ANC Gauteng Premier Panyaza Lesufi aims to reduce unemployment by limiting the employment of foreign nationals in Gauteng businesses.
However, experts believe this will only make things worse, while others have labelled the idea as an effort to scapegoat the failures of governance.
During an ANC Gauteng press briefing last week, Lesufi and ANC provincial secretary TK Nciza said it is time for local South Africans to be prioritised by private businesses and proposed a quota on the employment of locals.
Nciza essentially blamed foreigners and the private sector for the high employment numbers in South Africa.
“Everybody sits and looks to the government for employment. South Africans revolt against the government when there are no jobs without seeing, in reality, that it is the private sector that is not coming to the party,” said Nciza.
“We are now calling on private businesses to start prioritising South Africans, and let’s agree on a quota. We [South Africa] must have a quota, and we’ll start in Gauteng; it’s time,” he added.
Despite these calls, some experts said limiting the employment of foreign nationals would hurt the economy more, while others believe this is a simple effort to scapegoat the failures of governance ahead of elections.
“This is the same right-wing, xenophobic sentiment that we have seen around the world in populist speeches. The ANC has failed to create jobs as a ruling party, and now it is trying to find scapegoats, playing to the audience, and fanning sentiments of division and hate against our neighbours,” University of Johannesburg’s Professor Trevor Ngwane told News24.
News24 further reported that Sharon Ekambaram, head of the refugee and migrants rights programme at Lawyers for Human Rights, shared similar sentiments, saying that targeting foreigners was an effort to scapegoat the failures of governance.
Ekambaram said there is simply no data to suggest that the hiring of foreigners has any effect on the unemployment of South Africans. “They do not have this data, and instead, they blame foreign nationals for every failure, even in the provision of health care,” she said.
Although this negative sentiment towards hiring foreign nationals has surfaced in Gauteng government, Institute for Security Studies founder Dr Jakkie Cilliers believes this is already a national issue – which is hurting further job creation, investment, and knowledge transfer in the economy.
Cilliers told Newzroom Afrika that the South African government is blocking the tremendous potential that skilled foreign professionals can bring to South Africa through its punitive approach to immigration.
The South African government’s approach to immigration is to keep foreigners out of the country no matter what skills or knowledge they bring, he added.
“We have a situation where Home Affairs and Labour are actively working against the Presidency, or the Presidency is not working with them to solve this issue.
This has resulted in South Africa taking a punitive approach to immigration. “We literally do our best to make it as difficult as possible to enter South Africa,” Cilliers said.
No democratic country that Cilliers is aware of has the same kind and number of requirements as South Africa. “It seems to be an absolute disaster”. Cilliers gave the example of a German company which sold its South African subsidiary as it could not get a work permit for a German executive.
He noted that South Africans do not believe skilled foreigners benefit the country. They think foreigners come to threaten locals and take their jobs, when the opposite is true – they bring in skills and create employment.