Causes of simmering tensions in South Africa

THERE are many Zimbabweans living in South Africa. At my flat in central Durban I estimate that more than 80% of the people I stay with are from various parts of Zimbabwe who find themselves in Durban for various reasons.

I know this because I hear them talking every day. Almost everyday I hear the chatter of young Zimbabwean housewives doing their housework, sweeping, washing and caring for their young families while their husbands are out for work.

Their husbands work as drivers for freight and transport companies that get most of their business around the port city of Durban. It is the biggest port in sub-Saharan Africa, and most of the Sadc countries including Zambia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and DRC import some of their products through this port.

Due to the nature of business that occurs in Durban as the gateway of finished products from developed countries such as cars and machinery and its other role as an exit point for huge raw material exports such as coal and agriculture products, it is a thriving transport hub.

It is this nature of it being the biggest transport hub of the region that continues to lure workers in the transport sector, especially Zimbabwean drivers, to come in their numbers with their young families to look for work.

A good number of the workers that drive the transport trucks offloading from the port, and those that transport the goods internally to other parts of the country such as Cape Town and Johannesburg ,and externally to other countries such as Zambia, are drivers with Zimbabwean licences.

One driver who stays with me at the same flat, who grew up in Sunningdale, Harare, and has been living in South Africa for more than three years explained that the arrival of Zimbabwean drivers has had a number of effects on South Africa’s business and social relations.

He said Zimbabwean drivers bring a strong work ethic to the transport sector that has resulted in faster turnovers in terms of time and profits for the transport companies.

He said before we had Zimbabwean drivers here international shipments were known to dock for extended periods as local drivers were known not to turn up during pay days and their demands for high wages. This was causing the transport companies delays in deliveries and business losses. Since the arrival of Zimbabwean drivers this has changed so much that shipments are now being handled swiftly and delivery targets are being met. This has reduced the long queues that used to charaterise Durban for a long time.

My friend says they work 12-hour punishing shifts every day, get enough pay for rent, groceries and send some money home.

While Zimbabwean drivers have improved business for commerce and industry in Durban, they have hurt labour relations with local workers who feel that they are cutting down wages with their lower pay demands and also putting South African workers out of work.

These are the same sentiments that other Zimbabwean workers come across everyday in their lives, be they teachers, accountants, football players, security guards or farm workers.

This friction is sparking tension, and it is this tension that culminates in the xenophobia that increasingly characterises South Africa right now.

This week the looting of shops owned by foreigners in the Western Cape province made headlines.
The Western Cape is predominantly a  wine-making region and in the past decade the number of Zimbabweans working as farm labourers has increased sharply. This has created tension in the province’s poor black townships such as Zweletemba, because more Zimbabweans are increasingly competing for less farm jobs with locals, thereby impacting negatively on wages.

In addition commercial farmers prefer foreign workers because of their work ethic.
Into this scenario throw in the deep dislike other enterprising foreigners such as Somalis and Ethiopians fuel by opening up successful grocery shops and kiosks in the townships.

The seasonal nature of the farm work on the Western Cape farms –– where grape picking starts in the summer months from November until April –– means that at the moment there are already less farm jobs than in the summer season. This only serves to further fuel the locals’ dislike of foreign workers, with possibly tragic consequences.

Givemore Nyanhi,
Durban, South Africa.