/ 6 September 2009

SA frets over World Cup immigrant boom

Godfrey Smith left his native Malawi last year to hunt for a job in Johannesburg, certain that the Soccer World Cup would bring a wave of opportunity.

Now he’s hawking handbags in an open market, but still hopes to find full-time work as the world’s most-watched sporting event nears.

”When more people come [for the World Cup], there will be more money. I will make more money trading, and maybe then I can find another job too,” he said, echoing the aspirations of job-hungry South Africans and foreigners alike.

South African officials say they’re already preparing for an influx of migrant workers like Smith who hope to cash in on the tournament, and worrying not all will leave once the games are over.

”It is expected that more Africans will travel to South Africa during the 2010 Fifa World Cup, using the opportunity for commercial gain, particularly considering that this event is Africa’s World Cup,” said Cleo Mosana, spokesperson for the home affairs ministry.

”Immigration authorities are very aware of the potential for people that might see the event as a way to enter the country and staying,” she added.

The concerns about a new flood of migrants are particularly high after last year’s anti-immigrant attacks which left 60 dead and forced tens of thousands to flee their homes.

The attacks were motivated in part by the frustrations of poor South Africans battling to find jobs in a nation where official unemployment is officially at 23,6%, but is actually much
higher when disillusioned job-seekers are included.

But the World Cup approaches as the country is weathering its first recession since apartheid, with more than 700 000 jobs lost over the last year.

Experts fear that public expectations, both here and in the region, may have risen unrealistically high for a jobs boom from the World Cup.

”There’s no sign that [the World Cup] is going to create any kind of long term jobs,” said Jean-Pierre Misago, a researcher in Forced Migration Studies at the University of the Witswatersrand.

”It’s about being realistic … instead of just saying the World Cup is going to boost our economy and bring in millions of rand.”

Building new stadiums and other government spending on upgrading the transportation system have helped cushion the job losses from South Africa’s first recession in 17 years.

The local organising committee has estimated that the World Cup will create 415 000 jobs in South Africa, including construction, law enforcement and the service sector.

Work many migrants would seek is more informal, hawking their wares in markets or sidewalks to the 450 000 fans expected to descend on the country.

Many people from neighbouring countries can enter South Africa on a 90-day visa, a policy that the government hopes will encourage foreigners to enter legally — and then go back home, said Misago.

But he warned the government needs to explain the reason for its decision in order to avoid fuelling the anti-immigrant fears that sparked violence last year.

”[Government] has to take time to explain to the people why these decisions are being taken, the advantages for the country, for the community, for all the people who are affected by this decision,” he said.

At the Johannesburg market, hopes were still running high for a business boom during the games.

”There’s going to be a lot more business because people are looking forward to 2010,” said South African vendor Martha Latawana (23).

”Foreigners will come because there are more opportunities in South Africa, and there will be more jobs for 2010,” she said, but added that she didn’t think new xenophobic attacks would break out.

”People learned from their mistakes. I don’t think they will do that again.” – AFP