Home » General » A Big Thumbs-Up to Foreigners in SA [opinion]

I have lived in South Africa for over five years and I must say I have enjoyed the stay despite the hiccups here and there. The World Cup came, was staged and became exemplary that Africa can equally compete with the so-called developed countries and indeed was a great success and followed by the equally successful hosting of the Africa Cup of Nations, which was fantastic.

I have, however, been dismayed and perplexed by what I have been hearing and reading in the local papers, especially the portrayal of foreigners (popularly known as “Makwerekwere”) in general and what has transpired in different parts of South Africa with regards to xenophobia recently that resulted in more than eight people being killed.

Among the things that are upsetting to foreigners who are still living or were living in South Africa, is to read allegations that they hold on to their jobs through “unfair means”, transfer billions of rands abroad, and that some of them have a haughty and arrogant attitude.

If South Africa wants to become a competitive economy in the global system, consideration must be given to the relationship between opening its borders to trade, industry, culture, communications and capital, and the movement of people which must inevitably follow. In my globe-trotting experience I have discovered that immigrants generally have entrepreneurial talent and ambition, are prepared to take risks and possess the necessary drive to survive and succeed in a foreign country.

As a loyalist to my country of origin and a true believer of nationalisation and patriotism, I gly believe that providing or creating jobs by the local government is necessary and should be given priority at all costs, and definitely nationals have a first go at these openings, and that the whole issue should be dealt with in a proper manner.

The country’s rate of economic growth can be accelerated by dramatically expanding the number of skilled foreigners moving to South Africa. My question is around whether everyone realises how much foreign workers contribute to the South African GDP, and that it was not easy for them to bring their families to South Africa? It is therefore quite natural for them to remit funds to their loved ones as they are the breadwinners of the family.

What prompted me to comment on these observations, readings and hearings is that I have encountered similar resentment from many foreigners’ friends living in South Africa, as well as from those who have worked in SA and then returned to their countries.

On many occasions, I try to emphasise that the government of South Africa and people of South Africa have high regard for the efforts made by all expatriates in further boosting the progress, development and prosperity achieved by South Africa. I reiterate that South Africa still needs them and their endeavours to continue the nation building and development process and that they have a right to transfer the money earned by them to their countries to support their families.

Of course, there are some simple-minded people, who are rigid in their thinking and who have neither obtained an adequate education nor a proper mindset and therefore do not have the ability to understand things well.

The United States provides the best example of the value of skilled immigrants. In 1990 more than a third of engineers and other IT professionals working there had been born elsewhere. People who think that the country can dispense with expatriates and their services represent only themselves and do not represent the South African people.

South African hospitals need nurses, doctors the education sector requires teachers and the private engineers, lawyers and technicians from different countries like Zimbabwe, Ghana, Nigeria Somalia India and the UK, mainly to work in remote areas where South Africans are not willing to work. Apart from this, take the case of mostly foreign waiters and waitresses, street cleaners who engage in a difficult job from dawn to dusk and draw a low salary. In their absence, restaurants would not have anyone to save the customers or South African streets would be filled with litter.

Their efforts are all necessary because of the absence of a sense of responsibility on other South Africans as they dispose of waste by throwing it from cars or dumping it in unauthorised places, resulting in unpleasant odours and creating severe hygienic problems.

In South Africa, the unemployment rate measures the number of people actively looking for a job as a percentage of the labour force. Quoting Jeremy

Seeking (CSSR Working Paper No. 32, March 2003), he asserts that unemployment is very high in South Africa for two sets of reasons:

First, economic growth has been too weak to absorb the ever rising number of young men and women entering the labour market, itself due to demographic growth and rising participation rates. Secondly, the policies and actions of government, organised labour and business have together resulted in a growth path that has been “jobless’ in that employment has fallen despite economic growth.

Crucially, the growth path has entailed rising productivity and rising wages for an ever smaller pool of workers, with rapid shrinkage in, especially, unskilled employment opportunities.

Furthermore, it has been said and reported in several local newspapers that t there are about a million unemployed South Africans registered, while millions of foreigners are working in the country. There is a lot of disinformation and lack of precision in this talk

If we take this statement seriously and conduct a logical and objective analysis, these are women, and most of these ladies are housewives and are not prepared to work. And those young boys who are ready to work will not accept all types of work but instead will look for a job that is suitable to their nature as well as to their social status and traditions.

The problem of unemployment among South Africans is a complex one and its solution requires a comprehensive national effort with the involvement of various agencies, such as the ministries of education, higher education and labour as well as the Technical and Vocational Training Corporation, and this must be done in conjunction with the private sector, especially major companies such as Eskom, Transnet and SABC. This should involve implementing giant projects in the production sector in order to create job opportunities for South Africans.

Finally, I add my voice to the voices of foreigners in calling on all South Africans to sit and ponder for a while and join us in thanking all the wonderful men and women who came from around the globe and helped in building South Africa, reminiscent of what the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “One who does not thank people, would not thank God.”

This twin failure – to recruit and retain skilled people, and manage the entry of unskilled people – is holding back South Africa’s prospects for growth and development and exacerbating social tensions.

More importantly, it is very important to understand the concept of migration. In the true sense of the concept, migration cannot be stopped or rigidly controlled. This is not a bad thing: the history of humanity is a history of migration. Invariably, it has benefited migrants, their countries of origin, and their destinations.

Brian Chikwava is a Zimbabwean working in South Africa.

Source : The Herald