22/04/2015. Minister of Economic Development, Ebrahim Patel, address a general meeting of clothing factory workers in Pretoria, on the anti-xenophobia campaign. Picture: Thobile Mathonsi

Pretoria - South Africa sells goods worth close to R210 billion to African countries, and if economic ties with these countries were severed, almost 170 000 jobs would be lost, Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel said on Wednesday.

The minister told factory workers in Silverton that was why xenophobia and the alienation of foreign nationals had to stop.

“Africa is vital to our economy, to your pocket and to mine,” he told the workers, members of the SA Clothing and Textile Workers’ Union (Sactwu).

Gauteng sourced its water from Lesotho and gas from Mozambique, he said, while the rest of Africa was a big buyer of cars manufactured at Pretoria’s Ford plant.

He visited the workers to discuss a way around xenophobia and related attacks, and said the government and the workers themselves had a role to play.

“We know of young people looking for jobs, on drugs and committing crime, having no access to services and houses, and others who are paid less than others,” he said.

Patel had initially met 41 Sactwu shop stewards from 29 factories in the province, who represented 3 249 members in the clothing, textile, leather and footwork industry.

“The meeting was to develop an anti-xenophobia campaign, the start of which was the meeting with workers and then take it to all our branches,” general secretary André Kriel said. The shop stewards would convey the message to workers in their factories. During the first phase – part of a three-month campaign – the 99 000 strong nationwide membership of the union would have been reached.

Mozambique, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and the Democratic Republic of Congo were major export partners in the industry, Patel said.

He shared the strategy thrashed out in his meeting with the union heads, which includes five messages and five action plans.

The plans included stopping all xenophobic attacks and holding discussions in churches and communities to say “South Africa was not a nation with knives”.

The government had to manage migration policies better; find ways to help people deal with their frustrations; and, make it clear to companies that they could not exploit foreigners “by paying them less and working them more and excluding local workers as a result”, Patel said.

The action plan included spreading the message of unity and respect; and the government laying down the law to the Labour Department. “They must inspect factories more thoroughly to ensure they met required conditions.”

The workers adopted and endorsed Patel’s package. “We are honoured that he is here to kick-start the campaign,” said Kriel. Patel meeting with workers on the ground was important to narrow the gap between leaders and workers, he said.

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