The Running Commentary


Immigration v Unemployment


I recently attended a talk, hosted by The Jewish Board of Deputies in Cape Town.  The event was a panel discussion on immigration and featured Naledi Pandor (Minister of Home Affairs); Dr Mamphela Ramphele (Leader of Agang SA); Professor Brian Kantor (Chief Economist and Strategist, Investec Wealth and Investment); Chris Whelan (CEO Accelerate Cape Town) and Rapelang Rabana (COO Tomplaygo).

The most interesting thing for me was that in essence, all of the panelists support the concept of immigration, albeit with varying degrees of implementation.  Fundamental to all of the input, was that the importing of skills leads to a positive impact on the South African economy.

What was of concern to me though, was that the debate seemed to just revolve around business, or at least that’s what it felt like to me.  It struck me too that the elephant in the room was largely ignored.  Mamphela was the only contributor who braved the topic of the rampant influx of unskilled labour into South Africa.

It is my contention that this is the “immigration” that most South Africans see.  They don’t see the likes of Rapelang (an immigrant herself) who is successful and has brought much good to the economy.  They don’t see the “high net-worth” individuals who enter the country, the scientists and the business people.

The average South African only really sees their livelihood being taken away by people who are not even South African citizens.  I had hoped that this point would have been discussed in more detail.  All we heard was how porous our borders are, yet what was lacking was what we’re going to do to halt this.  In fact, I’m not even sure this was dealt with.

We seem to have the mentality of “we’re working on it” but the reality is that this issue has been around for too long now.  I think that addressing and limiting the influx of unskilled labour is critical and that the failure to do so will be a significant motivator for turmoil for the average South African.

We are often referred to as a country with much promise and opportunity. Although I agree with this, I also feel that we need to ensure that there is a healthy balance between attracting skills and how we choose to address the issue of rampant unemployment.

Chris WhelancitizenEconomic PolicyHome AffairsImmigrationMike TabernerNaledi PandorSouth AfricaSouth Africa Politics

Mike • November 5, 2013

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  1. Chris November 5, 2013 - 10:44 am

    I think this issue was discussed, although I accept you may feel not enough. My own comments wrt SA’s national interest (ie that we cannot secure our interest in isolation of our SADC and broader African neighbours, that we need to do so as part of a prosperous Africa) speak to the need to address illegal migration through creating robust markets across the region. Doing so will decrease the incentives for migration (you will recall I commented that migration is driven by, amongst other things, economic arbitrage opportunities).

    Happy to chat further.


  2. Mike November 5, 2013 - 11:30 am

    Hi Chris, thanks for responding. My frustration stems from the place I mentioned to you on the evening. I feel that essential this “debate” served a specific agenda, for me it went to addressing issues of the “skilled” immigrant sector. It was significant to me that all of the questions, save for two people, came from immigration businesses. Even the moderator had a vested interest (in my view anyway).

    I submit that while your addressed my talking about establishing security, the minister and her “efforts” were largely left unaddressed. Anyway this is clearly going to be one of those discussions over a good bottle of red wine.

  3. Chris November 5, 2013 - 11:57 am

    I like the red wine idea! In fact, let’s make that the focus of a dinner – we can use the need to define effective migration policies as the discussion item. Who should we invite?

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