SA’s economic hub of Gauteng is moving to pass a law that could make it illegal for foreign nationals to run certain formal and informal businesses in the townships.
A lobby group, however, has dismissed the Gauteng Township Economic Development Bill as a recipe for disaster, saying it is not only unconstitutional, but could lead to a flare-up of xenophobic attacks in SA’s richest province.
Last week, the province published a draft of the Gauteng Township Economic Development Bill, which seeks to reserve certain economic activities in townships for citizens or those with permanent-resident status.
Head of the school of economic and business sciences at Johannesburg’s Wits University Prof Jannie Rossouw said it was a bad move on the part of the Gauteng government.
“We want foreign investment in the country and province. The more limitations you put, the less attractive it will be,” he told SA Times .
Rossouw said the bill raised a number of questions that needed answering.
“How do they define the township economy? Would a migrant architect be prohibited from doing work in townships? Would a plumber who is not South African also be prohibited from doing work in townships?”
The draft does not say which foreign-owned business would not be allowed to trade..
Political analyst Ralph Mathekga said the framing of the bill was worrying.
“The Gauteng government should not be excluding foreigners, but rather regulating their participation in the economy. I’m not sure if these extreme measures will work. An economy is not produced in a lab. You don’t go in to mix things and when you have done so get results.”
Mathekga said foreigners played an integral role in the economy and excluding them was not a solution.
The Gauteng government has had so many programmes on the revitalisation of the township economy and it seems all those programmes never worked.
He said politicking could not be excluded and that the Gauteng government could be yielding to pressure. This would have negative implications should it go ahead with the bill, he added.
Amir Sheikh, spokesperson for the African Diaspora Forum, said the draft bill came as a shock to the organisation as it had always regarded Gauteng premier David Makhura as a champion of pan-Africanism.
“He was championing for the rights of migrants in the province and had certain programmes promoting social cohesion between migrants and locals. We never expected something like this from him. We are disappointed.”
Sheikh said they would take part in the public participation process when it opened and make submissions, adding that the forum was ready to fight the bill should it be adopted.
“Gauteng is not an island. Our feeling is that what they want to do goes against the constitution of this country and the refugee act.”
He said what the Gauteng government should be doing was coming up with solutions on how best migrants could be integrated into the township and provincial economies.
“The Gauteng government has had so many programmes on the revitalisation of the township economy and it seems all those programmes never worked, and now they want to come up with another programme which can also not yield any results and will destroy so many livelihoods of migrants in this country,” he said.
In February, during the state of the province address (Sopa), Makhura said the provincial government would introduce the bill in June this year.
“This new law will nullify all bylaws that make it difficult for township businesses to operate. It will nullify all bylaws that frustrate and suppress the growth and operations of SMMEs and the informal sector,” he said.
“It will also nullify the tendency for the law enforcement agencies to harass small businesses in our communities, including in the CBDs, especially those that need support to be able to observe the law.”