Much of our national discourse and call to action in the past few weeks has been over the attacks on foreign nationals from Africa.
President Jacob Zuma has pointed out that the actions of a small minority does not mean that all South African are xenophobic.
He goes on to say “We appreciate the contribution of foreign nationals to South Africa. They contribute to our economic development by investing in the economy, bringing critical skills and adding to the diversity that we pride ourselves in.”
There have been complaints about the displacement of many local small traders by foreign nationals and some migrant traders operating illegally. There are accusations that foreign nationals commit crimes such as drug peddling and human trafficking, that they take the jobs of locals as employers prefer them as they are prepared to take lower wages.
We agree with the President and the Premier that none of these grievances justify any form of violence against foreign nationals. We also know that not all foreign nationals are in the country illegally just as not all are involved in criminal activity.
Most would also agree with the President that much of the blame for the violence is based on economic realities. What he does not say is that the foreign nationals seem to be better entrepreneurs than South Africans even though the foreigners often arrive in this country with little more than the clothes on their backs. They are prepared to work hard long hours. What the President does not say is that the huge levels of unemployment in this country make life cheap and violence, be it against foreign nationals, road rage, domestic violence or child abuse is a constant threat to all of us regardless of race, language or religion.
Hon Members we know that in 2014 only 42.6% of those who started matric 12 years ago actually passed matric. What happens to those young people who “drop out”? The young men who have been arrested for the death of Manuel Jossias, better known as Emmanuel Sithole, lived in shocking conditions that are a terrible indictment on our society. All four of them failed to complete the school system, they were brought up without a father figure and they are unemployed. They live in absolute poverty.
Stats SA tells us that 51% of young people aged between 19 – 29 have never been employed and once they reach 30 they are never likely to be employed in the future. This results in high levels of gang warfare, drug abuse and crime. When you have nothing to lose, it is easy to strike out at the most vulnerable members of society including foreign nationals.
How do we create the jobs that will help mop up unemployment and hopefully reduce the violence and frustration? One way would be to encourage entrepreneurship but we make it so difficult to start a legal business in South Africa. A World Bank survey lists Mauritius as the number one country in Africa for ease of doing business. Ease of doing business is based on how quickly one can register a property, the availability of electricity, and what taxes are involved amongst other requirements. We need to cut the red tape and endless regulations which make it so difficult to start a business. We need to make it easier to employ young people.
We as South Africans must never forget that we are part of Africa just as Africa is part of us. In Sunday’s Business Times, the CEO of Standard Bank, Mr Sim Tshabalala said: “The way we treat African immigrants coming south to find a better life can help or harm South Africa. The bottom line (is) we need Africa and its goodwill”.
He goes further to quote the National Development Plan which says: “We say to one another: I cannot be without you, without you this South African community is an incomplete community, without one single person, without one single group, without the region or the continent, we are not the best that we can be”.
This is what we need to remember on Africa Day