World Economy

Frustration Targeted at Migrant Workers in S. Africa

Frustration Targeted at Migrant Workers in S. Africa Frustration Targeted at Migrant Workers in S. Africa

South Africa’s annual season of labor strikes often turns violent, but a recent wave of deadly xenophobic attacks has heightened fears that this year’s protests could fuel further aggression towards migrant workers.

Each winter, weeks of angry demonstrations erupt in cities across the country as employees down tools and flock into the streets during pay negotiations, AFP reported.

Employment is scarce in South Africa, and much of the frustration is targeted at migrant workers from elsewhere on the continent who locals accuse of stealing their jobs.

President Jacob Zuma himself has blamed last month’s xenophobic unrest on an unnamed employer in the eastern city of Durban who replaced South African workers with migrants.

In the weeks that followed, at least seven people were killed as mobs hunted down migrants from Zimbabwe, Mozambique and other African countries, forcing hundreds of terrified families to abandon their homes and seek safety in camps.

The attacks “were sparked off by the conduct of an employer who fired South African workers who had gone on strike and employed workers from outside the country,” Zuma said.

“The employment of scab labor usually triggers an angry reaction from workers who are on strike.”

Zuma appealed for employers to avoid “pitting workers against one another,” in remarks likely to worsen industrial relations.

South African trade unions accuse employers of trying to dodge demands for better conditions by hiring foreign workers at lower wages.


“This is undermining labor standards,” Norman Mampane, spokesman of the country’s largest union federation, the Congress of South African Trade Union (Cosatu), told AFP.

“Cosatu has observed employers under-employing migrant workers -- especially in the farming, retail and hospitality sectors.

“Unemployment should not be used as a disguise to attack fellow Africans,” he added.

Since the end of apartheid, South Africa has attracted millions of migrants fleeing political and economic turmoil in their own countries. Zimbabweans account for the largest population of migrants in South Africa, with some analysts estimating they make up 23 percent of the whole workforce.

Since the 1880s, South Africa has taken in immigrants to work in mining, agriculture and other sectors. But now, faced with a youth unemployment rate of over 50 percent and a slowing economy, cheap foreign labor is a hot political issue.