Home Opinion Xenophobia: There Are Many Lessons to be Learnt

Xenophobia: There Are Many Lessons to be Learnt

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By Temba Nolutshungu

See the opportunity in diversity!

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Most countries that experience significant immigration patterns prosper socio-economically. People flee from oppressive countries to economically or politically free countries (as in democratic states). Before the Berlin Wall came down, people from behind the Iron Curtain (socialist Warsaw pact countries) fled to the West; people fled oppressive North Korea to free Korea; before unification, people fled from Communist mainland China to Hong Kong.

On the African continent, millions have fled various oppressive African regimes to seek a better life in South Africa or other democratic states such as Botswana. Still today, refugees from Africa cross the Mediterranean Sea for freer or more liberal democratic European countries, risking being drowned in the attempt.

Immigrant contribution immense

But, the fact remains, whenever immigrants are absorbed into the economy at their final destination, invariably they contribute immensely to the socio-economic development of the host country. A case in point being the United States of America which was developed by immigrants to become the biggest and strongest country in the world.

This has been the case even when the immigration has been on the back of colonial and imperialist conquests. Most countries in Europe, South America, Asia and Africa have, at some stage, been colonised and have since prospered. Countries that were never colonised, for example Nepal, Bhutan and Liberia, tend to have remained underdeveloped.

Immigrants, however and from wherever they come, tend to be more productive than the people living in their adoptive countries. As do South Africans, so do too Nigerians, Zimbabweans, Asians, Latinos and Somalians in the diaspora become more productive in their socio-economic pursuits and achieve greater excellence in their chosen professional and academic fields than they did in their original countries.

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Be free to move

The free movement of people is a fundamental and inalienable right. When we voluntarily interact with other people from different backgrounds and cultures, it not only stimulates new thoughts and ideas but through trade gives us access to better and cheaper goods and services. Immigration facilitates the movement of goods and services and this increases prosperity. Economic historian, Will Durant, said, “The crossroads of trade are the meeting places of ideas, the attrition ground of rival customs and beliefs; diversities beget conflict, comparison, thought; superstitions cancel one another and reason begins”. In his book, Migrations and Cultures, Professor Thomas Sowell notes that “In eastern Texas, German farmers were by 1880 producing a larger volume of output per farm-and on smaller farms-than other Texans” and throughout the book he provides further empirical evidence that accentuates the connection between immigrant productivity and excellence. Why does this happen? Arguably because refugees are desperate people who, at tremendous personal sacrifice, choose to leave their country of birth, family and friends, often including their spouses and offspring. They believe and might have foreknowledge that by venturing into a country where they do not know a single person or perhaps even the language, they will find a better life.

A treasure of new skills

These modern-day pioneers bring unique skills and knowledge with them. All they seek is to be left alone to explore and exploit opportunities for economic advancement. Their desire for economic advancement is so strong that they are prepared to take up whatever jobs are available and work whatever hours may be required of them to make a go of the opportunity that presents itself. The more entrepreneurial among them will immediately establish humble retail outlets and then work at building them up which invariably benefits the immediate community. Their hard work and tenacity often incurs the wrath, jealousy and envy of local traders or naïve individuals who complain about foreigners taking their jobs. Sadly, government and its law enforcement agencies do not show decisive zeal and action to deal with these elements.

In 1895, Booker T. Washington, African-American educator, author and adviser to United States presidents, said, “To those of my race who depend on bettering their condition in a foreign land, or who underestimate the importance of preserving friendly relations with the southern white man who is their next door neighbour, I would say ‘Cast down the bucket where you are’. Cast it down, making friends in every manly way of the people of all races, by whom you are surrounded”.

“Cast it down in agriculture, mechanics, in commerce, in domestic service and in the professions”. Booker T. Washington’s words speak to us and implore us to understand the immigrant sectors in our countries.

This article was first published in an edition of Business Brief.

BIO of the Author

Temba Nolutshungu is Director of the Free Market Foundation (FMF). He is also Chairman of the Langa Heritage Foundation and trustee of the Helen Suzman Foundation, the Cape Town Carnival and is also a council member of the South Africa Institute of Race Relations.


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