South Africans are lazy

2009-12-10 00:00

I KNOW a friend who will not work as a taxi conductor, citing hard work; a relative who rejected a job in a car wash, citing hard work; a friend who will not work in a funeral parlour, citing indecency.

Some months ago, I gave a friend some money so that he could renovate the interior of my house. I’m still waiting for that job to begin. A relative quoted me an exorbitant price to build a concrete ramp. All these people have one thing in common, laziness, but they expect lots of money as payment for every little job they do.

On the other hand, people have referred me to brothers from other parts of Africa who will build the ramp for me. I know a business owner who has contracted other Afri­can brothers to do maintenance and renovations at her business and her home. She has expressed great satisfaction at the service these people have provided. Every day on almost every street corner you find these African brothers with tools, ready to be picked up by a plumbing, painting, electrical, building or tiling contractor. Both my associate business owner and these contractors know that these African brothers will provide cheap labour, while getting the job done and giving 100% of their abilities. It does not matter what country these guys come from, they just want to work and earn a wage, and they do.

In recent years, xenophobic tensions have been growing in different parts of the country. These tensions relate to allegations that foreign people are stealing the jobs of South Africans. As a result African brothers, sisters and their children have suffered abuse, discrimination, assault, violation and death at the hands of South Africans. Why is that so? How is it that people pin entitlements to jobs which they don’t seek and are not employed in? Can we also say that foreigners are stealing business opportunities from South Africans? Will this satisfy our falsified perception and understanding of the current economic situation we are faced with?

Most of my relatives who are physically able and should be economically active individuals, given their age, have never held a long- term job and have never made efforts to look for one. These are men and women who are parents and have responsibilities, such as having to provide food, shelter and clothing for their children, as well as planning for their children’s future.

However, these people have never done any of that. How is it justified for someone with such an approach to life to complain about someone else who goes out there and seeks employment to provide all these things for his or her family? That is exactly what these African brothers and sisters do. They don’t sit and wait for a truck to come and collect them from their dungeon and take them to work or let bygones be bygones if the truck does not come.

There are many people who were laid off from their jobs because they were no longer pitching up at work and when they did they appeared drunk and produced nothing. On the other hand, these African brothers and sisters work hard and accept whatever little they get.

As South Africans, we have complained over and over again about the scarcity of employment opportunities in this country. We have pestered the government to provide for us in all aspects of life, including employment opportunities. However, there are very few of us who find creative ways to meet the government halfway by acquiring skills which are essential to compete in the job market. On the other hand, African brothers and sisters come to our country equipped with a variety of qualifications, and skills and experience, things which are, in this country, deemed as scarce skills. These people start from scratch when they arrive here. They do all sorts of odd jobs where they demonstrate their capabilities, skills and experience.

Just when we thought that we had got past the xenophobic attacks of last year and that our people have learnt from the devastating effects of those attacks, similar incidents were again reported in the news. It is shocking to find that in 2009, while our political leaders are working hard to form relations and partnerships with our neighbouring countries in order to open doors for trade and exchange of skills and sharing of resources, the people on the ground are attacking people from neighbouring countries who are trying to find refuge in our communities. Not only are the current ties imposed by our leaders supposed to unite us as African people but there is also a need to consider our past experience when South African men and women found refuge in these neighbouring countries, and evidence shows that they received a good reception. South Africans were given opportunities to compete in the job markets of these countries, regardless of their skills (or lack thereof).

Maybe, now that people no longer undergo military service after completing secondary education, they should, through the Department of International Relations and related government clusters, undergo a year of community service in another African country. Maybe then South Africans will understand the plight of being in a foreign land, just to get a feel of what it’s like not to have a choice but to do all kinds of jobs to earn a dollar.

What is this talk of foreign land, foreign soil and foreign people anyway? Aren’t we all Africans?

African brothers and sisters are like beggars in this country, given their plight. The difference is that while some South Africans may find themselves in circumstances that are similarly difficult, they continue to demonstrate the attitudes of people with choices when competing in the job market, whereas the former are like beggars who do not choose, beggars who take that which is given to them and make the most of it. This is not to condone the act of exploiting people by paying them less than a minimal wage, which also creates unfair competition among those who compete for jobs and leads to the incidents which have been reported.

The challenge that I want to put forward is that, before we burn houses and chase away our African brothers and sisters, let us learn from their survival tactics, their hard work, perseverance and determination. Then maybe we can decide if they cannot live among us and compete in our job market.

• Andile Mncube was born in Georgetown and still lives there. He is currently employed as a monitoring and evaluation specialist in the KZN Department of Agriculture, Environmental Affairs and Rural Development.

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