Mandela Rhodes Scholars
Mandela Rhodes Scholars

‘Eish, you’re not South African’

By Cano Ssemakalu

It can be tough being a foreigner in South Africa, even if you are here legally. I have lived here for seven years now, during which I’ve been treated like a South African by the very generous government and its people. But my grievance is with the corporations in the private sector that discriminate against foreigners.

I find it very annoying that if you’re not South African then you’ve no right to various services offered by companies. The first incident happened four years ago. It was the start of a new semester and I was walking with my friend to campus. Suddenly we were stopped by a person who happened to be a sales representative for a bank. He told us about all the services the bank could offer us as students. We were so captivated we followed the salesman to his stall to give him our information.

After my friends had registered it was my turn. He asked for my name, address and identification, which I presented. As I waited in anticipation to sign a document that would enable me obtain the account of my choice, the face and mood of the salesman changed. I asked if everything was fine. He looked me in the eye and told me “I am sorry bra you do not qualify for this service”. I smiled and asked him why. He replied “eish you are not South African”.

If they needed a referee or some indication that I am employed I would understand. But there was nothing financially different between me and my South African friends. Later on I decided to go to one of the bank branches. Guess what, he was right. For a moment there I was so angry I wanted to take all my business elsewhere. In an attempt to do so I realised that all the banks share the same policy, which unfairly discriminates against foreigners.

Being in South Africa you get to learn a lot about insurance company advertisements, especially those screened on television. One thing I always wanted to insure was my gadgets. One Saturday morning I happened to be watching a TV show when it was interrupted by a commercial. The insurance company alerted viewers that they could take out an insurance policy (I don’t remember what for) at a ridiculously low premium of about R60 a month. The commercial ended with “SMS us on xyz and we will call you back”.

Without wasting any time I sent them an SMS. Two days later I received a call. After a lengthy chat about the services came the questions, of which the first two regarded my name and address. The third question was to read my identification number. I told the saleswoman that I had a passport and that I was going to read out my passport number. In a very sad tone she said she was very sorry and that the service was only for South Africans. I told her that it was OK and that I understood. The fact is, I was trying to be understanding.

About two months ago I received a call from my cellphone service provider. The person on the other end took the time to inform me that my number was forwarded to them by their head office based on the fact that I was a great customer. The criteria for a great customer here is based on how much airtime you load a month. She told me that if I paid a small amount of money (R50) a month I would receive a lot of free minutes as well as SMSs. Man, was I excited to hear that until I was asked for my ID.

At times I ask myself what the main object of any given business is.

Cano Ssemakalu is involved in the initiation of an innovative food security project aimed at township dwellers.

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  • Home is where the soul grows
  • Xenophobia shatters the united Africa dream
  • Listen to immigrant stories
  • Let them eat cake
    • Stuart

      I don’t think South Africa is the only country where you cannot have a local bank account if you’re not a citizen of that country.

      I wonder why you haven’t become a South African citizen if you’ve already been here for 7 years?

    • Fletch

      If you have only been affected by 3 incidents, then you are very lucky. I have been in this country for 4 years and i can say i have met with those restrictions at least more than 10 times. From the highest interest rate on credit cards to at least 7 to 10% above prime for a car loan, and a higher interest rate for a home loan etc. I sort of understand for the cars as they say you can just take it, and drive off legitimately and never be seen again, but what of a home loan. Do they think i will up root the house and take it with me to my country of birth. They also do the same at furniture stores as well. For house rentals, rental agencies charge you 2-3 times your monthly rent as a deposit if you are a foreigner. You generally pay higher insurance premiums for everything, even life insurance . At one point the bank refused to give me my money from an investment that had matured because my permit had expired. Despite having a letter from the department of home affairs showing proof of application, and proof that it had been processed, i had to wait for two weeks for the permit to be printed first before my money could be released. I am sure a lot more people have similar or worse stories.

    • Dave Harris

      Thank you for sharing that insight Cano. Hopefully now others can better understand who the real culprits that spread the hype of “xenophobia”. Its the controllers of our economy who find the influx of black migrant workers threatening, especially in the WCape, the last bastion of apartheid, where blacks are marginalized in ever sphere of society!

    • MLH

      My student tenants have endless problems getting bank accounts, which I think has as much to do with Fica (government regulations) as anything else. However, it is not only frustrating for then, but irritating for me, since it is my information they have to provide for the banks. Frankly, I see it as invasive to have to pass my bank statement and services accounts to people who will be paying me rental. In this case, the full page is insisted upon.

      But if it helps dampens your ire, thousands of South Africans running small businesses or freelancing are also denied access to products and services that they need to run their businesses. These include many that expect payment via debit order: mobile contracts, security systems and internet access. Not to mention their inability to access more obvious credit like overdraft facilities, car and home loans.

    • Lockstock

      The business world isn’t at fault here, it’s the laws generated by the ANC government that is.

      But don’t let this stop you all from bashing white people though. Carry on as usual. It’ll make you all feel better.

    • MLH

      @ Lovestock: bashing whites? I didn’t get that anyone was. Bashing the systems, yes. You clearly have a one-track mind!

    • Themba

      Having lived in other countries for several years, I can tell you that the process is not easy. We were lucky we got a social security number, which allowed us to open bank accounts in the US. Unfortunately, banks have to complly with a slue of international laws including FICA, Basil, etc. Furthermore, the government has very litte choice. They have to enact certain laws, otherwise they will be excluded from the international banking community. Try sending money to Iran, Burma, Sudan and Cuba and you will appreciate that the government does not have a choice in the matter. I would also suggest that if you were to research the experiences of foreigners in your country, chances are that they will go through the same experience is your country is not one of those excluded by OFAC. I would suggest you go to your bank and ask for options for foreign students. You should also apply for an identity documents, which gives you access to an ID number. I do appreciate your frustration, but South Africa is forced by world monetary bodies. Failure to comply will have serious consequences for the country. Consider that our passport became a joke such that we now require a visa to the UK. Thank Home Affairs for that (and Mangosuthu Buthelezi)

    • Lockstock

      MLH. Re-read Dave Harris’ piece and figure out what he is alluding to. It’s as plain as day who he believes the ‘culprits’ are in that ‘last bastion of Apartheid’. I think you should be looking at him in your search for a one track mind.

    • mundundu

      stuart/themba: i’ve been here for almost 7 years also. i’m guessing you’ve never had to deal with home affairs as a foreign national during the last decade. it’s as if they want you to give up and go “home”. which is fine, but it means that you limit our ability to spend money here, for which companies in brazil, britain, france, and the usa have been very grateful. [those four countries have gotten a lot of my money that would/should have otherwise been spent here. oh well.]

      i’ve noticed that the cellphone companies have moved away from their “you must be south african” stance to provide contracts or contract upgrades. when i went to get my kid a new cellphone, they asked if i wanted to set up a contract, and while they didn’t mind the fact that i wasn’t south african, they did mind the fact that i was self-employed. [ugh.]

      self-employment has been a far bigger issue as i’ve tried to secure mortgage finance as well. in addition, the banks won’t count *any* of my foreign income, and then had the nerve to mention matters of “affordability” in denying me the bond. [hm, if i can’t afford it, how did i manage to just pay cash for the property instead? idiots.]

      that last bit meant that my renovation budget is affected, which means that fewer south africans will have steady work once transfer is done. way to go, banks!

    • Ziya “Zee”

      I am really sorry you had to go through all of that…its not fair….I just wonder how my fellow africans would treat me as a S.African if I went to their countries