Unemployment, xenophobia and racial tensions are on the up… but there is hope. One Zimbabwean’s determination has brought hope to many, and employment to the very people who want him out of the country.
The beginning of a new year has once again seen the return of xenophobic headlines. Starting in Soweto the violence rapidly spread to Langlaagte, Alexandra, the West Rand and even reports of lootings in KwaNobuhle in the Eastern Cape. With economic growth forecasts much flatter than many northern neighbours and stricter visa requirements to enter the country, it’s hard to believe that we’re still considered the land of opportunity.
One Zimbabwean who has been through all these trials and tribulations is Godfrey Madanhire. Back in 2000 Madanhire made the move to South Africa. A former educator, he arrived with little more than a suitcase. But Madanhire overcame the odds and achieved his goal of becoming a corporate trainer and professional motivational speaker. Now he is the owner of Dreamworld Promotions and employs 300 South Africans. Madanhire says prospects for conducting business in future still seem bright:
“Over the past 15 years I have seen great strides forward when it comes to small start-up businesses, especially in the past seven years. Often the public gets fixated with the negative news but I have seen first-hand the success stories of many businesses run by South Africans and foreigners alike through my seminars.”
South African employment levels have recently returned to their previous high point before the 2008 recession of 14 million jobs, but with an extra 2.3 million more South Africans reaching a hireable age, employment opportunities are not being created fast enough to keep pace with then numbers entering the job market.
One avenue of job creation that doesn’t rely on others is entrepreneurship, and it is an increasingly attractive opportunity. There are a few interesting stats to look at in this regard:
These stats paint an interesting picture of the business environment on the ground where foreign competition often isn’t welcomed when local entrepreneurs are struggling to make a living.
“Becoming an entrepreneur is stressful. For many South Africans it’s not an option they undertake to follow their dreams, it’s a matter of putting food on the table. Couple this with a competitive, or flooded, informal market that’s been on the verge of violence due to foreign store owners opening shops in their area, it’s not surprising that violent action was the result when the tipping point was reached. There’s a lot of frustration”, says Madanhire.
The Soweto looting’s tipping point was the tragic death of a 14-year-old boy allegedly shot by a foreign shop owner. The store owner has accused the young man of being part of a gang that was stealing from his shop.
Initially when the looting backlash was confined to Soweto, Gauteng’s Community Safety MEC Sizakele Nkosi-Malobane said these attacks were not connected to xenophobia, but rather were “purely criminal”. When issuing this statement 81 foreign shops had been looted. These two statements seem contradictory but has this reignited problem dampened the spirits of those looking to start a new life in South Africa? Back in 2013 it didn’t seem to affect foreign interest in starting anew with 23 845 approved working permits.
“I believe even in the light of current and reoccurring events such as this ongoing violence that on the whole South Africans are welcoming. I don’t have second thoughts about making my life here and growing my business here. It was, and still is, the right choice for my future,” says Madanhire.
New, tougher visa regulations are also making applying to stay in South Africa a more taxing process.
“Moving from one’s home is and always will be a challenge in adverse or perfect conditions. Decisions like these require planning and setting yourself goals to accomplish when arriving. To say that new obstacles will deter foreigners from starting a positive future in South Africa isn’t true, in my opinion.”
With new hurdles to conquer to get into South Africa, is it worth it for foreigners to make the trip? South Africa’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has slowly declined over the past few years with Nigeria now taking top spot as the continent’s financial powerhouse. Is the prospect of becoming a business owner in South Africa still the same promise of a stable environment where companies can grow and prosper?
“We know the problems that affect our businesses in South Africa. Adapting to the economic environment as a businessman will always be critical for success. It’s a truth applied in business around the world and having used it myself in the South African market I know we have a stable economy,” says Madanhire.
A country’s economic state will always be affected by a variety of forces such as fuel prices and interest rates, but also by social factors such as the external perception of crime rates and international headlines that point to incidents of apparent xenophobia create.
Madanhire has the last word: “South Africa will always have a few recurring problems. To deal with these problems the first thing we need to do is acknowledge they exist and put measures in place. These answers are never simple to find. As a nation we need to come together and identify the problems before we’re able to treat them. We all like to point fingers when identifying problems, as seen in many comments sections around the internet, and this never helps. We need to start focusing on how we can work together to make the country better for all. We’ve done it before and we’ll need to do it again.”
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