Protesters making peace symbols as they march against organisations such as ‘Put South Africans first.
As poor black South Africans become more desperate in the face of growing unemployment, poverty, inequality, and corruption, the poor black African foreigner will become the scapegoats, writes Tinashe Sithole.
The growth of the ‘Put South Africans first’ movement reflects one of the economic consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic, which is economic decline. The decline has caused significant hardships among poor black South Africans.
In addition, the rising poverty rate has become the primary driver of the tension between poor black South Africans and black foreigners. The South African government needs to address the economic problems in the country to solve the lingering economic tension.
In the last decade, South Africa’s economy trended downwards. The gross domestic product averaged 1.7 per cent between 2011 and 2018. To make things worse, the measures implemented to curb the spread of the virus only further grounded several aspects of the economy.
For example, the imposed lockdowns brought down most businesses while others shut down permanently. Growing frustrations due to a lack of jobs and a declining economy have seen citizens take their frustrations on the government and, unfortunately, foreigners. The July 2021 protests, where shops and warehouses were destroyed in KwaZulu-Natal and parts of Gauteng, highlight the growing frustrations with the declining economy.
The South African government needs a robust strategy to combat unemployment.
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There is a need to use expansionary fiscal policies such as tax cuts and decrease government spending on transport infrastructures like road and rail networks. Instead, private investment through public-private partnerships (PPPs) in transport infrastructures will promote economic activities and create long-term and sustainable employment in the communities within which they are located. In turn, it will also provide significant opportunities for the transfer of skills and assist in the fight against poverty. This economic effort will stimulate economic development. In addition, the measure will result in the employment of skilled and unskilled labour. Most unskilled South Africans are in the informal economy. Opening up space for labour-intensive sectors can potentially grow jobs for first-time employees. Also, they can learn on the job.
Furthermore, the government can initiate and fund youth development programs to create employment opportunities. Through the current National Development Plan, the government can add a requirement for companies that want to obtain funding.
A business plan from a private business may be mandated to include hiring twenty or more people. Such an effort can be pragmatic, especially under the Small Enterprise Finance Agency initiatives like the Youth Challenge Fund. Consequently, rather than seeking jobs, youth can create business opportunities for themselves through these measures, easing the current unemployment rate. From a youth development perspective, funding for Small, Medium and Micro Enterprises, especially in the informal sector, will assist the youth in developing and expanding their business.
In the long term, the government should commit to upskilling graduates with skills that are in demand through vocational education and training (TVET). The dynamism of technology has led to a need for skills such as understanding programming languages to make sense of data and automating tasks in the workplace. These are essential work processes that can improve graduates’ prospects of employment.
The South African government can use PPPs for skills development through vocational education and training to upskill its youth. For instance, in Sweden, PPPs for skills development succeeded in generating employment for the youth. The employment rate was at 93 per cent as a result of this strategy. Through work-based learning programs and internships, they could match them with employers. Such measures will help ease the unemployment rate in South Africa.
Lastly, South Africa’s labour and immigration laws must be applied as required by statute.
Enforcement of immigration laws can prevent competition over scarce resources between locals and undocumented foreign nationals. Increasing border security can mitigate illegal border-jumping routes and possible cross-border crimes like terrorism.
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At the same time, security checks with different security agencies on the major transport routes can act as mitigating factors against illegal immigration. In addition, enforcement of bylaws for the licensing of spaza shops in townships can decrease issues of illegal employment and operation, among others.
As poor black South Africans become more desperate in the face of growing unemployment, poverty, inequality, and corruption, the poor black African foreigner will become the scapegoats. Therefore, the government needs to address the economic problems in the country before with greater urgency.
– Tinashe Sithole is a writing fellow at the African Liberty.
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