Let our people be employed in our country - ANC leaders tout foreign hiring restrictions

Gauteng Premier Panyaza Lesufi is leading the ANC`s push to restrict the employment of foreign nationals in the province. 

Melinda Stuurman

• The Gauteng premier is leading the ANC`s push to restrict the employment of foreign nationals in the province as the youth unemployment crisis seems to have defeated the ANC. 

• Panyaza Lesufi and ANC provincial secretary TK Nciza said the time had come for local citizens to be given priority in employment by private businesses. 

• Immigration experts have warned against this political rhetoric, saying it was dangerous and was only used as an excuse to mask the failures of the ANC governance.

Gauteng Premier Panyaza Lesufi wants to restrict the number of foreign nationals employed by businesses in Gauteng to put a dent in worrying unemployment figures. 

Lesufi and Gauteng ANC provincial secretary TK Nciza proposed the plan to restrict how many foreign nationals can be employed, saying it was time for local citizens to be given priority in the country`s economic hub. 

“We are saying there must be a quota on employing locals. Everybody sits and looks to the government for employment. We are calling on the private sector to start employing locals, and we must agree on a quota. We must have a quota, and we will start in Gauteng. It is time. 

`You go to a restaurant, and you hardly come across a South African. I was impressed [by] one restaurant in Durban [where] everyone was South African. We have [a] serious issue of unemployment, and the youth are not working. We are not saying people must be xenophobic, we are saying let`s have a quota and let our people be employed in their own country,` Nciza said on Thursday at the ANC Gauteng press briefing. 

Immigration experts have warned that this political rhetoric so close to elections threatens foreign nationals. 

They said the ANC was relying on right-wing populist messaging to lure support ahead of elections in a context where the party`s track record in governance had failed to produce a strong economy that could enable employment. 

But the ANC provincial leaders dug in, saying South African businesses should employ South Africans. 

`We have a private sector that is not coming to the party. We are calling upon them to start employing South Africans and let`s agree on a quota, and we will engage ...,` Nciza said. 

The rhetoric to target foreign nationals comes months ahead of crucial elections for the ANC, where the party faces losing control of Gauteng. 

It narrowly held onto the province in 2019, and election experts have warned it may not be able to win a majority in 2024. 

University of Johannesburg`s Professor Trevor Ngwane said policies that aimed to restrict the employment of foreigners would likely affect desperate citizens from South Africa`s neighbouring countries of Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Lesotho. 

`The divide-and-rule tactics target our SADC neighbours and goes against President Cyril Ramaphosa`s efforts to create and encourage a free-zone movement around the SADC region.  

`This is the same right-wing, xenophobic sentiment that we have seen around the world in populist speeches. The ANC has failed to create jobs as a ruling party, and now it is trying to find scapegoats, playing to the audience, and fanning sentiments of division and hate against our neighbours,` Ngwane said. 

Sharon Ekambaram, head of the refugee and migrants rights programme at Lawyers for Human Rights, shared similar sentiments, saying that targeting foreigners was an effort to scapegoat the failures of governance. 

`The evidence does not support this rhetoric. It is clear that this is scapegoating by the government after failing to ensure basic service delivery to the people.  

`There is no data about the number of migrants that live in Gauteng, let alone in South Africa. We have no capacity to collect this data, provinces are even struggling to budget for basic services because they have no knowledge of how many live in various provinces,` Ekambaram said. 

`They do not have this data, and instead, they blame foreign nationals for every failure even in the provision of health care.”

Ekambaram said Lawyers for Human Rights had successfully pointed out the unconstitutionality of a Township Development Bill presented to the Gauteng legislature by the ANC. 

The legislation would have barred foreign nationals from establishing businesses in the province`s townships. The Gauteng government has since amended that section of the bill. 

The concerns about foreign nationals in Gauteng have lingered mainly on the issue of illegal mining. 

When launching the ANC`s manifesto review, Ramaphosa said the government had launched an initiative to identify illegal immigrants.

`We continue to have foreign nationals who do not have documents. A programme has been started to examine who among foreign nationals does not have documents, and a number of them are being arrested.

Ramaphosa said:

Those who do not have permits to be in South Africa better know now that South Africans want this country to be occupied by people who have documents or who are citizens of our country.

The rise in the unemployment rate among young people has added to the woes faced by Lesufi and the ANC as the party aims to remain in charge of the province.

Lesufi conducted a massive employment drive in the province to show that the government was doing something about youth unemployment. 

He promised to advertise thousands of jobs this year until the end of the ANC term in government. 

When he launched his job recruitment programme for 8 000 jobs, 1.2 million young people applied. 

He said, in July, that the figures showed how grave the unemployment crisis was.