How can South Africa “partially” address the case of immigrant labor and stop xenophobia?

By Charles Kamunjoma

Apparently; xenophobia – sporadic attacks against foreign nationals – has become a yearly tradition in South Africa. In a petition submitted to the South African Home Affairs this year, some of the reasons for the attacks include: predatory pricing by foreign owned hair salons, operation of illegal foreign vehicles on South African roads, absence of international drivers licenses by foreign taxi drivers and sanitary issues in relation to foreign owned churches that are being operated in open view and in national parks, particularly those from Zimbabwe.

Xenophobia in South Africa
Xenophobia in South Africa

It is quite a detailed petition with nothing learned to cry for except for a few trivial issues hardly imaginable to send foreigners packing or straight to their graves. It was motivated by pure hatred, to say the least; I won’t discuss it but touch on one of the longstanding and lingering reasons for the attacks -immigrant labor.

For this discussion I will start by quoting Fernando Sucre, a fictional character in the popular TV series “Prison Break”. When asked by the racist southern paedophile, Tea Bag ,to explain why a large number of Latinos were employed in America, his response was: “it is the Americans that are lazy, otherwise they would not be any jobs for the immigrants. The ones that are sitting at home collecting unemployment are the lazy ones”.

He could not have said it any better.

Firstly, the conversation itself indicates that immigrant labor is not a problem peculiar to South Africa. Big powers like Britain and America anguish under the same problem, a problem that saw the English voting out of the European Union and the Americans voting in President Donald Trump, basically an appointment to erect the Great Mexican Wall.

Not good news, but at least no Polish or Mexican blood was shed. It will be delightful if South Africa follows suit. With an already present spirit of “exceptionalism” – that South Africa is a western country in Africa – the country can either vote out of the AU and SADC (two important regional communities that relates it to the rest of Africa and also expect it to implement the agreed protocols on the free movement of persons, which is highly  doubtful judging from the country’s questionable approach towards regional initiatives) ; or erect the “Great Zimbabwean Wall” along the Beitbridge border post where some of the hated foreigners- Zimbabweans, Zambians and Malawians – are storming through.

On a second note, Sucre’s response seems to follow a “bottom-up approach” that explains the increased opening of any labour market to immigrants. He noted laziness, on the part of local residents, as one of the ground factors that leads to the increased employment of immigrants. I have to say I never thought laziness could apply to the Americans or the general white population for that matter.

Most white people I’ve come across have told me that black people are lazy but apparently it is something that does not distinguish against race. It is something that come along with economic development – the creation of a breed of lazy citizens that wait to feed on social security money (dependency syndrome) and to picket against immigrant labor in relation to the unavailability of jobs they never apply for (entitlement syndrome).

In this view it will be politically incorrect to say black South Africans killing foreigners are lazy. They represent a portion of a breed of lazy South Africans and are fighting immigrant labor in their own way. In simple terms picture South Africa as the movie “Brick Mansions” (pardon my fascination for movies). There is a breed of lazy and rather barbaric citizens living in Brick Mansions (a lawless and underdeveloped downtown community) and another breed (a mixture of white and black elite) living in an uptown developed community.

These two groups fight immigrant labor differently, Brick Mansions through xenophobia and the Uptown Community through pushing for stringent immigration and labour laws. The point is given their circumstances, South Africans killing foreigners are not just lazy but are also barbaric.

To move on, there is a top-down approach contrary to Sucre’s bottom-up approach. Of the notable factors under this approach include poor investment in human capital. I would start by looking at the recent South Africa Matriculant results but i think it will be a low blow to mock South Africans’ level of intelligence on the basis of one or two provinces that performed poorly. It is best I look at the racial demarcations and social injustices that surround the tertiary education system.

I may not be a whizkid in statistics but I have good observation skills to note that the best Universities in South Africa are attended by a large number of white people, the black elite and a few “Brick Mansion” citizens (#FeesMustFall protesters) that are fortunate enough to get scholarships and bursaries.

It is no news that graduates from these schools represent a larger portion of the much needed human capital in South Africa; only 1 out of ten graduates goes unemployed. But are these graduates enough to cater for the much needed human capital?

If not, does the majority of “Brick Mansion” residents empowered at low level institutions such as Walter Sisulu University and University of Fort Hare possess the necessary skills that employers look for. Sadly, the answer is no. This have seen the opening of labor markets to immigrants ,much of which comes from the West (Australia and New Zealand) and not the bordering African countries. It is difficult, if not virtually impossible for an African to get employed in South Africa. Even under critical skills.

To rest my case, South Africans need to stop killing foreigners and understand that a country’s economy is sustained and developed by human capital. They need to refrain from being lazy and start to meet their government halfway in working towards the much needed initiative to boost local human capital.

If not, the country’s borders remain open to immigrants, an open invitation for employers to manipulate the labor market by targeting cheap labor (blue collar jobs). This unfortunately leaves the hard working South Africans to cry – a situation that need not to be resolved by the sword but by engaging with the South African government to take a route similar to that Britain and America took.

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