The whole region purchase most of their business supplies and household staff in South Africa that they send to their home countries


By Bongani Sazy Siziba


South Africa is a destination for immigrants, especially from other African countries. Their presence is complex issue that has been deeply and irrevocably scarred by violence attacks of foreign nationals and the notion they are taking our jobs.

In 2008 riots broke out against foreign nationals, and an image of a Mozambican national Enersto Nhamuave being burnt alive shocked the world. Within a week xenophobic violence spread across South Africa targeting foreigners and Asian nationals, which left more than 50 people killed and 100 000 displaced.

Early 2022 another incident of a Zimbabwean national Elvis Nyathi burnt alive again filled the news headlines. In 2013 38 year old Oba Daniels a Nigerian national migrated to South Africa with one thing in mind: How can one shift the narrative of ‘foreigners are here to take our jobs’.

As an electronics graduate he wanted to showcase his skills, but struggled to start something of his own.

In 2017 after a partnership with a friend as a car dealer he decided to put his skills to work, he opened his own business, Chat2cars dealership in the uptown of Sandton in Johannesburg.

“There is no country with a monopoly of good or bad people, as foreigners and owning businesses in South Africa we are contributing to the economy, l started Chat2cars four years ago and l employ both South Africans and other nationals, this means l have also brought employment into the country,” said Daniels

He said businesses by immigrants also pay tax and other expenses that goes along with the business while contributing to the economy.

A New world bank study shows that immigrants made a positive impact on jobs and wages in South Africa between 1996- 2011 with each migrant worker generating approximately two jobs for the citizens.

The study further highlights data that shows that immigrants are more likely to start businesses which successfully increase opportunities for locals while contributing to the country’s economic growth.

Executive director of the African Diaspora Forum Ngqabutho Mabhena, said locals must note that foreigners are in different economic sectors and contribute a lot in terms of South African economy.

“Most foreigners in purchase most of their business supplies and household staff in South Africa that they send to their home countries.”

“South Africa must implement 2017 gazetted white paper on international migration because it lays the foundation for managing of migration in the context of South Africa, but we see the selective selection in the implementation in that,” Mabhena added.

Contrary to popular belief in South Africa, however, immigrants are in fact good for South Africa’s economy. Research by the Institute of Race Relations (IRR) shows that immigrants often create employment and additional income opportunities for locals.

The IRR published a report in 2017 which sought to detail South Africa’s immigrant population where they come from, why they chose South Africa as destination of choice, how many there are and where they are located.

What emerged from the research is that immigrants do significantly contribute to the country’s economy.



First, immigrants create jobs for South Africans. Research by the SA Migration Programme found in a study of 1 136 migrant businesses in Johannesburg and Cape Town that a third of these enterprises’ employees were South African.

Second, foreign traders also provide another means of income to South Africans in the form of rent, as shown in the report titled “Somalinomics”.

This report, by the African Centre for Migration & Society and the University of the Witwatersrand, was based on a case study of Somali informal trade in the Western Cape.

According to the report, Somali traders often experience financial barriers in accessing property in townships.

This often compels them to rent property owned by South African citizens. In other words, a large proportion of South Africans rent out their spazas and single rooms to foreigners, who, because of barriers such as a lack of citizenship, are prevented from accessing bank accounts, bonds, home loans or RDP housing.

However, the anti- foreign sentiments is not shared by all South Africans, Nonjabulo Hlongwane who is employed by Chat2cars says not all foreigners come to some South Africa come with bad intentions and some are genuine business people who have helped the South African economy to grow.

“l am a South African and l work for a foreigner and l am happy that l can feed my family. So this notion of saying foreigners are here to take our jobs is baseless. Most of these foreigners are self -employed, they work for themselves,” Hlongwane said.

Lastly, foreigners contribute to national tax revenue. Although, because many foreign businesses are unbanked, their profits are undetectable and thus cannot be taxed – small-scale foreign traders and spaza operators still have to pay VAT on goods purchased from wholesalers and as a result indirectly contribute to the nation’s coffers, and stimulate wholesale turnover.

Ebrahim Mahomad 56, a Somali national is the founder of Qakwo Restaurant in Newtown. Mohamed, first started a car panel beating and spray-painting shop when he arrived in South Africa.



His shop was looted and his brother burnt alive inside the shop during 2008 xenophobic violence.

Mahomad employs five South fricans in his shop and is one of those who have found a need to contribute all they can to the host country. He says his business is one of those that contribute to the national tax revenue.

“My business is contributing a lot here in South Africa, l am renting this place paying for bills and tax included, so how am l taking what belongs to the locals. The South Africa government should just come up with laws that protect businesses owned by foreigners because we are not safe here,” he said.

Spokesperson for Zimbabwe Community in South Africa Bongani Mazwi Mkwananzi also added his voice on the issue, that migrants’ contribution in the country are quite intergrated in the labour market and their contribution must be recognised.

“The South African government through the white paper for immigration have already started to implement policies that look at how migration can be put into a positive use for economic growth, so such polices integrates migrants and harness their contribution, in human labour and other aspects,” he said.

“Migrants are not only the power who work there are those who have capital who can with assist in foreign direct investment. The government of South Africa need to allay these fears that South Africa is anti-migrants so much that investors who fear to invest in the country in fear that their investment may be attacked or vandalised” Mkwananzi added.

IRR’s research found that foreign nationals from countries such as Somalia, Pakistan and Bangladesh start up their own businesses on arrival in South Africa.

They range from small convenience stores to wholesalers.  The foreign entrepreneurs keep their profit margins low giving them an edge over the competition. The IRR also found that immigrants are good at money management.

The report says the majority started out with 5,000 rand (357 euros, $380) or less in capital. Within three years, all had doubled the value of their business and 40 percent had amassed 50,000 rand or more.



From these examples, it is clear that immigrants make several positive contributions to the country’s economy and labour market. But none of this is widely known, as government officials appear to lack the political will to better inform people on the positive role that immigrants play in the country.

In fact, South Africa’s political leaders tend to feed into the narrative that immigrants are a burden to South African society.

Recently, Minister of Employment and Labour Thulas Nxesi stated that South African employers deliberately prefer foreign workers as a source of cheap labour, as they are willing to take “anything” for wages’.

His department is planning to introduce quotas on how many foreign workers may be hired in specific industries.  It becomes quite clear that many of the country’s political leaders are willing to ignore human rights and discriminate against foreigners in order to appease the majority of South Africans.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) also notes that local law enforcement officials are often complicit when discriminatory behaviour towards immigrants occurs.

The organisation points out that foreign-owned businesses are disproportionately targeted in crackdowns on counterfeit goods, and that migrants are arbitrarily detained for allegedly lacking the right documents.

Proposed measures to limit foreigners’ participation in the economy will only do more harm than good.

As a spokesperson from the National Employers Association of South Africa recently said: ‘(It) is clear that these amendments will not achieve what they set out to do and will cause immeasurable harm to employers, the economy, collective bargaining and international relations.’

South Africa currently is going through an economically tumultuous time. Unemployment rate is much higher than it was during the financial crisis in 2008 and this will only get worse as the economy continue to struggle.

Clearly, South Africa needs all the assistance it can get to stimulate the economy. Immigrants could help in this regard and perhaps by making the contributions of foreigners to South Africa’s economy more widely known, citizens could be encouraged to be more welcoming and accommodating.


Siziba is a Photo-Journalist based in Johannesburg. This report was made possible by Internews







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