Lemonade – My South African Career Experience

Kanye West is pushing his album back and going to Africa to record a song. Interesting and exciting news. I am looking west (excuse the pun) from my beloved continent Africa and second love South Africa temporarily to experience a different way of living life in the first world in the United Kingdom. I would never easily leave Africa, but it has its pressure points which are so exhausting as all places in the world.

My fellow Zimbabwean friends and I read, re- read and dissected a LinkedIn article written a while ago by Tinyiko Ngwenya on her reasons on leaving Cape Town which went viral and struck so many cords in my own story see https://www.fin24.com/Opinion/why-i-moved-back-to-johannesburg-from-cape-town-20180528. We stood in awe of the author and wondered who would be willing to also tell our narrative. The narrative of the black Zimbabwean female immigrant in Corporate South Africa, and is it even worth telling?

The gospel according to myself

Growing up in Zimbabwe well before things were evidently bad and the land issues at their height it was clear to middle class Zimbabweans that it was time to seek out new opportunities as early as the mid-nineties. The glory days were well behind us. As would seem ingenious at the time droves of young people, teenagers fresh out of high school were sent off to study further or heck just “make a plan” overseas and hopefully make something of themselves. The lucky few as myself had opportunities to go to University. A make or break opportunity.

The Hustle

The hope and plan was that given some type of integration into the new system any system other than the Zimbabwean system; said young person would somehow be able to somewhat carve a life for themselves away from family and familiarity. All very mercurial but with a little drive; ambition and a whole lot of prayer something could happen sometime, in time and with tonnes of encouragement, emotional support and prayer; something would happen for sure! Anything at this point.

Once graduation happened the keys to the South African economy would open; after all jobs were plenty it was a booming economy welcoming all who would contribute to advance the business economy. That was the blueprint. I was inducted into that blueprint.

For those not so academically fortunate, the pursuit of happiness lay in the dream of finally maybe one day obtaining the qualification and in the meantime eating humble pie and continuing to work towards the dream of a qualification and qualify for the existing integration plan into South Africa.

 

Finances

It goes without saying that immigrants do not always necessarily qualify for credit. This is largely a cash-based life. Access to credit is largely limited to store accounts with month on month payments and depending on resources and a little luck, a credit card. There are no instant bail outs from the bank. It is what it is.

Permanent residency

Permanent residency affords an individual to finally being able to establish oneself. It is the equivalent of a Green Card in the United States of America or any indefinite leave to remain in any country. An entry level into citizenship for most countries. With Permanent Residency one can buy the house, the luxury car any and every representation that leaving your country and heritage was well worth it. One can perhaps have a chance to give back to our country and families. An example is the elderly parents left behind without pension plans or medical aid. A constant emotional tug.

Working in the back end for a few local firms, I experienced fellow African immigrants being kept under long waiting periods with the Home Affairs department of South Africa (which handles immigration) for many years even exceeding five years starting from the application for permanent residency while others are quietly deported even after contributing more time to South Africa from studying and working. Some were even married to nationals and living with children who were born in South Africa and are part South African but still having no legitimate claim to remain in the country. Yet I also witnessed first world immigrants for example from the United States of America and United Kingdom; after qualifying for the minimum required time as workers receive their permanent residency within six months of application. Facts.

Recently an article was published and sent to me by a friend on the recent potential changes in immigration laws impacting a lot of immigrants. Yet again, the goal posts keep shifting https://businesstech.co.za/news/business/275553/new-visa-rules-could-see-long-term-foreign-residents-having-to-leave-south-africa/

Love your neighbour

South Africa has been good to me and my peers. Along with an accredited career with exposure into business I also established my personal independence met a few milestones and have gained exposure on so many levels. I have also seen others flourish as home owners further their academic endeavours and create families. Life goals.

In addition, I have also experienced the philosophy of Ubuntu in action through my black female peers. I have gained besties (best friends) who are destiny helpers and allies.  Ubuntu is an each one teach one philosophy I learnt in South Africa comprising of unrelenting loyalty and support which exists in good times and bad times. It is about the community and not the individual setting aside circumstantial issues with a collective goal of prosperity in mind. A quality I admire and try to practice in my daily life. My Zimbabwean friends and I all have a few South African besties. They are not only our gatekeepers in South Africa but an emotional sustenance always keeping our heads held high and ear on the ground with a reach into our Zimbabwean connection(s). Such a value add if you have the right ones on your team.

Survival

As an African immigrant with typically non – exceptional skills (there isn’t enough admissions in Medical School for everyone) my work experience and largely that of my peers in similar situations is confined to small to medium enterprises largely owned by minorities – typically white males and or females. These companies also typically have a top down hierarchy, limited budget, limited support, high bonus structures for the top management and a slow and low trickle down of wealth and power sharing. The underlying sentiment on hiring Zimbabweans being that they don’t complain, are hard workers and get the job done. A point of pride for Zimbabweans and a flag to the unparalleled educational system.

I worked in one of these entities where I served time on the hamster wheel and earned some stripes. When I resigned all burnt out and fatigued on the grounds of salary after several hints and pleas (although no one ever really tells them), I discovered my replacement would be earning one and a half times more than my salary  and receiving more support. I looked up my replacements experience and qualifications and we were on par. I was very bitter about that and inconsolable. She was white, female and of course a “culture fit”.  I heard through the grape vine she didn’t make it to two years before she went packing! A vindication for my career worthiness. An eye opener from an otherwise sheltered existence.

The trade-off for the Zimbabwean is gratitude. Gratitude for the opportunity and an eagerness to learn, buy time for more access and keep one’s head down.  Equal work and equal pay are a very grey area. The risk is competing with a native South African and thereby losing the opportunity or asking for what you really want and again losing the opportunity. The safe space is presenting your current salary and crossing fingers, saying a lot of prayers, calling relatives for prayers and hopefully being granted an open conversation or a salary you cannot refuse. More hopes and dreams. Again, my experience. The ultimatum being, if you don’t like it, go back to your country which is an option but not a viable option else a native can do the work, but that’s not what this article is about really.

It’s black versus white versus black on black versus male versus female versus native versus foreigner. Eternal conflict.  With globalisation on the rise my question is whether these measures are sustainable?

Social

Well, I hate to break it to you. With a large population of Zimbabwean men in the diaspora carrying entire families from whence they came on their backs, the dating game has become a minefield. As a Zimbabwean woman it is ever tiresome competing with ever changing dynamics in that situation. Back home the dating pool is largely governed by social circles. A contained environment. A safe environment. As an immigrant it is everyone’s playing field and competition is tight ladies! There are no standards intrinsic to being back home.  It has in my opinion fostered a baby mama culture with Zimbabwean females largely in the 30 upwards unmarried age group.  Hope is alive there are other options to chose from besides your own kind ladies! Open your minds. Love lives everywhere. I follow the KimYe movement.

 

The Hope

I do not have any solutions just identifying problems and in a work context as a millennial and gratefully one of the older ones, looking at work, money life balance. Opening the conversation for an ever-increasing wave of young professional black female immigrants looking to make a mark in Corporate South Africa.  For those leaving Cape Town like so many others finding it prejudiced on racial and gender lines, locals have somewhere to go, back home within working South Africa. For a lot of us, this is it, our lot our circumstances our realities. Our home from home.

There’s hope though through intrapreneurship and entrepreneurship. The new employee approaches their work as a business a work for hire understanding how to be resilient and grasp the right opportunity and partner with the right people. The entrepreneur being a creative design thinker constantly seeking the white spaces on where to flourish and seeing the global world as their oyster.  As Kanye makes plans to work in Africa as part of his new album, myself the African immigrant with an entrepreneurial mindset will continue to look globally for inspiration and seek to expose and empower nationals in the place I reside and work through genius, innovation and controversy if that is the case.  It’s the Kanye way.

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