Yesterday, I got caught up in a massive Twitter ‘conversation’ around Zimbabwean Uber drivers in Cape Town. It seems that those Zimbabwean drivers are beholden to the asset-holders who own the cars that they drive – and on a much lesser note (at least, in my mind), this affects service delivery.

It’s the kind of conversation where you end up being blasted with truisms like:

  1. “Of course immigrants are riskier when it comes to getting credit from banks – why is that a prejudice?”
  2. “Those drivers should go back to Zimbabwe – all they need is a proper democratic government.”

What those Uber users are forgetting:

  1. Immigrants actually want to live and work in South Africa, making them less likely to pick up and leave than your average South African, who might want to go and explore greener pastures abroad. And not every immigrant is here to fleece a bank for a Toyota Corolla, and then try to illegally disappear with it across a border. That kind of thing stops you from living in South Africa indefinitely. Not many immigrants are aiming for that.
  2. If immigrants are pushed back to their countries of origin, then who would clean the houses and drive the Ubers for the Twitterati? It’s not so simple to replace immigrants with South Africans – because systemic discrimination against migrants means that they’ll accept lower wages and unwanted jobs. So if they’re forced to leave, expect more expensive maids and more surge pricing (but not necessarily better service delivery).

I too am an immigrant here in South Africa*. After almost 12 years of living here, I am finally a permanent resident. I still don’t have an ID book – because there’s no real incentive for the Department of Home Affairs to process the requests of non-voters. But in the background to all this, I now have employees. And those employees are able to take the payslips that I give them, and apply for mortgages and credit cards and bank loans.
*And I am aware of my own self-interest here. Although I honestly think that’s the point. Personal experience and all that.

I can’t make those same applications though*.
*And wherever there isn’t a blanket ban on anyone without a barcoded Green ID book, my migrant status is still a ‘risk factor’ that requires massively higher deposits. And gets my higher interest rates.

Doesn’t that seem bizarre?

Immigrant Apartheid

Today, we take it as given that the land of your birth gives you greater entitlement to that land over someone that was born someplace else. And we also take it as given that any incoming immigrant will be bad for the country.

People – people need to check their citizen privilege at the door.


Thanks this website
Thanks this website

Firstly, We Are All Immigrants (except for somewhere in Central Africa)

It’s in our DNA. And if you map our ancestry, you get this (you can read more about our mitochondrial DNA haplogroups here):

Thanks Wikipedia
Thanks Wikipedia

Secondly, Immigrants Are Almost Certainly Good For An Economy

Immigrants are born entrepreneurs, because the best entrepreneurs are risk-takers. And when you look at immigrants in particular, just consider how large a risk appetite is required to uproot from the familiar and transplant (often with nothing) into the entirely foreign.

For example, in the United States, 40% of the Fortune 500 companies were founded by first-generation and second-generation immigrants, including: Google, eBay, Huffington Post, Pfizer, Bank of America, Kraft Foods, Procter & Gamble, Colgate-Palmolive, Goldman Sachs, Yahoo!, Intel, News Corp, Verizon and AT&T. 40% versus the 13% of the US population that are immigrants (and it would have been closer to 6% at the time that most of those Fortune 500 companies were founded).

If you check out this clip from the George W. Bush Center (curious, because the Republicans aren’t exactly pro-immigration), you’ll notice that relative to their size, immigrants are the most efficient source of new jobs and new small businesses:

So there’s that.

Thirdly, Elysium isn’t really Science Fiction

Go and watch the “dystopian Matt Damon thriller”, where the wealthy have left Earth to live in a 1%-er paradise while the rest of humanity are left to dreg it out here on Earth.

But that is what immigration control already does. It creates pockets of wealth by keeping the potential competition out.

It’s the reason that a bus driver in Sweden earns so much more than a bus driver in New Delhi: not because the Swedish bus driver is better than the Indian one; but because there are so many more bus drivers in India, and Sweden makes sure that they don’t come to Sweden.

It’s a lot of Right Wing hypocrisy. Pro-free markets, competition and less government interference – but anti-immigration because that’s not competition, that’s just government interference with hard-working patriots or whatever.

I’m not sure what you’d call it when productive, legal and contributing members of a society are legally locked out of full participation in it, without a voice in the legislation that governs their exclusion – but one could use the word “apartheid” and not be wrong.

For more on this, earlier posts:

Rolling Alpha posts opinions on finance, economics, and the corporate life in general. Follow me on Twitter @RollingAlpha, and on Facebook at