South Africa is blessed with degree-holding waitresses, childminders, security guards and cleaners both from local and other African countries. The lack of unemployment and a few economic opportunities has forced many university and college graduates to take whatever job that is on offer.
If you are an immigrant n SA, especially from other parts of the continent, it is even worse as one has to go through the government’s red tape before one get their desired job and right papers that allow one to work.
In The Educated Waiter, Zimbabwean author Tafadzwa Taruvinga tells his painful story of trying to make a better living in South Africa, the land of ‘milk and honey’ for many African immigrants.
Despite holding an economics degree from a prestigious university, Taruvinga, however, joins many of his African brothers and sisters who have to do odd jobs in order to survive poverty in a country he calls ‘Sata Afrika’.
While this is just a familiar South African story, where even local graduates continue to do odd jobs not aligned to the qualifications and get to be exploited in the process, I found Taruvinga’s story very unique and painful somehow.
For example, despite him having international work experience from Germany and Dubai and he is lucky enough to get job opportunities aligned to his qualification, the South African government, through its snail pace of issuing work permits to foreign nationals, especially African immigrant, effectively crush his dream of getting well-paying jobs.
This is a book that many black African immigrants will easily relate with, especially those from poor African countries. The derogatory name-calling, the xenophobic attacks and the continued exploitation due to economic vulnerability, Taruvinga had to endure all of that.
However, reading through this book, one cannot help but see how Taruvinga, despite all the challenges he faced, cannot claim in this book to be speaking for many Zimbabweans or other migrants from other parts of the continent. For example, throughout his struggles in finding a job, he stayed in the suburbs, has connected friends and families, who at times help him financially and even offer him jobs.
Many Zimbabweans and other African migrants are forced to settle in impoverished townships across the country and have fewer connections to even get an odd job. So Taruvinga’s experience is definitely different from an ordinary African migrant.
There are also some things which will leave readers asking for an explanation, like how the scribe forever keep referring to the town that is currently known as Makhanda as ‘little Grahamstown’ and his friend Dawie, ‘the Afrikaner’, while others are just named without using their ethnic group.
However, this is a book that will inspire and motivate readers, who are facing the odds and looking to make it in life. As in the traditional memoir writing style, the chapters in this book build onto each other and are short enough to keep the reader’s attention in check.
Indeed, a must-read book for everyone, especially South African government officials working at the Department of Home Affairs. Home Affairs is responsible for making many African immigrants end up being educated waiters, nannies and cleaners in South Africa.