Here, there, everywhere foreign nationals just can’t win in SA

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

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.

More to a mortuary than death

Dull-yellow fluorescent lights and the smell of industrial-strength antiseptic meet you when you enter the mortuary at the very edge of Braamfontein in Johannesburg.

5th year MBBCh students at the Johannesburg Mortuary

THE DEAD DON’T BITE: 5th year MBBCh students at the Johannesburg Mortuary                            Photo: Mfuneko Toyana

A sense of dread, of being in a mortuary, accompanies you when you enter the grey building wedged between Constitutional Hill and the Wits Esselen Residence.

What these experiences don’t prepare you for is the warmth and passion of the Wits medical students you find inside – there to fulfill the requirement that they learn to work with “fresh corpses”.

“A lot of these students see an autopsy for the first time and get turned off,” said Lawrence Hill, research student and entomologist at the Johannesburg Forensic Pathology Service (FPS) medico-legal mortuary in Braamfontein.

Hill explained how the small number of medical students who specialise in forensics end up working as pathologists. Most choose lucrative jobs as anatomical pathologists for private labs.

This leaves state pathologists working in one of the two main mortuaries in the province  Germiston and Johannesburg doing nothing less than 20 autopsies a week, almost double the weekly average.

Hill was frank about the difficulties of dealing with corpses on a daily basis and the kind of effect it can have on you.

“We see everything from [people who were] stabbed to death, jumped off of buildings, car accidents and burns victims who mostly came from informal settlements,” said Hill.

He said counselling was provided to students at the Charlotte Maxeke Hospital and they were encouraged to talk in groups about their experiences.

Scary reality

Fifth year MBBCh students, gathered at the mortuary on Wednesday morning for practical classes in dissecting corpses, had varying opinions of the experience:

A student called Trudie said the “scary reality didn’t really hit you” until you were faced with a recently deceased body.

“On Monday we saw a child who’d been hit by a car. It was terrible.” [pullquote align=”right”]”I had never seen a dead body”[/pullquote]

Asked how she coped with seeing death close up, she said: “As students we are not offered any debriefing. All you can do is go home and talk to your friends and family.”

Kirsten Morley-Jepherson said she was “really lucky to have a good support system at home”.

“Once you vent you really feel a lot better”.

Morley-Jepherson said although she had been fascinated by biology and the human body since her school days, she would not consider specialising in forensic pathology:

“I need something where I can have a life.”

Masello Phasha recalled how she was “literally shaking” when she faced a corpse for the first time.

“It was in our 2nd year andI had never seen a dead body. The toes of the cadaver were sticking out and I kept as far away as I could.”

Phasha said Monday was “very different”.

“The child was still fully dressed and still had shoes on,” Phasha said.

Despite this, Phasha said she’d “surprisingly” had no nightmares and she hoped to go into trauma surgery but feared the always-on-call lifestyle would be “too demanding”.

Abigail Keane is a student whose entire family is in the medical field. She said, despite realising “how quickly things can go wrong and how many lives we lose”, it was the daily opportunity of helping people in a tangible way that made it all worth it.

The mortuary serves as the “academic seat” of the Wits division of forensic medicine and pathology. It provides forensic pathology services to the SA Police Service and the Department of Justice and families of the deceased.  This is over and above its teaching and research responsibilities at the university’s Faculty of Health Sciences.