As part of its programme for Africa month, Skilled Foreign Nationals in South Africa (SFONSA) recently hosted a public lecture addressing the spate of xenophobic attacks against foreign nationals of African descent. The speakers were The Honourable Deputy Minister of Home Affairs, Fatima Chohan; Western Cape Premier The Honorable Helen Zille; Mr. Patrick Kawuma Male – The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR); Ms. Janine Myburgh – President of The Cape Chamber of Commerce and Dr. Fanie Du Toit – the Executive Director at the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation.
As expected, the attacks were condemned and the narrative centred around the political and moral repugnance of xenophobia, its economic consequences as well as the challenges of illegal migration and migration policy in post-apartheid South Africa. Celebrity campaigns against xenophobia were not highly-favoured as a means to put an end to xenophobia and very few, long-term suggestions were put forth as to how this could be done. It was refreshing when Mr. Male spoke about the extent of entrepreneurship within the communities that have been impacted by the xenophobic attacks.
UNHCR was involved in two independent research projects that examined the economic interdependencies between local and migrant community members as a result of survivalist entrepreneurship. I asked whether the research scope included an exploration of the extent of mechanisms in place to equip survivalist entrepreneurs to become high impact. Unfortunately, it didn’t.
In 2010, the South African Journal of Economic and Management Sciences published a paper addressing the question of whether African immigrant entrepreneurs in South Africa are job takers or job creators. The finding was that more than 80% of the respondents employed South Africans in their businesses and, further, that entrepreneurial skills were transferred from the immigrant entrepreneurs to their South African employees. Across our shores, research conducted in 2013 shows that 40% of the largest U.S companies were founded by immigrants or their children and that 25% of high tech companies founded between 1995 and 2005 had at least one immigrant founder.
The importance of developing African entrepreneurs is demonstrated by the Foundation’s own commitment as well comparable commitments made, for instance, by Tony Elumelu’s Entrepreneurship Programme which exists to capacitate initially 1,000 young, compelling businesses that are run by capable teams, have strong market feasibility and clear financial models.
High impact entrepreneurs, by providing innovative products and services – usually through leveraging technology – and creating large-scale employment and other opportunities, have the potential to address the socio-economic ills that spawn xenophobia.
As we conclude #Africamonth this week, I wonder how much more resilient and inclusive communities would be if a high impact, entrepreneurial mindset were inculcated in community members? And, having inculcated such a mindset, what those high impact entrepreneurs themselves would do to curb xenophobia?
By Refiloe Seseane