Lindiwe Zulu. Picture: PUXLEY MAKGATHO
Lindiwe Zulu. Picture: PUXLEY MAKGATHO

FOREIGN business owners in SA’s townships cannot expect to co-exist peacefully with local business owners unless they share their trade secrets, says Small Business Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu.

The government is assembling a task team to address violence and tension between local and foreign business owners.

Looting of foreign-owned businesses spread to Ekurhuleni on Monday. On Tuesday Ms Zulu called for stronger regulation of foreign business operations in townships to be fast-tracked.

In an interview on Monday she said foreign business owners had an advantage over South African business owners in townships. This was because local business owners had been marginalised and been offered poor education and a lack of opportunities under apartheid.

"Foreigners need to understand that they are here as a courtesy and our priority is to the people of this country first and foremost. A platform is needed for business owners to communicate and share ideas. They cannot barricade themselves in and not share their practices with local business owners," Ms Zulu said.

Criminality, looting and murder would never be condoned, she said, adding that these took attention away from the valid concerns about businesses which did not operate according to the law from local business owners, she said.

"There is a lot of criminality… there are serious issues being raised but others are hijacking those concerns," she said.

Muhammad Osman of the Somali Association of SA in the Western Cape said if the government intended to regulate foreign business then all businesses in township areas need to be regulated on a level playing field.

Research fellow at the SA Institute for International Affairs Peter Draper said Ms Zulu’s remarks, underscored government’s mistrust of foreign investors which was also reflected in business regulations. "If you connect this to the broader picture, essentially this is part of a thrust to single out foreign business, which is contrary to the political message President Jacob Zuma went to portray in Davos. We are at a tipping point and we are going beyond it. You can only push foreign business so far before they disengage," he said.

Mr Draper agreed with Ms Zulu’s remarks on the effect of apartheid on local business owners in townships but said foreign business owners had to confront their own challenges with little state support.

"Apartheid did disadvantage black people and over generations it inhibited social capital. Many foreigners have trading entrenched in their blood. Wherever they go they bring social capital, networks and extended family. Is that unfair? I don’t think so. That’s life," he said.

Ms Zulu’s comments show the about-turn in the African National Congress’ (ANC’s) ideology of Pan Africanism and in line with remarks by party leaders.

After a week of looting in Soweto last week, ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe told residents in Doornkop that immigration laws needed to be strengthened to protect the country from terror.