Fears of xenophobia has once again become the beginning of wisdom in South Africa after the country’s Finance minister Tito Mboweni declared amid Covid-19 pandemic troubles that the government would only support companies with financial bailout packages if they changed their employment policies to favour South Africans.
However, African immigrants runinng Spaza shops in South Africa claim there had always been a grand agenda to push them out of South Africa’s township and rural areas and replace them with white businesses.
They pointed to a media report that Pick n Pay and Shoprite will soon roll out Spaza shops of their own in townships which promised to be cheaper than regular Spaza shops.
After Mboweni’s ‘ultra-pro-South Africa declaration, Zimbabwe expressed fear. Constance Chemwayi, the spokesperson for the Foreign Affairs and International Trade ministry, said while Mboweni’s statement was a reflection of the new policy thrust that South Africa could take going forward, there was need to utilise communication channels available to the two governments to settle the issue.
Chemwayi said Zimbabwe was ready to ensure its nationals were safe in the event the xenophobic attacks recurred.
Chemwayi said there are fears that this ‘new policy trajectory’ could stir the axing of foreigners en masse, particularly in the hospitality sector.
The Finance minister made the statement sometimes ago whilst addressing the nation to provide detail on the R800 billion major fiscal and monetary package to fight the deadly coronavirus.
He indicated in crystal clear terms that the post-COVID-19 labour market policies will have to be supportive and prioritise absorbing the millions of unemployed South Africans.
However, many foreigners living in South Africa believe Mboweni has joined the league of South Africa’s top government officials who have drummed the xenophobic beats and act surprised when the country goes up in flame in xenophobic attacks.
The minister said: “People who want to approach banks or government for funding and so on must demonstrate that they do have a labour market or employment policy that favours South Africans. Nothing is xenophobic about that.”
One of the strongest pro-xenophobia statements in South Africa had been made by President Cyril Ramaphosa last year when he said: “everyone (foreigners) comes into our townships and rural areas to start businesses without permits,” adding that such ventures must stop.
It is popularly believed that Ramaphosa’s statement validates many South Africans’ believe that foreigners are ‘illegal intruders’ in their country.
They also claimed the statement was one of the foundational strategies to push African immigrants out of townships and rural areas and replace them with white businesses.
One Nigerian vendor in Diepsloot say: “President Ramaphosa is a capitalist. He’s pushing an agenda to push us out of the townships to replace us with white people. They first started by saying we are not registered and we don’t pay taxes”.
There are swelling theories that white owned businesses lost some grounds to African immigrants’ aggressive grassroots and city center hustling tendencies and the whites in cohorts with people in high places intend to push the immigrants back.
Media report confirm that business in Central Johannesburg largely run by African immigrants is worth about R10 billion annually twice the value of the businesses in Sandton mall annually.
Austin Nqube, a Zimbabwean hawker in central Johannesburg says: “We started these businesses without loan and support from South African government. When they see how we have thrived, they want to push us out. South Africa government are ungrateful and evil people. Ramaphosa does not like us”.
Ramaphosa’s Pro-Xenophobia Statement
In March 2020, South African Police allegedly discriminated against foreign nationals, shutting down immigrant-owned spaza shops early on Friday (March 27) morning in Govan Mbeki, Port Elizabeth, citing the 21-day national lockdown to mitigate the spread of Covid-19. The Minister for Small Business, Khumbudzo Ntshavheni was allegedly outrightly xenophobic in her approach ordering that Spaza shops owned by foreigners be shut down.
Mail and Guardian reported last year that: “irresponsible leaders (in South Africa) continue to manufacture an atmosphere of crisis. Politicians claim that foreigners are flooding South Africa and undermining country’s security, stability and prosperity. Yet, according to the 2011 census, South Africa isn’t overwhelmed with immigrants, with some 2.2-million international migrants (about 4% of the population) in the country in 2011. Statistics South Africa Community Survey 2016 puts the number of foreign born people at 1.6 million, out of the population of 55 million at the time. The Department of Home Affairs has deported close to 400 000 foreign nationals since 2012.”
In 2017, South Africa’s deputy police minister said he city of Johannesburg has been hijacked by foreigners and that 80% of the city is being controlled by them.
He said the ‘foreigners’ control’ of the city be nipped in the bud or else the entire country “could be 80% dominated by foreign nationals and the future president of South Africa could be a foreign national.”
NIGERIANS IN South Africa DISCUSSING XENOPHOBIA IN South Africa
In 2017, African Diaspora Forum (ADF) spokesperson, Emeka Johnson, believed Johannesburg mayor, Herman Mashaba, incited violence against immigrants in Gauteng. The mayor was quoted as saying: “(Illegal immigrants) are holding our country to ransom and I am going to be the last South African to allow it.”
Mashaba often used discriminatory phrases against foreigners, speaking about “our people” and “those people” [the foreigners] who make South Africa into a “lawless society.”
However, it was only the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) that condemns xenophobia in South Africa in clear terms. The leader, Julius Malema has consistently preached against violence against other Africans, as he believes the problem is “White Monopoly Capitalists”.
Malema’s Strong Anti-Xenophobia Message
In 2019, the Democratic Alliance (DA), Congress of the People (COPE) and the Freedom Front Plus (FFP) promised to place foreigners in camps rather than letting them roam free in South African cities.
The African Basic Movement party had also called for all foreigners to leave South Africa by the end of 2018. The party claimed foreigners plan to take over the country in a few years and thus must be stopped by any means. They also want to make it illegal for foreigners to marry South African citizens.
The ‘foreigner scapegoatism’ is rampant in South Africa. In 2018, Deputy public protector Kevin Malunga lashed out at health minister Aaron Motsoaledi for a statement he made saying foreign nationals were burdening the South African healthcare system.
This is a desperate statement after failing to address the systemic issues in the @HealthZA Department for years.Look at our report that was released two weeks ago.Of course every nation must serve its own first but this Minister is deflecting from his own challenges.Reckless. https://t.co/FrGV5I4xhh
— KevinSifisoMalunga (@KevinMalunga) November 15, 2018
However, African immigrants in South Africa theorised that Mboweni’s new “PRO-SOUTH-AFRICANS-POST-COVID-19 economic policy statement is another ‘foreigners’ scapegoatism’ agenda in disguise. They say the statement could spark another xenophobic sentiments and attacks.
Nigerians in South Africa believe their government is always reactive and has little or no love for its citizens. They applaud the Zimbabwean authorities for proactively thinking of the wellbeing of their nationals in reaction to the ‘new PRO=SOUTH-AFRICANS -POST-COVID-19 economic trajectory.
Qasim Bankole, a Nigerian business man in Pretoria believes South Africa takes her own citizens first and that, that is not wrong. He advised that Nigerian government should do the same.
He indicated that the palliative measures to cushion lockdown was a loan South Africa took – hence their citizens should be priortised.
He believes that when South Africa is truly prosperous, foreigners would automatically benefit. Qasim says foreigners’ company policies favour South Africans already but that many South Africans are hardly qualify.
“I can’t go and borrow money to salvage a situation and my kids would not benefit it. That’s not possible.”
However, the Pretoria based business man said he has 30% of South Africans in his employ and won’t go the government or bank for help because he can hardly get enough qualified South Africans to make him qualify for government or bank help in South Africa.
However, it is worthy of note that the South African government made frantic efforts to dispel xenophobia and promote unity within and outside South Africa after the last wave of horrific xenophobic attacks.
Many people are yet to take South African government seriously on their ‘anti-xenophobia’ stance because of some ‘pro-xenophobic statements” the leaders often make.
In a bid to show seriousness, the government through the department of Arts and Culture in partnership with the Nigerian High commission in Pretoria and Milla Communications are putting together a social cohesion dialogue to where unity and peaceful co-existence between South Africa and other Africans will be advanced.