LAST week I had meals at a hotel as well as at a different restaurant in Johannesburg, courtesy of a company I am associated with and a bunch of friends. As I often do, when I asked those serving us for their names and places of origin, it was pleasing to hear them coming from Soweto, Nkandla, Matatiele, Bulawayo, Masvingo and similar other places.

Before Covid-19 wreaked havoc with our travelling and socializing, South Africans in the hospitality industry were as scarce as water in the Sahara desert. It was almost exclusively Zimbabwean nationals who dominated the employment spaces in that sector. As we all know, that generated quite a bit of resentment among South Africans, contributing to the spawning of formations like Dudula that got its members into the streets to protest against the phenomenon. 

It is not only in the hospitality industry where Zimbabweans dominated. Going to most construction sites, farms or domestic work, you would find them in large numbers.

Employers preferred them for a number of reasons: firstly, due to the difficult socio-economic situation in Zimbabwe, its citizens tend to be rather desperate for jobs. They therefore tend to be easy to exploit. Sadly, many employers in South Africa take advantage of this.

In this sense, both Zimbabwean economic migrants and South Africans who lose out on employment, are victims of the failure of South Africa to manage, regulate and control migration as well as the labour regime in the country. 

Secondly, the Zimbabwean education system, unlike that of South Africa, is fairly good in the training of artisans and hand chores. Our education system is too academic orientated, producing people who can’t do the simplest of tasks. Somebody commented the other day that South Africa produces graduates who can’t even change a bulb in their homes.

This brings to mind a visit I made to the premises of a major emerging black company around 1996. It was striking that the receptionist was Zimbabwean as well as the PA of the company executive officer. When I enquired about this, the CEO, without hesitation, said that Zimbabweans are skilled, hardworking and have a great attitude. On the contrary, South Africans are big on rights but short on skills and diligence. That was him way back. Is this perhaps still the attitude of many employers in this country?

Most of us want Africans to integrate and work together in harmony to develop our under-developed continent. But, if it is not managed, like in South Africa where it is shambolic, accompanied as it is by labour exploitation, we will not get the integration and cooperation we need for the betterment of Africa.

Recently, the presidents of Kenya and South Africa met in Nairobi where, among other things, they agreed on protocols relating to the movement of persons between the two countries. This, they said, would facilitate investment and economic cooperation between the two countries.

Why can’t we have such arrangements among countries in Southern Africa so that we could have a negotiated agreement relating to the orderly movement of persons in our region? Why should the citizens of Zimbabwe and Lesotho have to sneak through bushes, crossing crocodile infested rivers and run the gauntlet of thugs and people smugglers in their attempts to move among our countries?

One hopes that the wonderful blend of Southern African nationalities one encountered in two hospitality outlets recently was not just an accidental phenomenon created by Covid-19 dynamics, but an orderly arrangement that would be a feature in all spheres of human endeavor on our continent. Africans should be able to work together effortlessly.Hopefully, we would have no need for “dudulas” in our country.

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