Don’t exclude foreigners in economic rebuilding, IRR warns

Picture for illustration. Police shut down spaza shops in Govan Mbeki Township in Port Elizabeth. Picture for illustration. Photo: Mkhuseli Sizani /Ground Up

‘We need entrepreneurial and other skills, wherever they come from, to contribute to moving South Africa to prosperity,’ said the IRR’s Terence Corigan.

Excluding income-seeking foreign nationals from efforts to recover the economy was a terrible idea, warned the Institute of Race Relations (IRR).

This follows a statement by opposition party Cope which suggested that, “after easing of the lockdown, South Africans must be priority”.

According to Terence Corrigan, project manager at the IRR, alienating foreigners in the recovery process after the lockdown would only serve to further damage the economy.

This was because, according to the group’s research, foreign nationals were an important part of the informal and formal economy, bringing with them entrepreneurial skills among other traits contributing to the livelihoods of all South Africans.

“We would also caution that scapegoating foreigners in the country has a dreadful record. Sometimes it is a lethal one, as eruptions of xenophobic violence over the years have demonstrated,” he added.

Among interventions targeting South Africans first, Cope spokesperson Dennis Bloom said the party wanted government to ensure that 90% of the workforce in farms and restaurants were South Africans.

Manufacturing companies must also give priority to South Africans, he added.

“We are in total agreement with Finance Minister Tito Mboweni, that anyone who wants to open a spaza shop must be registered, have a bank account and a tax number,” he said.

But Corrigan said these were dangerous ideas.

“To demand that foreigners be cleared out of particular occupations is to assume that these will instantly be filled by South Africans, and contribute to the prosperity of our ‘national community’,” he said.

The reality was far more complex.

Research published by the IRR in 2017 showed that in respect of spaza shops, foreign entrepreneurs often started with very little, but had innovative business models, inspiring work ethics and offered their customers good value for money.

“The idea that they could simply be displaced in favour of South Africans is to ignore the complex reasons for the relative success of their businesses…

“We need entrepreneurial and other skills, wherever they come from, to contribute to moving South Africa to prosperity,” said Corigan.

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