Countering Xenophobic Ideas

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Xenophobia, the chasing of foreigner spaza- shop owners out of the township is gaining momentum. The foreigners shop owners are being depicted as destroyer of local business. A new common sense is tasking hold: if only we had stopped those Somalis and Bangladeshi from coming to South Africa, our local business would triumph.

This common sense is fuelled by the rising unemployment, lack of opportunities and poverty amongst black working class in poor communities. These social problems often led to the scapegoating of foreigner working class spaza- shop owners.

This scapegoating of foreigner working class spaza- shop owners recently has been encouraged by the ANC leadership. The water and sanitation minister Nomvula Mokonyane wrote on her Facebook wall “Almost every second outlet (spaza) or even former general dealer shops are run by people of Somali or Pakistan origin in a yard that we know who the original owners were…”

The minister of Small Business Development, Lindiwe Zulu said “Foreigners need to understand that they are here as a courtesy and our priority is to the people of this country first and foremost. They cannot barricade themselves in and not share their practices with local business owners”.

New research has dispelled the myths that the foreigner spaza- shop owners destroy local business. Research by Sally Peberdy of the Gauteng City-Region Observatory shows that far from taking jobs from South Africans, more foreign shop owners in Soweto employ local people. His research found that the local population partly benefit from the presence of foreigner spaza- shops.

The vast majority of foreign spaza-shop owners rent premises from the local population. Almost a third of foreigner spaza- shop owners (32%) paid rent to South African private landlords. Foreigner spaza- shop owners who rented from South Africans in the townships were more likely to pay more than R1 000 per month. If they are driven out of business, the poor landlords in the townships lose income from rent.

Research also reveals that far from “stealing” South African jobs, many foreign shop owners in Soweto employ locals. In Soweto, the 131 foreigner spaza- shop owners interviewed provided a total of 224 jobs (excluding family employees), of which 105 were held by South Africans. If looting take place, it means, it is not just foreigner spaza- shop owners who are will be out of business– their employees will be out of work as well.

According to recent analysis foreigner spaza shop owners buy their goods from the South African shops and by so doing they pay tax, just like any other South African. This tax money goes to the government. If they are not able to trade, they are not buying supplies, and therefore are not paying VAT.

This research shows that if the government were to “stop” them from doing business, South Africans would suffer just as much as the foreign nationals. If you want to pinpoint the real enemy, look at Corporate South Africa, which benefits from billions in tax breaks every year. These corporations happily profit while keep living standards for workers– including foreigner spaza- shop owners/ immigrant workers–as low as they can.

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