SA envoy takes potshot at Zim's indigenisation laws

SOUTH AFRICAN ambassador to Zimbabwe Vusi Mavimbela has pooh-poohed prohibitive investment laws which prevent foreigners from setting up small businesses, a requirement at variance with what obtains in his country which he said is “one of the most open economies in the continent”.

Open society ... Ambassador Vusi Mavimbela
Open society … Ambassador Vusi Mavimbela

Mavimbela was addressing fellow diplomats and invited guests during his country's belated Freedom Day celebrations in Harare when he accused despotic regimes of forcing citizens to skip their countries through poor economic policies and persecution.

Foreign affairs permanent secretary Joey Bimha was the guest of honour at the event.

Mavimbela said: "The South African economy remains the most developed and the most diversified in the African continent.

"For example, there are some other African countries that have laws that prevent foreign nationals from entering small business industries like barber shops, hair salons, small retail, taxi industry, etc.

No such restrictions exist in SA. Incidentally, it is exactly in these small industries where the tensions between locals and foreigners are at the highest point, sometimes escalating into violence.

The openness of the economy also extends to the openness of our society, the openness of our democracy and our way of life”.

Mavimbela’s comments got some guests nodding their heads, affirming that indeed it was true what he was saying.

Diplomats who spoke to said although Ghana was one of the countries with such laws they understood Mavimbela’s comments to be a clever attack on Harare, underlining the world of difference between what obtains both sides of the Limpopo.

Zimbabwe is currently under criticism for its indigenisation laws which force foreign owned companies to cede 51 percent of shareholding to locals.

Last year, Mugabe’s government was forced to reverse a decision to take over small businesses owned by Nigerians and other foreigners after a hue and cry. The government had given the foreigners running small enterprises a short notice to wind up their businesses.

Mavimbela also made reference to the First Pan-African Conference held in the city of London in the year 1900 which saw famous American civil rights activist W.E.B. Du Bois give a powerful address against black oppression.

He went on to say he regretted that even after apartheid which pitted white against black had gone, blacks were now turning against each other.

This, he said, was witnessed by the recent xenophobic attacks in South Africa which killed 7 and displaced thousands.

He said oppressive regimes in Africa have led to citizens encountering horrific scenes such as drowning in deep seas and other tragedies while fleeing their own people.

"Du Bois concept of the colour line also came back to me as I watched the graphics of my fellow beloved African migrants drowning and perishing in their thousands in the Mediterranean Sea running away from their own brothers and sisters, largely running from their own colour line," said Mavimbela.

"This concept also comes rushing at me as I watch thousands of innocent African bodies being blown apart in vicious fratricidal wars in certain regions of the African continent, fuelled not by the colour line of the darker as against the lighter race, but by the colour line of ethnicity, religion, arrogance, corruption and bigoted politics. Wars conducted by the same colour line against its own.

"W.E.B Du Bois comes rushing at me as I watch in excess of a million fellow African refugees (both political and economical refugees) who are displaced across the African continent and beyond by the actions of their own fellow colour line."

Commemorating Freedom Day in April, President Jacob Zuma said as much, blaming the influx of foreigners into South Africa on a range of issues including the disappearance of government critics in “country X”.

On Friday some guests viewed Mavimbela’s comments as an indirect attack on the Zimbabwean government whose citizens form the highest migrant population across the Limpopo.

Most Zimbabweans now based in South Africa have fled the effects of poor economic planning in their country coupled with lack of political freedoms.

President Mugabe has urged locals who have found a home in South Africa to return home, insisting the southern side of the river was "not a heaven".

More than a week ago, elements within his government were quoted condemning Zuma for posing the rhetorical questions as to why foreign nationals all troop to South Africa and jumping numerous borders.

Meanwhile, Mavimbela said his government has consulted widely on the real causes of xenophobia and was in the processes of addressing them.

These he said were directly linked the South Africa's diminishing opportunities on the economic front.

He added: "If I were to be liberal and quote one of Bill Clinton's campaign slogans, I can say: 'It is the economy, stupid!'

"Part of the real reasons why we have such an overwhelming influx of immigrants into South Africa is because of the opportunities, real or perceived. And I cannot blame them for that.

Mavimbela also said his President Jacob Zuma took time to brief fellow SADC leaders during a recent summit on steps taken to deal with xenophobia.

"They indicated that they also take part of the responsibility given the fact that they need to move with speed to ensure the development of their own economies as well as the stability of their societies so as to ensure that there is no inequitable and unwarranted influx of immigrants into South Africa from the other countries in the region," he said.

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