South Africans said they believe one of the reasons for the 2015 xenophobic violence was that migrants were taking jobs from locals.
Rather than taking jobs from locals, research shows migrant entrepreneurs create jobs for South Africans and other migrants, said Caroline Skinner, a University of Cape Town researcher, in a guest column she wrote in TheConversation.
Migrant entrepreneurs are often excellent strategists and they are not going away, just like the informal economy isn’t going away, Skinner said. Instead of being harassed, extorted and encouraged to bribe officials, they should be “lauded by government as exemplars of micro entrepreneurship,” Skinner said.
In a book written with partners Jonathan Crush and Abel Chikanda, Skinner says that some of the most resourceful entrepreneurs in the South African informal economy are migrants and refugees, according to TheAfricanCentreForCities. They get no recognition, instead taking their lives into their hands when they trade on South Africa’s “mean streets.”
The book, “Mean Streets: Migration, Xenophobia and Informality in South Africa,” draws attention to the positive economic contributions migrants make to their adopted country.
One of the best examples — and a “core curiosity,” Skinner said — is the spaza shops — South Africa’s small, unofficial convenience stores in townships.
The evidence suggests that migrants’ competitive edge stems from careful attention to sourcing products and servicing customer needs. The business model suggested by all the studies is one of low mark-ups and high turnover.
Migrants also tend to stock a greater variety of goods and package them in flexible quantities. For example, a single egg rather than a box of eggs, or a small plastic pouch of sugar as opposed to a whole kilogram.
Migrant entrepreneurs also offer credit. This helps build customer loyalty and in the process plays a key role in food security strategies for poorer households.
A final component of the business model appears to be long hours and a culture of thrift.
This shows that rather than adopting “underhand and secretive” strategies, the spaza shop model is no different to large South African retailers.
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