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Amazon has added 3,000 jobs in South Africa for Alexa and customers in US, Europe

AP Photo/Jeff Chiu
“Hello, Alexa”

Amazon has expanded its presence in Johannesburg and Cape Town by adding 3,000 new virtual customer service jobs to bring its total permanent workforce in South Africa to 7,000 people.

The new job roles range from customer service associates to technical staff and the employees will be working virtually from home to provide round-the-clock support for Amazon customers in North America and Europe. This is against the backdrop of a sharp increase in demand for Amazon services and rising unemployment in South Africa exacerbated by stay-at-home orders to control the coronavirus pandemic in the country.

Most of the new customer jobs will require candidates have school leaver’s certificate with an excellent command of English and be a South African citizen. Other technical positions will support customer inquiries on devices include Amazon’s Alexa product.

In a country with 29% unemployment by the end 2019—before the pandemic economic crisis—the call for jobs for citizens has been a frequent theme with local politicians and activists in recent years. But at times the calls have tipped over into ugly xenophobic attacks on black African migrants in particular who locals have tried to blame for limiting their job opportunities.

Last year, Amazon established the AWS Equity Equivalent Investment Program (AWS EEIP) to invest over 365 million rands ($21 million)  in the development of sustainable 100% black-owned South African small businesses within the ICT sector.

Ultimately, one key requirement might be a stumbling block for some candidates as the virtual roles will require the applicants have a private, quiet workspace and “an existing and dedicated internet connection, according to Amazon specifications.” But for candidates who are successful Amazon says it will provide a stipend toward their internet expenses.

This latest tranche of Amazon jobs will be viewed with some envy from other English-speaking African countries with high youth employment and digital literacy including Nigeria and Kenya. Though South Africa is widely acknowledged as the continent’s most advanced economy, Kenya for example has made strides with internet infrastructure while Nigeria’s large population of university graduates and its fast-growing tech hub offers affordable human capital.

But Amazon’s early presence in South Africa has deep roots with its first small team of engineers stationed in Cape Town in 2004 to develop what has become Amazon Web Service (AWS) technology—the Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2). But even though individual customers on the continent can order some items via Amazon, the company has yet to focus on an e-commerce service dedicated to Africa. Instead Jumia, has taken on the mantle as the “Amazon of Africa” with mixed results.

After AWS launched its Amazon CloudFront in Johannesburg and Cape Town in 2018, it also launched an edge location in Nairobi, this year.

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