Instead of possessively closing ourselves off we should be throwing open the doors to qualified professionals and established entrepreneurs because they are the ones who create employment and are able to transfer skills.
Two recent bits of information come to mind.
In Zimbabwe the ruling Zanu (PF) still believes, after years of failing its people and mismanaging its economy, that it can provide the country with the skills and business leadership to create a revival. To comply with President Robert Mugabe’s indigenisation imperatives Impala Platinum has now agreed to transfer 51% of shareholding in its Zimplats mines to various internal Zimbabwe groups. It’s the kiss of death. It will be the same story as it has been with Zimbabwe’s agricultural sector and the diamond mines. A few greedy heavy-hitters at the top will have their snouts deep into the trough until it all inevitably runs aground, and then on to the next plundering opportunity. There seems to be little or no understanding of how the world economy works and no care for the people lower down the food chain.
An unrelated story, also making for a beating of the African drum bears consideration. The appointment of Mark Cutifani at Anglo American, by all accounts a smart move by its board, evoked the churlish comment from Cosatu’s National Union of Mineworkers that it is “disappointed” and that “Anglo has missed another opportunity to appoint either a black, or even a white South African woman.” The report stated that the National Union of Mineworkers “is particularly disappointed at Anglo’s continued resistance to transformation as well as its commitment to hire only foreigners.” It conveniently ignores the fact that neither Lazarus Zim nor Kuseni Dlamini could cut it at Anglo.
Amid all the blathering on about how jobs are going to be created we are forgetting something. Building big new companies and courting foreign direct investment will undoubtedly be good for the country and should create jobs. But opening our doors to well-qualified professionals and international entrepreneurs will achieve a similar objective in a much more efficient manner.
Developing economies have, during much of the 18th and 19th centuries, benefitted greatly from waves of good quality immigrants. Australia, Canada the US and many others had their young economies invigorated by craftsmen and engineers and medical specialists and skilled business leaders. Growth in an economy and increased employment do not come about by some act of political will. Local populations, especially those in poor economies need the combustion of imported skills and the drive of international business leaders. They are the ones who create employment and who transfer skills, so that the local people can emulate them.
The new South Africa, for all its dynamic growth potential has not created much real entrepreneurial achievement via broad- based black economic empowerment. Much of the new wealth has come on the back of established businesses where the shareholders have been encouraged to bring black partners in, and to hand out substantial chunks of equity. There are, of course, many small, essentially self-employed people who make a living without being employed by any one of the big companies, and they may be seen as emerging “entrepreneurs”. But what we really want is for people with limited skills to be trained and to acquire the disciplines of sound management. In due course they will become self-sufficient and will establish their own businesses that will employ and develop further local talent.
We certainly don’t want more unskilled, homeless desperados, and we do not want to create more xenophobic wars with people from countries north of us. But what we do want those who are qualified and who have guaranteed jobs here. They are the people this country needs.
Illegal immigration is a major international headache for countries like the US where, Fox News reports, it robs the country of $113 billion a year, and countries like Italy and France which battle to keep the unwanted, mainly African “boat people” off their shores. These are mostly unskilled and desperate to find a means of making a living in a thriving economy. So we are not alone. But most first-world countries also have a system for welcoming people who do have particular skills or who are financially self-sufficient.
Let’s all take note that Africa is now a vibrant part of a flat world where we buy and sell goods world-wide, where we are driven by the social media that does not know borders, and where there is an international market for revenue-producing skills.
Our universities that once attracted top quality international academic talent now have to scrape the local barrel. Government- funded institutions are forced to employ increasing proportions of local candidates whether they have the professional standing or not. The same is true in private and listed businesses that have to meet their empowerment ratings. State-owned enterprises are a recurring joke.
It is already difficult to recruit top quality international talent to a country which is seen to be unsafe and to be lurching from one crisis to the next. But if our hospitals are going to work and if we are going to educate our children properly, and if we are going to re-invigorate our increasingly shabby institutions we must make it attractive for well-qualified professionals to come here. Give them tax breaks, short-term contracts to enjoy the South African lifestyle and make it easy to for them to come and contribute their know-how.
And in this vital process of connecting with the real world, please try to ignore the bizarre ranting of a president who wants to run a dynamic 21st-century country by returning to the traditional way, imploring his people not to be influenced by “foreigners” and urging them in his November 2012 speech in the House of Traditional Leaders, to “Solve African problems the African way and not the white man’s way.” DM