Posted on January 11, 2011

Black-on-Black Exploitation

Vince Musewe, MoneyWeb (Melrose Arch, South Africa), January 10, 2011

It is, I guess, always easy to point a finger at racism and exploitation out there while most blacks practice it in their very homes.

I must congratulate the South African government for doing what it can to assist illegal Zimbabweans based here to regularise their stay. It is quite sad that only about 275 000 out of an estimated 3m Zimbabweans here have been able to submit their applications and most of the blame must be put squarely on the Zimbabwean government’s lack of effort and capacity to process large numbers of new passports despite the reported South Africa’s offer to help. However, there really is nothing new about that given that Zimbabwe is a de facto failed state, its failures have become embarrassing to us all.

Since the deadline has come and gone and a significant number of Zimbabwean immigrants have been unable to regularise their stay, I truly fear for them in that, once again, our erstwhile black South African brothers and sisters in the police service will make a fortune from these “mobile ATMs”–as illegal Zimbabweans are known. In addition, the exploitation of Zimbabwean immigrants as a source of cheap labour that can be easily hired or fired will unfortunately continue unabated.

Most Zimbabwean maids and gardeners that I have spoken to, actually prefer being employed by white families because they feel that blacks exploit them more. Here, we are talking about black on black exploitation where, other blacks take advantage of the status of immigrants and employ them for peanuts. I can already hear some of you blacks accuse them of slave mentality but I do see their point. They claim that, where they are employed by other blacks, their salaries are hardly paid on time and they actually do more work than they are paid for. Take the example of a maid that works for a Nigerian couple that I know, she works from six o’clock in the morning till everyone goes to sleep late at night, seven days a week. She is not allowed to receive calls during the day, does laundry manually for a family of five and also cooks for them on top of all the cleaning she has to do. For all her labour, she gets a measly R1 200 a month which is always paid late and in protest! Added to this, she can be fired any minute and probably not get paid her dues. Now that is daylight robbery to me and I bet there are thousands of such stories out there.

One thing that I have noticed is that black employers are quite happy exploiting Zimbabweans simply because they do not have proper documentation and are therefore at the employer’s mercy. The irony of it all is that these are the very same people who blame racism and exploitation by whites. It is indeed a sad and common situation that black middle class families specifically look to employ Zimbabweans because it is cheaper for them and easy to fire them and yet black led trade unions continually complain about how South African companies want cheaper labour that is easy to hire and fire. It’s like the pot calling the kettle black ain’t it? Unfortunately this same mentality applies to our politics where black governments have treated their folk worse that the colonialists, but I digress.

The truth of the matter is that most Zimbabwean maids or gardeners who work for white families continually talk about how well they are treated with provision of decent accommodation, food and even medical aid and school fees for their children. Now why can’t we as blacks do the same for our own folk? Through our actions and how we treat other blacks who work for us, we inadvertently confirm the stereotype that it is better to work for whites than for another black. This is the experience with black owned companies too where black employees are treated with utter disrespect because they happen to be desperate for employment.

There is also the issue of the so called RDP houses which are rented out to black immigrants by South African blacks at ridiculously high rentals. This is huge business and one hopes that the regularisation of Zimbabweans will limit this black on black exploitation that seems acceptable.

It is, I guess, always easy to point a finger at racism and exploitation out there while most blacks practice it in their very homes.