IN his speech to the joint US Congress Oct. 7, elder statesman
Nelson Mandela proclaimed that the concept of a global village had
become a reality that no nation-state could ignore.
This new reality, he said, had to become the cornerstone of a
new world order in which poverty and injustice could be replaced by
democracy, peace, and prosperity.
"The world is one stage and the action of all inhabitants part
of the same drama," President Mandela said.
"Does it not then follow that each one of us as nations,
including yourselves, should begin to define the national interest
to include the genuine happiness of others, however distant in time
and space their domicile might be?"
Congress applauded the speech as a landmark statement on the
growing economic and political interdependence of nations. "It was
the best, most eloquent and effective definition of the new world
order ever heard," said Rep. Richard Gephardt (D) of Missouri.
But the message resonated differently back in South Africa,
where a flood of black immigrants was entering from neighboring
countries in search of a better life.
Mandela's more vocal constituents are demanding tighter controls
at the border, illustrating the dilemma his ideal faces across the
globe: how to reconcile the noble ideals of universal democracy and
human rights with the more specific interests of nation-states and
broader trends sometimes driven more by the need for efficiency
In the new world order that Mandela envisages, the national
interest is coming into ever more frequent conflict with social and
economic factors operating across frontiers. International borders
are increasingly challenged by the rise of ethnicity, transnational
financial markets and trade blocs, and new information technology.
South Africa wrestles with human rights and immigration
These developments in the ordering of international affairs beg
the question: Why should human rights remain in the straightjacket
of national boundaries?
Mandela's comments were directed at the United States in his
quest for foreign aid and investment in a continent largely left
behind by the industrialized world. His vision was all the more
remarkable for having emerged from a country where apartheid and
its legacy have kept South Africa trapped in a time-warp, isolated
from global trends toward democratization and human rights.
The dilemma he faces is that he has taken his concept of human
rights and economic justice way beyond that of his constituency. In
South Africa, intolerance toward black immigrants is growing, as is
the militancy of a black trade-union elite and the residual culture
of resistance that complicates the reversal of apartheid-era rent
and service boycotts and advocates mass protest.
The problem was highlighted at an Oct. 7 conference of the South
Africa Political Studies Association near Johannesburg. What was
remarkable about the conference was that the academics divided more
or less along racial lines when it came to the issue of how to deal
with immigrants from black-ruled states.
White political academics took the liberal line that South
Africa cannot deny rights to black immigrants merely because they
fall within different national boundaries of an interconnected
region. Immigrants, the argument went, like South African citizens,
have a right to life, and contribute to the national welfare
through their involvement in the informal economy, doing jobs that
black South Africans are not prepared to do.
The black political scientists at the conference disagreed
sharply. As long as some 50 percent of black South Africans have no
formal jobs, the country cannot afford to allow black immigrants to
take coveted employment opportunities away from them.
Their solution was tougher immigration policies, tighter
policing of the borders, and repatriation of illegal immmigrants
already inside the country. …