Africa brings huge benefits for SA: Patel
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Johannesburg - Xenophobia must be countered by spreading the message to ordinary South Africans about the huge benefits which the rest of Africa brought to this country, Minister of Economic Development Ebrahim Patel said on Monday.
He was speaking at an Africa Day symposium held at the University of Johannesburg (UJ) on Monday, one of many Africa Day events held across South Africa, largely inspired by the recent explosion of xenophobic violence, as UJ’s Farid Essack said.
Patel said it had struck him when visiting factories and townships after the violence, that many workers, young people and the unemployed felt real fears about competition from immigrants for jobs, business opportunities and access to services such as housing.
Many public commentators had stressed the spirit of ubuntu and the positive role played by South Africa in Africa to rebut those fears. “But it’s tougher to make that argument in townships than symposia. To the poor and desperate these arguments may not resonate when bread must be put on the table.”
He said that academics, business people, trade unions, politicians, media and others had to make a greater effort “to make the argument of how South Africa benefits from Africa,” Patel said and…”why narrow xenophobia restricts those benefits.”
He said 244 000 direct jobs in South Africa were sustained by exports to the rest of the Africa. And if one added the indirect effect through those direct workers paying taxes and buying goods the total number of direct and indirect jobs rose to 885 000.
The largest export market for South African plastic products was Zimbabwe, for TVs it was Zambia and for clothing it was Mozambique, he said, focusing on countries where many immigrants had come from.
Conversely, South Africans should be made more aware that half of the water which Gauteng consumed cames from Lesotho and much of Sasol’s gas from Mozambique.
Greater regional integration and development, including coordination of industrial strategies and skills development, were important so that those who wanted a better life were not always obliged to cross borders to reach it. And better governance was necessary across Africa so wealth was shared.
Bobby Godsell, chairperson of Business Leadership South Africa, said the rest of Africa was providing this country with a potential market of one billion people where the local market of 50 million was already saturated in some industries such as automobiles and telecommunications.
Local companies were also raising large capital elsewhere on the continent as his former company Anglo Gold did in Ghana when it merged with Ghana’s Ashanti Gold.
That merger had also provided an injection of new Ghanaian skills to AngoGold and new technology to the South African company. AngloGold knew about digging very deep holes but Ghana brought in the experience of open-cast mining which was not familiar to South Africa.
Iqbal Surve, chairman of Independent Newspapers, said the future of South African business was in Africa. Growing digitilisation was narrowing and equalising business opportunities, giving smaller companies the chance to compete with big capital.
He said many of the 174 companies he was invested in, derived income from Africa but South Africans should stop looking at Africa only for what they could get out of it but also how they could share value with it.
Surve offered to partner with the University of the Johannesburg in conveying the message of South Africa’s indebtedness to Africa through Independent Newspapers, and through his new African Independent, which he called the first Africa-wide newspaper and through the new continent-wide African News Agency (ANA).
Ufikile Khumalo, executive chairperson of Scaw Metals, said his company had seven manufacturing sites in four other African countries, so it was fully integrated in Africa and really felt the impact of the xenophobic violence.
The lesson he had learnt from it was that his company had to fly the flag of Brand South Africa in the future and not just its corporate flag.
All its employees who interfaced with other Africans would become ambassadors he said.
Zithulele Combi, chairperson of Pioneer Foods, the second largest food producer in SA and which had 14,000 employees in South Africa said companies like his had benefited enormously over the last five years from the influx of other Africans into the country, baking 1,8 million loaves of bread a day where before it had baked one million.
The company also employed 8,000 people at its egg plant in Zambia and 5,000 at its egg plant in Kenya.
Issa Aremu, of the Nigerian Labour Congress, said what was missing in South Africa and elsewhere on the continent was Africa consciousness which had to be promoted by the African Union Commission especially, to counter the “primitive tribalism” which lay at the root of xenophobia.