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Whipping up emotions not the way to resolve issues of migration


Amir Sheikh

The African Diaspora Forum (ADF) has noted With disappointment the protesters who descended on the Nigerian and Zimbabwean embassies in Pretoria today (Wednesday) in the mistaken belief that migrants are the cause of unemployment in South Africa.

The ADF, as an umbrella organisation formed to safeguard the rights of migrants in South Africa, is appalled that populist rightwing political movements are promoting this belief and exploitIng the justifiable concern of ordinary South Africans about the high levels of unemployment in the country.


It is our analysis that these reactionary political formations are laying the groundwork for their campaigns in next year’s local government elections by playing on the fears of people and fixing the blame for social ills such as joblessness and crime on vulnerable migrant communities.

The #PutSouthAfricansFirst, Which organised the protest, is naively calling for so-called illegal immigrants to leave the country, failing to realise migration is a global phenomenon that is not going to be resolved by kicking people out or shutting borders.

Open borders And the free movement of people are at the heart of the Africa free trade agreement to which South Africa is a signatory. It is disheartening that people at the forefront of the protest seemingly do not understand the importance of social cohesion among African communities, let alone the letter and spirit behind the formation of such organisations as the SADC and AU as ways of trying to bring Africans together for the greater good of all.

We believe that stereotypes and misconceptions about the impact of migrants in South Africa would be addressed if those seeking to expel migrants read the available research and statistics about the positive impact that migrants have had on the economy of South Africa.

It is common knowledge that the unemployment problems in South Africa arises from the structure of the economy and It’s historical roots and cannot be blamed on migrants who form a small percentage of the workforce pool. 

The ADF therefore would like to urge South Africans to not be hoodwinked by these desperate and xenophobic politicians, but to have an open mind and a bold plan to make the economy more inclusive.

Contrary to the notion being pushed by those who choose to deliberately twist facts, migrants make up less than 4 % of South Africa’s 33 million- strong working population and most of them occupy low-paying menial jobs with low or no social benefits at all. This is according to a factsheet prepared by the African Center for Migration (drawn from the Migrating for Work Research Consortium).

The ADF urges all leaders to engage in meaningful and informed debate about the restructuring of South Africa’s lopsided economy based on well-researched papers on the issues at stake. To scapegoat migrants is the preserve of Donald Trump’s America and should not be copied by progressive forces whose aim should be to unite the people of South Africa and offer them a more prosperous future.

In fact, in a restructured and inclusive economy skilled migrants would be vital to its success. It is well researched that migrants bring a lot of positives to the South African economy. In a 2018 paper titled “How Immigrants Contribute to South Africa’s Economy”, published by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in partnership with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) under reference: OECD/ILO (2018), How Immigrants Contribute to South Africa’s Economy, OECD Publishing, Paris. http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264085398-en, some of the positives that migrants bring to South Africa are clearly highlighted.

The paper, published under the responsibility of the Secretary-General of the OECD, presents a sharp contrast to popular perceptions being pushed by people with a shallow understanding of the structure of the South African economy or populists with a hidden agenda.

With more than 90 percent of the wealth on the JSE and 87 percent of the land still in the hands of a minority, it should not be difficult to figure out the real causes of the country’s economic travails.

More specifically, the rapacious exploitation and management of South Africa’s mining and manufacturing industries over decades followed by the divestment by local companies, is at the heart of South Africa’s unemployment crisis.

To the contrary, migrants are “inward” investors and a boon to the South African economy. The OECD paper states that immigration is not associated with job losses among South Africans, adding that some groups of immigrants are likely to increase employment opportunities for locals.

Migrants, as the nexus to the African continent and its market of more than a billion people, offer South Africa a myriad of positives and opportunities related culture, business, politics and environment.

The ADF therefore calls for a rational discussion and solution to the challenges posed by migration and condemns opportunistic politicians who are stirring up xenophobic sentiments against migrants to achieve their own political ends.

Amir Sheikh is the Public Relations Officer for The African Diaspora Forum. Chaired by Dr Abdul-Karim Elgoni, the ADF an umbrella migrants’ rights organisation representing 35 migrants communities in South Africa. He can be contacted on +27 73 979 9479.

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