Immigrants Are Valuable Assests in Post-Apartheid South Africa

Article excerpt

From the tales of Shylock, the infamous Jewish moneylender in The Merchant of Venice, to the crooked Indian shopkeeper stereotypes of KwaZulu-Natal, minority and immigrant traders throughout the centuries have been characterised as sly operators who exploit and trick local populations out of their meagre income.

The same stereotype is reinforced by the October 13 opinion piece written by researchers from the Sustainable Livelihoods Foundation's researchers ("'Somali' spazas operate like Walmart").

It depicts foreign shopkeepers in Delft South, Cape Town, as alien and illegitimate encroachers into township economic life. Such views have fuelled mob attacks as far back as the 1949 riots against Indian traders in Durban, not to mention the 2008 riots and ongoing sporadic attacks against foreign shopkeepers.

Many of them have been murdered and many shops destroyed.

The "problem" highlighted by these researchers is that foreign shopkeepers are engaging in competitive practices aimed at providing better services at lower prices to South Africans.

How did they form their opinion? By focusing on the concerns of disgruntled South African spaza shopkeepers.

This is a small group who wish to claim exclusive rights to local markets because they are, well, locals.

The opinion piece overlooks the many benefits that ordinary residents have enjoyed as a result of the immigrant-driven boom in Cape Town's spaza market, as highlighted by research conducted for the African Centre for Migration and Society (ACMS) at the University of the Witwatersrand.

Interviews with residents in Khayelitsha and Philippi revealed that foreign-run shops had substantially increased residents' quality of life. All basic items became locally available at prices reportedly "cheaper than Shoprite's".

Residents emphasised that they did not shop at foreign-run shops only because of prices, but also because of better customer service.

Foreign-run shops reportedly opened early in the morning as residents left for work, always supplied change, loaned small credit such as taxi fare, offered special deals such as bulk hampers, had wider product ranges, were better stocked, had shorter queues, gave children free sweets[bar] the list goes on and on.

It is not only customers that these shops benefit. …