Jobs for locals first

2009-12-12 13:35

by Zoleka Ndayi

South Africa has a

­dual ­nature. We are a society characterised by the “haves” and the

“have-nots”, yet we also wield the economic and political ­hegemony of the


We need to balance the wellbeing of other Africans in distress?–

especially those who played an active role in ending apartheid?– with domestic

­socioeconomic challenges.

However, the current realities suggest that while the

­influx of African immigrants promotes the idea of an African Renaissance, it

also highlights some unintended consequences.

South Africa has the problem of unemployment and a ­declining pool

of jobs which, besides the current global ­economic meltdown, is exacerbated by

an influx of legal and illegal immigrant human ­capital.

With a vast reserve of skilled and semi-skilled labour, South

Africa’s expanded unemployment rate (including discouraged work-seekers) is at

32%, job-shedding is at one?million this year alone, and a further one million

retrenchments are expected next year.

As far back as 2006, ­economist Mike Schussler­ ­predicted that

more illegal ­immigrants were bound to cross the border to South ­Africa to

exploit the prospects of the 2010 World Cup.

Though no one knows the ­exact figures of foreign nationals living

in South Africa, the total is estimated at 10 million.

The high number of immigrants and a domestic labour surplus suggest

that reconciling the need to curb escalating domestic unemployment with

providing jobs for immigrants will prove to be a ­difficult task for the


While South Africa’s immigration policies make sense, supplementing

the skills shortage with expertise from all over the continent, the slow pace of

skills acquisition programmes hinders the employability of ­locals.

The high number of non-South African casual job-seekers as provided

for in our ­immigration policy, as well as the number of illegal immigrants due

to the porous ­nature of the country’s ­borders, intensifies competition for


In addition, many ­employers prefer to hire ­non-South Africans even

though the necessary domestic skilled labour might be available.

It would seem that skilled and unskilled immigrants are competing

with their ­domestic counterparts for a ­declining pool of jobs and ­favours in

a ­labour market ­resisting transformation.

As the environment proves fertile

for immigrants able to outcompete the locals,­ native South Africans

increasingly find themselves economically marginalised.

The large underclass, in circumstances of socioeconomic distress

and marginalisation, resorts to improper ways of expressing its frustration and

a xenophobic attitude and political instability prevails.

Perhaps this explains

the speculation that xenophobia will intensify during and after the World Cup.

In addition to leaders’ ­Zwelinzima Vavi and Bobby Godsell’s appeal

to business and ­labour leaders to preserve ­current jobs and avoid

­retrenchments, private companies and other institutions also need to be

sensitive to domestic human capital challenges and prioritise employment and

transformation of the local labour force.

The private sector needs to prioritise the employment of locals to

create a safe ­environment for business ­operations. In the interest of

profit-making, businesses are bound to compete for competitive and ­efficient

human capital, but ­socio-economic and ­political stability is also ­important.

Besides the alternatives called for by Vavi and Godsell, both

business and civil society should campaign for measures that give priority to

promoting the employment of locals and fast-tracking transformation and skills


While a proudly South African employment approach sounds xenophobic

and might dent the spirit of an African ­Rennaisance, it has the potential to

curb xenophobia and maintain a stable environment in which business can continue

to thrive.

The country’s labour force also needs to be cushioned against

competing foreign human capital as a way of ­promoting internal socioeconomic


) Dr Ndayi is a lecturer in ­international relations at

the University of the Witwatersrand


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