for her department's stretched budget and that the patient's  country, not SA, should take responsibility for her health.

Ramathuba has refused to apologise and on Tuesday when Ramaphosa was asked what action he would take against the MEC, he said Ramathuba had raised an important issue. 

“She raised it in the presence of a patient and I guess such an important issue could have been raised in another way but it has been raised and evolved into a debate not only in our country but in Zimbabwe and the rest of the continent. It is a matter that will enjoy attention as we meet at head of state level — to discuss what the movement of people should really entail in the form of services, health, criminality and the rule of law,” said Ramaphosa. 

Ramathuba was mentioned for “fanning xenophobic flames” among other governing party heavyweights including home affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi and ANC spokesperson Pule Mabe. 

Ramaphosa maintained that his party members were not xenophobic, adding that ordinary South Africans were not wrong for demanding preference over foreigners. 

“The leadership of the party I lead is not xenophobic, yes there are challenges that are global when it comes to issues of migration and our people also respond to the various challenges they experience daily.

Ramaphosa said challenges around migration required a balance and foreigners could not be elevated at the expense of South Africans.

“At the same time, we have to recognise those who come to our country in compliance with our migration policies also have a right to come through here, as do South Africans who can go to other parts of the continent.

“That balance has to be there and for us the first prize is to look after our own people and make sure their rights are not ignored — but at the same time those who come here [must] have their rights respected,” Ramaphosa said.  

The president said he understood that on the distribution of resources, citizens feel strongly that preference should be given to them.

“They are right in many ways to feel like that but at the same time we have to make sure that whatever is done is done within the confines of the law,” Ramaphosa said.

He added that SA's foreign policy is admired around the world because of its decisions of a progressive type that are applauded in many other countries. He said the country’s participation on the African continent through the AU is highly respected and in Sadc SA is held in high regard “within the context of Pan Africanism, our basic humanity and our own constitution”.

He said the challenges of migration will be discussed among heads of states.


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