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Hurdles to trade? South Africa’s immigration policy and informal sector cross-border traders in the SADC

3. Who are cross-border traders?

As noted above, these traders largely fall into four categories. The business involves traders from a range of SADC countries, primarily: Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe. To a much lesser extent, South African small entrepreneurs are also involved in cross-border trade. There is also increasing evidence to suggest that refugees and other third country nationals resident in South Africa are becoming involved in this sector (Nethengwe, 1998)6.

Regional informal sector cross border trade involves both men and women. The research used in this study suggests:

  • this sector of cross border trade involves a greater number of female than male entrepreneurs, thus promoting the economic empowerment of women. Studies of trade between Mozambique and South Africa found over 70% of traders were women (Peberdy & Rogerson, 2000: 31) Similarly a study of trade between Zimbabwe and South Africa found over 65% of traders were women (Nethengwe, 1999: 88). Furthermore, South African immigration officials in Zimbabwe and Mozambique have indicated that 80-95% of applicants for visitors visas for trading or shopping are female (Peberdy & Crush, 1998).

  • While women were more likely to be involved at the survivalist level they were found amongst those entrepreneurs trading in the largest volumes.

  • Most traders are aged between 25 and 39 years.

  • Traders have a relatively high level of education for the country they come from. With the exception of Mozambicans (where education levels are low) most traders from SADC countries had some secondary education, and some had tertiary education (including university).

  • Their businesses enable these entrepreneurs to meet the education, housing and other basic needs of a significant number of dependents. Research shows that traders supported on average 3.2 children as well as 3.1 dependents who were not children or spouses.

3.1 Employment opportunities

The trade provides employment. Traders employ people in their home countries and in countries they trade in. The number of people employed by interviewees in these studies ranged from one to eight per entrepreneur.

  • On average 1.2 people were employed by SADC traders in their home country (1.3 for South Africans in South Africa).

  • Over 60% of Mozambican respondents employed people in their businesses in Mozambique.

  • At least 20% of SADC entrepreneurs involved in the handicraft/curio sector of street trade in South Africa employ people (usually South Africans).
  1. In South Africa a more geographically expansive import and export trade is carried out by small and medium entrepreneurs from West and Central Africa who are resident in South Africa (Rogerson, 1997a, 1997b; Simone, 1998a; 1998b; Peberdy & Crush, 1998; Peberdy, 2000a; Peberdy and Rogerson, 2000). Much of this trade appears to be in handicrafts and curios and possibly grey goods (clothes, textiles, shoes etc.) from East Asia. The majority of these traders are men. It has close ties to West and Central African transnational networks of trade and will not be addressed in this paper.

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