MAKING A LIVING: Immanuel Adu has been in South Africa for 2 years . He works at a local salon in Braamfontein. Here he works on Helen Mdumela’s (left) nails. Photo: Bongiwe Tutu
CORRECTION: The original article initially said that the African Centre for Migration & Society (ACMS) was the African Centre for Immigration and Society (ACIS) when it should have read the former. Wits Vuvuzela regrets the error which has been corrected.
Foreign national traders living in Braamfontein face challenges that deplete the quality of their lives.
Vanya Gastrow is a researcher for the African Centre for Migration & Society (ACMS). She says one of the biggest challenges are the high levels of crime against foreign national traders as well as corporate competition.
“Some traders also experience red tape problems, especially in the spaza market, where local authorities are often misinformed or in disagreement about the laws governing spaza shops,” Said Gastrow.
“We as foreigners face a lot of difficulties as we are not opportune to get jobs,” said Cameroon-national Edwin Chi who works at Big Brother Salon in Braamfontein. He added that most foreign nationals in South Africa survive by starting their own businesses because “vacancies [for jobs] are reserved for South Africans no matter how qualified you are, as a foreigner you won’t get the job”.
Chi explained that a few weeks ago the salon he works at was robbed by police who said they were looking for illegal activity in the shop. Chi said they were told as foreigners they have no rights in South Africa. “They were searching, searching and when they left we realised they had taken all the money.”
SA Police Service (SAPS) Lieutenant Colonel Lungelo Dlamini said he were unaware of the alleged xenophobic attack since a case had not been opened by the shop owner. Unless a case was opened “we cannot comment on the issue,” Dlamini said.
“They were searching, searching and when they left we realised they had taken all the money.”
Immanuel Adu manages another local salon. He said: “unless you have the right documents, it’s very difficult to get help from the government, you also can’t get loans from banks to start a business”.
Gastrow explained: “Another challenge is lack of access to reliable documentation. Asylum seeker and refugee permits often don’t meet documentation requirements for banks, visa offices, and landlords.”
“These permits also require frequent renewals, resulting in traders needing to reapply for bank accounts or trading permits each time their documentation nears expiry.” Gastrow added that foreign nationals cannot open bank accounts access loans, import and export goods, or get premises for their shops.
During the xenophobic attacks in 2008 and now in recent months South Africans accused foreign nationals of taking their jobs and over populating “their areas”. Chi and other foreign nationals told Wits Vuvuzela that it was better to live amongst themselves in the city than in the townships because it’s safer.
Gastrow said foreign traders bring small business skills into the country. “They pass these skills on to those they work with. Some traders also study towards degrees and diplomas … and then contribute to South Africa’s formal work force.”
ACMS hosted a seminar at Wits University earlier this week about the earnings of informal foreign traders in and around Johannesburg in light of the xenophobia many foreign nationals are faced with.
Gallery by Mfuneko Toyana
The Market Theatre’s main stage was the platform where six diverse minds gathered to discuss migration, a topic central to all of their individual work.
The last day and the last panel discussion of the Mail & Guardian Literary Festival helped to make audience members and authors alike reflect on the movement of people in and out of cities and countries.
The poor accommodating the poor
Wandile Zwane from the City of Johannesburg’s Migrant Helpdesk, used an interesting anecdote from a conversation he had had with a woman, illustrating a point made earlier about migration being a situation where the poor are accommodating the poor. [pullquote]”…people migrate to places with a gravitational pull…”[/pullquote]
The woman talked about the hierarchy that existed when it came to where one slept in her house. As a young child one was in the main bedroom, the older one got you would move to the dining room and the kitchen to make space for the younger ones. Eventually one would land up in the outside room and from there move on to their own house with a spouse.
Unfortunately her marriage had not worked out so she had to move back to the outside room with her kids, but because there was an immigrant living in that room she had to go back to the kitchen. The story points to one explanation of the animosity that exists around migration in South Africa.
Chinua Achebe’s book ‘There was a Country’ was the theme around which the conversation around which migration had to bend itself.
The panel consisted of writers who had threaded together stories and books, all zooming in on migration and themes central to resettlement. The panel discussion was largely based on the different writers’ works and their experiences of bridging political and personal narratives in their storytelling.
A young writer making waves in the literary world, NoViolet Bulawayo, said emergent personal narratives are based on political events, and that it was not possible to separate the two in one’s writing. [pullquote align=”right”]“Johannesburg is a migrant city”[/pullquote]
While the works of the six on stage were central to the discussion, engagement with audience members opened up the dialogue and brought up issues that were left out in the initial conversation.
Photographer and self-proclaimed book lover, Victor Dlamini (@victordlamini) made a poignant point from the floor, which steered the conversation to a meaningful point. He commented on people who are migrants themselves taking issue with people who migrate. He used Johannesburg as an example, saying most people who are in this city are not even from this city. “Johannesburg is a migrant city,” he added.
Panelist and writer, Achmat Dangor responded by saying that he agreed with Dlamini and pinned negative attitudes around migration on mechanisms of ‘othering’. He added that people migrate to places with a gravitational pull because of new ideas in that specific place. This is always the case with ‘big cities’, the activity and promise of economic emancipation lure people in, be it across borders or provincial lines.
Caroline Wanjiku Kihato, author of The Bookseller of Kibera, added to Dangor’s response, saying that human beings had a tendency of finding one another’s differences and using them to oppress one another.
Another audience member asked why was it that only Africans were considered immigrants. He did not understand why the Chinese and Europeans who come to this country were not treated with the same hostility that “our brothers” were.
In response Kwanele Sosibo (@KwaneleSosibo), journalist at the Mail & Guardian, simply said “we do it to ourselves”. He went on to narrate an anecdote about how people in an Eastern Cape community believe in measuring people according to certain pedigrees. Mining house recruiters divided them up according to body size, using pedigree determine who’d make best workers, exemplary of systematic ‘othering’.
The Writing Invisibility e-book was launched. Some of the writers on the panel were contributors in the book which was a project done in collaboration with the Wits African Centre for Migration & Society.
The book is available for free download here.