JOHANNESBURG – CAUGHT on the proverbial horns of a dilemma, many foreign nationals in South Africa have forgone the temptation of visiting their home countries, instead opting to work during the festive season.
The migrants, who are mostly self-employed, did not break for the Christmas festivities are eager to continue working during the New Year’s holiday.
A majority are those in the motor mechanic industry, mainly in the townships of Guateng province, the country’s economic hub.
It has been business as usual at such establishments in Alexandra, Boksburg, Diepslsoot, Katlehong, Tembisa, Tsakane and Vosloorus.
“Foreigners, especially those that are self-employed have no holiday at all. We know very well the so-called ‘January’ disease is fast approaching, and will hit hard immediately after Christmas and New Year holidays,” said Zimbabwean mechanic, Themba Mpofu, based in Bramley, north of Johannesburg.
He was speaking in reference to the infamous “January Disease”, the condition of being ‘financially broke’ that befalls a person in the month of January after overspending during the festive season.
“The reason I’m not resting this holiday I have bills to settle, school fees to cover. So, I have no time to waste. Maybe those that resting settled their bills. I presume they have enough cash in their bank accounts,” Mpofu said.
He said his garage opened 12 hours daily.
Mozambican brothers of Marios (20) and Abraham Novelo ((25) from Nyembani, who operate in Alexandra township, also sacrificed the festive season.
“Motorists are getting stuck on roads. They always require our services, hence we are working on holiday,” Marios said.
He said motorists, who normally get serviced by commercially viable garages were turning to them for maintenance and repairs of their vehicle during this festive season.
Nigeria’s Ifeanyi Okonkwo, who operates in Vosloorus, is also making the most of the prevalence of breakdowns during the festive season.
He sees such breakdowns surging along the Johannesburg-Durban highway.
“Business is boom for me, and I have adequately raised enough cash to take head-on the looming January ‘disease’,” Okonkwo said.
Chimango Kamwendo, a gardener from Malawi working in Tembisa, is dependent on seasonal jobs hence he stayed put.
“I don’t have a full-time job. I depend on part-time jobs. This is the reason I work on Christmas and New Year holidays,” Kamwendo said.
Marc Gbaffou, the chairman of the African Diaspora Forum (ADF) lauded the migrants who put in an extra effort compared to workers from their host countries.
“Migrants everywhere in the world know they have to work harder than anyone else because they are their own support, their family’s support and can expect no help from anyone but themselves,” said Gbaffou.
He added: “During this festive season, my thoughts are going to the many self-employed migrants who are living in South Africa and in Gauteng in particular.”
While it might appear as commendable entrepreneurial spirit, experts are wary of ramifications of working at this time of the year.
Executive Director of the Zimbabwe Exiles Forum (ZEF), Advocate Gabriel Shumba, said economic situation was forcing many migrants to work to
generate cash or else join the bandwagon who go for holiday and experience financial challenges.
“It’s either they (migrants) take a break and the family starves, or they continue with back-breaking work while others are de-stressing, which means more stress levels and possibly broken families,” warned Advocate Shumba.
He advised employers to be mindful of the rights of workers “be they local or immigrant” on provisions pertaining to work during the festive break.
“Overtime during this season should predominantly be voluntarily. In the main, it should also be paid. Fair labour practices must strictly be observed and those aggrieved should take recourse through the necessary bodies,” Shumba said.
Sizwe Pamla of Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) told CAJ News workers should be allowed time to rest when it was time for holiday.
“Holidays are supposed to be none-working days! We encourage workers to be with their families during this time of the year. Employers should not take advantage of desperate workers and migrants seeking jobs to exploit them,” Pamla said.
He said some workers were doing it (working on holidays) out of desperation citing scarce jobs in the country.
There was no immediate comment from Phakamile Hlubi of National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) at the time of going to press.
– CAJ News