‘SA unions concerned about imported labour’

Ngqabutho Mabhena

SOUTH African-based Zimbabwean immigrant workers, particularly domestic workers, face a bleak future amid reports that South African citizens have reportedly asked their government not to renew permits for foreigners doing menial jobs in that country.


Chairperson of the Zimbabwe Community in South Africa (ZCSA), Ngqabutho Mabhena, told Southern Eye that South Africans were questioning why their government was importing domestic workers at a time the country’s employment rate had stagnated.

“We had an opportunity to attend an annual business summit organised by the Small Business Development ministry in Bloemfontein on June 23 and 24, 2016,” he said.

“Our interest was to lobby delegates to support the Zimbabwean documentation project beyond 2017. The issue of renewing the ZSP (Zimbabwe Special Permits) for the 198 000 will be a challenge. The South Africans, who are domestic workers or those in the domestic workers’ union, are worried about non-South Africans who are employed as domestic workers.”

Mabhena said their South African counterparts claimed locals now preferred hiring foreigners.

“It is generally believed that non-South Africans accept low wages and agree to work long hours for little pay,” he continued.

“The refusal by non-South Africans, who are in the domestic sector, to join trade unions creates hostilities between them and the South Africans, who are in this sector and are unionised. This means that, unless there are proper engagements with unions, they will not support the renewal of ZSP.”

Mabhena said, as representatives of migrants, they have always encouraged “every Zimbabwean working in South Africa to join a union affiliated to the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu)”.

“Mwasa (Migrant Workers’ Association South Africa), as a workers’ association, has a good working relationship with Cosatu,” he said.
The summit was attended by about 250 delegates including Small Business Development minister Lindiwe Zulu, and her labour counterpart, Mildred Oliphant, among other central and provincial government officials.

Cornelius Monama, chief communications director in the Department of Small Business Development said the summit, held under the theme Uplifting the Informal Economy and Creating Pathways to Formalisation, was meant to address the question of growing unemployment in the country.

“The South African economy is currently experiencing stagnation and unable to offer jobs to those willing and available to work,” he said.

“Faced with this pressure – entry into the informal economy to explore entrepreneurial talent is seen as a relief to provide job and income generation.

Mabhena said, in terms of the renewal of the ZSP beyond 2017, “we were advised to seek audience with Cosatu’s parliamentary office in Cape Town.”