By Lyson Goodwin Sibande
The recent unfortunate outbreak of xenophobia and afrophobia in South Africa raises a need for Malawi, as one of the affected Nations, to come up with policies that can be realized in the short term possible to address the safety and protection, and even job security of Malawian migrant workers in South Africa, the Rainbow Nation.
Most Malawian migrant workers in South Africa, just like those from other African countries including Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Swaziland, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, stay in South Africa without visas and other legitimate documents of stay. And there is of course, a substantial number of those, that stay there legally with work permits and proper legal documents. However, whether legally or illegally living in South Africa, most Malawians are vulnerable to exploitation and work related abuse.
A good number of Malawi illegal migrants in South African secure domestic jobs. Most employers of domestic workers subject migrants to inhumane treatment, and poor working conditions and environments, where even some human rights are violated. But given their high levels of desperation to earn a better living, and their lack of legal documentation of stay, they are unable to report their employers to relevant authorities for fear of getting deported to their worse lives back home.
Unfortunately, the same fate faces even on those with work permits and competitive academic qualifications and experience. Corporate employers and other employers in various industries do not recognize Malawian acquired academic qualifications and experience. As a result, many Malawians while in possession of competitive qualifications, and proper documents of stay, are forced into domestic work, where they too are usually exploited and abused.
But even at a relatively tender age of about 51, Malawi still has rich history of exportation of migrant worker, which possess significant economic and labor related lessons from which we can draw some policies that can protect Malawians working in South Africa, enhance job security, and even control the migration itself within legal and acceptable parameters. Remember, in the recent past, the Employment Bureau of Africa (TEBA) used to recruit Malawians to work in South African mines. It is only after such arrangements got abolished that humiliating suffering and excessive exploitation of Malawian migrant workers surfaced in South Africa.
While Malawi government endeavors to create more jobs especially for young people within our borders, it might as well help if Malawi created a TEBA-like organization that should provide legal recruitment for several types of jobs for Malawian migrant workers in South Africa, while ensuring their protection and safety at work places. This type of an arrangement could be of mutual benefit to both, the South African and Malawi Governments, in terms of strengthening legal compliance in immigration, fighting illegal recruitment, evaluation and processing of employment contracts and other general areas like providing repatriation assistance.
This is not necessarily a recommendation of a default labor-exporting policy, but a formalization of the management of migrant workers that are already in the Rainbow Nation and others that would find the service useful. If well-coordinated and managed, the immediate economic gains for Malawi would be a surge of remittances that could even become the biggest source of foreign exchange earnings. Remittances are a significant part of international capital flows. Last year, $436 billion of remittances went to developing countries and overall global remittances also totaled $583 billion.
It is possible for Malawi to get organized and become a remittance economy and have her migrant workers shape their economy.