Nearly 1 million South Africans were deported back home in the wake of the government’s campaign against alleged “terrorist” activities, as the country fought a violent struggle against apartheid. Around a third of the repatriated people—roughly half a million—were Canadian citizens and their passage was granted by the Canadian government. Even as South Africa’s economic struggles take center stage in the news, there continues to be a cloud over travel from the country. The reasons for this ban have been the subject of debate, but some scholars believe that, at a minimum, it should be revisited. We argue in a new Policy Review article that South Africa’s unfavorability rating in Canada should be reassessed.
In the first place, Canada has as yet not confirmed the scope of the economic crimes that led to the wide-ranging sweeping of South Africans. The Supreme Court ruled, however, that there was insufficient evidence to hold people’s residence within Canada to account. While the judges acknowledged that the South African government was engaged in illegality and might hold court charges, they also cautioned that the charge sheet was not sufficiently specific. The court also noted that South Africa’s decision to deport over 1 million people strained the country’s ability to monitor citizens.
Despite this weakness, we can argue that the South African government should receive some credit for international cooperation and cooperation between national police forces. This cooperation has led to the effective dismantling of cross-border schemes that had been aiding organized crime and were considered among the world’s most dangerous, and it has played a critical role in tracking down and prosecuting associated criminals and terrorists.
In the alternative, the South African government, led by former President Jacob Zuma, brought “various acts of illegal detention and expulsion” that collectively constitute “the most serious violation of international human rights to take place outside a United Nations mandate in recent years.” At minimum, Canada has a responsibility to try to draw the South African government back from the brink of a new round of social tensions and political instability that threaten to destabilize the democratic country that emerged out of apartheid over three decades ago. The continuation of this inflexible ban will only do this.
Canada’s government often cites criteria of “human security” as the reason for its general proscription of travel to South Africa, pointing to social indicators such as a gender-based violence index and statistics related to violent crime, which are apparently not enough to justify such an exclusion. But social determinants are not sufficient to justify excluding South Africans. Economic and financial factors are equally important, as they play a significant role in forcing them to take the risky decision to leave home, in response to what appears to be a form of international institutionalized racial apartheid. There is, therefore, strong evidence that the economic and social exclusion that lie at the base of South Africa’s political disorder is a salient feature of the country’s predicament. We argue, therefore, that the blanket ban on travel to South Africa should be reconsidered.
Canada could reconsider by giving South Africa the benefit of the doubt, and approving the migration of returnees. Many of those repatriated have suffered for their perceived political crimes; they are just as innocent as the rest of us, and Canada should not be so quick to discard what promises to be vital information about their families. South Africa, moreover, is poised to take on a more important international role, as it approaches a constitutional and national elections in which the first African National Congress–led government will be in power for several years. Nevertheless, Canada should take the initiative to have the ban revisited, and offer more equitable treatment to its more important allies.