South African minister suggests foreigners not to blame for lack of jobs

Fikile Mbalula, South Africa’s transport minister, suggested that “Pakistanis and illegal aliens” are a contributing factor to the high unemployment rate in the country.

Mbalula was answering questions at a South African Youth Economic Council (SAYEC) conference on Wednesday when a speaker confronted him about the lack of job opportunities for young people in the country.

“He sold his shop to Pakistanis because he couldn’t compete with them,” Mbalula told the crowd, explaining that his uncle had to sell his shop because Pakistani nationals were selling goods and products at a price. cheaper.

He said there was a need to question where Pakistani nationals were sourcing to be able to sell at low prices.

According to Stats South Africa, the overall unemployment rate in South Africa is 35%, with young people making up more than half of that figure. This has often led to clashes between immigrants and groups of South Africans who accuse foreign nationals of taking jobs and businesses that are supposed to be for locals.

For years, intergenerational protests have erupted across the country, with frustrations over unemployment, crime and poor service delivery frequently spilling over to foreign nationals.

Mbalula, a former police minister, went on to accuse Pakistani nationals of being “the biggest loan sharks in the world. “They have an open book and they loan you out and all your pension goes to the Pakistanis. You can even lend up to R500. All your pension goes to the Pakistanis every month,” he said.

The SAYEC event took place on the eve of the national commemorations of the Soweto uprising. This year marks the 46th anniversary of the Soweto Uprising, an anti-apartheid uprising led by black students in Johannesburg’s Soweto Township on June 16, 1976.

The protests turned deadly when apartheid police opened fire on the students, killing an estimated 174 people and injuring hundreds. They quickly spread throughout South Africa, becoming one of the greatest acts of defiance against the apartheid system.

“Careless” and “xenophobic”

Sharon Ekambaram, refugee and migrant rights program manager at Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR), called Mbalula’s comments reckless and a result of the political impunity enjoyed by leaders of the ruling Congress party. African National (ANC).

“The South African Human Rights Commission has published the findings of its investigations into xenophobia and made very clear recommendations to hold those responsible accountable. The fact that a minister could make these reckless statements in 2022 demonstrates that the commission has failed to implement its recommendations,” she said.

“The Minister has the ability to make thoughtless public statements that fuel the rhetoric of organizations like Operation Dudula and Vigilantism.”

Words like Mbalula’s, according to Sindiswe Ndaba, a University of the Witwatersrand student who attended the conference, inspire more young people to join vigilante groups like Operation Dudula.

“For 28 years, the ANC has been deviating. Our socio-economic problems are always the fault of others and there is never any responsibility on their part,” she said.

“You are the minister, you have the power to do something if you think foreign nationals are taking opportunities away from us, and yet you choose to go on a tirade and leave us with no concrete solutions to unemployment,” the student continued. in economy.

When contacted for further clarification, Mbalula said he stood by his remarks and denied any xenophobic intent.

Mbalula claimed his statements were not xenophobic, “It’s a problem in terms of the local economy,” he said. “The trade in spazas that belonged to our people has been taken over by the Pakistanis. They can no longer survive and have no choice but to surrender.

According to a 2015 report by a committee on migration and community integration set up by the KwaZulu Natal provincial government, inflammatory public statements by political leaders and the spread of false information on social media can be enough to encourage armed crowds against immigrants.

Difficult rhetoric and a lack of proactive communications contributed to simmering tensions among local communities,” the report said.

In April, an anti-immigrant vigilante group killed a 44-year-old undocumented Zimbabwean national, Elvis Nyathi.

Nyathi’s death, according to Ekambaram, could have been the direct result of reckless statements.

“In a country where mob violence is rife and people feel empowered to take justice into their own hands, if the Minister finds out that someone is breaking the law, regardless of nationality, the law must take their place,” she said.

“These messages resonate dangerously with young people who are desperate for opportunity and feel helpless. While the truth is that the government is simply failing to implement policies meant to benefit Africans and youth.

According to Ekambaram, his organization will file a complaint with the South African Human Rights Commission.

The ANC Youth League did not respond to requests for comment.

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