A welcome mat for whores

2009-11-28 00:00

THE gates are agape for gangsters, pimps, washerwomen and gardeners. But teachers, nuclear physicists, nurses and engineers are shunned.

Those who deserve to be barred are freely allowed to enter South Africa, while those whom we should embrace, find the path to legal settlement a minefield. Since the government’s attitude to foreigners is so distinctly schizophrenic, it is unsurprising that the attitude of the general public simmers with xenophobia.

Many rich nations are built on the canny sifting of the world’s human flotsam and jetsam to select the brightest and the best.

With globalisation, most modern countries vie to recruit internationally the critical skills needed for economic growth which they are not able to churn out fast enough themselves.

Canada, for example, has just introduced a programme that allows overseas students to work there for up to three years after graduation. It’s an elegantly clever idea: in a single move it increases the ability of Canadian universities to attract international students — who pay premium tuition fees — and then allows the cherry-picking of exactly the kind of qualified migrants that country wants.

In unhappy contrast, South Africa has arguably the world’s most inept approach to immigration, snarled in a cats-cradle of corruption and muddled thinking.

While the African National Congress government pays lip service to the need for immigration to alleviate a skills shortage that annually trims growth by a couple of percentage points, it cannot bring itself to do what needs to be done.

History and residual resentment ensures that Home Affairs officialdom is none too keen on allowing the entry of skilled whites. After all, the last lot came ostensibly to start a refuelling station and stayed to palm into their pocket the whole country.

Struggle ideology has led to the virtual abandonment of land border controls, which has allowed literally millions of destitute, relatively unskilled Africans to flood into the country. But simultaneously, the ANC has a policy of not encouraging the immigration of skilled workers from elsewhere on the continent, in order not to strip African countries of intellectual capital.

The perverse result is that the South African underclass — a lumpen proletariat lacking education, skills and hope — must compete with economic refugees who are nevertheless better educated and more skilled, as well as so desperate to get a foot onto the jobs ladder that they will work for a pittance.

This sparks the sense of grievance that periodically inspires township locals to loot, torch and murder the kwerekwere.

To aggravate matters, Home Affairs officials make it virtually impossible for the genuinely skilled among these African migrants to get permits for legal employment.

Consequently, one has Congolese chartered accountants working as car guards, Zimbabwean maths teachers facing harassment and deportation, and Nigerian theatre nurses selling mangos at the side of the road.

Oddly enough, Nigerian drug dealers, Zimbabwean cash-in-transit gangs and Congolese peddlers of blood diamonds have no trouble in procuring residence and work permits.

And oddly, when it comes to corruption, racism goes out the window. East European and Asian pimps manage to get the Home Affairs stamp of approval as readily as the dodgy Africans.

This week, a magistrate expressed bafflement that a Brit in a R600-million drug bust had been granted residence in South Africa, despite previous convictions and jail time in England.

Give us your huddled masses, yearning to be free from jail. Send us the wretched refuse of your brothels and drug dens. For a small fee, Home Affairs will organise the paperwork.

But if you are an astrophysicist, piss off. There’s no work here for an honest person.

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