By 2050 Nigeria’s population will top 400 million, allowing it to overtake the USA to become the world’s third most populous country. This is a key part of Africa’s surging demographic growth of 2.7% a year – more than twice as fast as South Asia (1.2% p.a.). That is to say, Africa adds the equivalent of the population of France every two years. So by 2050 Africa’s population will double to 2.5 billion or more than a quarter of the world’s people. By 2100 Africa will make up 39% of the world’s population.
The basic reason for this is the triumph of colonial medicine which dramatically cut infant mortality and lengthened life expectancy. In response African family size has been only slowly reducing so many African families are still far, far bigger than required for replacement. One result of this, of course, is that in many African countries a majority of the population is aged 20 or under, sometimes even 15 or under. We are frequently told that this is a great advantage for Africa because so many of its people are young and vigorous.
This is very, very foolish. As one looks around Africa today one is struck by the large number of failed states – South Sudan, Somalia, the DRC, much of the Sahel etc. In addition many African states are extremely rickety affairs – poor, unstable, often ruled by dictators, frequently racked by civil violence and virtually all are extremely corrupt. In that company even South Africa counts as a relatively stable, middle income and democratic state - and we all know how poorly those adjectives describe South Africa’s reality today.
The point is, if Africa adds another 1.25 billion people by 2050, what chance is there that these rickety states will be able to provide the housing, education, education, health facilities, food and jobs that all those extra people will need ?
The answer is that very few of those states will come anywhere near doing that. It is far more likely that many of Africa’s fragile states will simply collapse under this human avalanche. Very likely we will see many of them overcome by civil violence of one kind or another and it is frighteningly possible that all the gains of the independence period will be wiped out. Instead of moving towards some sort of African renaissance we could easily see the complete denouement of all the hopes of that independence era.
Moreover social scientists have emphasised that throughout history wars, revolutions and the breakdown of order is highly associated with the presence in the population of large numbers of unemployed young men. Africa’s demographic trajectory guarantees that precisely that group will be particularly numerous, so a breakdown into violence of one form or another is all too likely.
Already, as our daily headlines tell us, large numbers of Africans are trying desperately to flee their countries. Effectively, they have already given up hope that things will improve. There are few reliable statistics about these migratory movements but most estimates are that more Africans seek their fortune by moving south (towards us) than attempt the far tougher task of moving to Europe or America. The number of such migrants is bound to grow – exponentially.
This really ought to set red lights flashing. We currently have almost 60 million people. Even if we manage our water resources really well (and of course we don’t) there is only enough water for 70 million people here. Already water shortages are becoming endemic. Rand Water recently cut water supplies to all three Gauteng metros, explaining that consumption simply exceeded supply. There is a water crisis in the Eastern Cape, in the North West, the Free State and Limpopo. A cut off in Jo’burg’s water is now one of the biggest economic risks that the country faces. Given that ANC municipal management is so hopeless it has to be assumed that broken pipes will seldom be mended. We simply cannot afford uncontrolled immigration.
As things stand we don’t even have the faintest idea how many migrants we are hosting: estimates vary widely. Or how many extra are being added every year. Discussion of this situation is conducted in ludicrous terms. We are told we should welcome immigrants because other African countries welcomed ANC exiles 30-50 years ago. Anyone who says they would like to restrict immigration is accused of xenophobia. Nobody talks about numbers and resources.
The real issue is not what sort of welcome ANC exiles got in the 1970s: it is that our population is beginning to out-run our available resources, starting with water. If we continue to allow unrestricted immigration we are bound to face ever-increasing pressure on our housing, schools and hospitals and we are also bound to face increasing crime and violence too, as more and more people compete ever more fiercely for limited resources. Our resentful home population will respond extremely negatively to this situation, as would any host population anywhere in the world.
Thus far the only local politician who attempts to face up to this problem is Herman Mashaba – and a pretty bad press he gets for doing so. This is a ridiculous situation. Every politician and every party ought to have a clear answer to these questions. Look at America, look at Europe. Their home populations are not growing and yet no one there doubts that immigration is a legitimate political issue. It is, after all, the right of every country in the world to decide how much and what sort of immigration it wants. There is nothing racist or good or bad about that: it is just part of national sovereignty that a country makes that decision for itself.
It may be objected that many of our immigrants are refugees. Since we don’t even know their numbers, we don’t really know this. Presumably some Somalis are refugees – but Nigerians? Malawians? Namibians? In any case, no government and no politician need make any apology for putting the interests of his or her country first.
Our own population has steadily reduced its average family size so that today it is not far beyond replacement level. The fact that in some other countries, many of them thousands of miles away, people are still having inordinately large families does not create any obligation, moral or otherwise, for us to accept all these extra people within our borders.
If we look at our national interests it is clear that we have only too many unskilled and semi-skilled people looking for jobs. What we need is more skilled people. As it is we are suffering badly from a brain drain and the loss of scarce skills. A larger number of skilled people would help our economy and create a lot more jobs.
People speak of our open borders as if we can do nothing to control the inward flow of migrants. This is ridiculous. Most migrants move through a limited number of choke points. Under apartheid a relatively small police force controlled the borders tolerably well. It could be done again. In any case, if we do nothing the situation will get worse and worse and ultimately we will be forced to control our borders, whatever the difficulties may be. Why wait until the situation becomes desperate?
At present the whole subject of migrancy exists in the shadows. That must stop. The first thing we need is accurate data. We need to know who is here and what jobs they do. No foreigner gets social grants of any kind, so most work and some are very valuable people. Their situation needs to be regularised. As in Britain illegal immigrants found to be living from crime should be deported immediately. In general, policy needs to be transparent and unapologetic. There is no need for xenophobia.
This article first appeared in Rapport newspaper.