AFTER near-death experiences in Durban during the recent wave of xenophobic attacks which claimed at least seven lives, it would be reasonable to assume none of the survivors would ever want to set foot in that part of South Africa again.
The tide of deadly xenophobic violence that swept through Durban left a trail of destruction and murder, forcing hundreds of foreigners to flee with terror back home.
Some have vowed never to go back to South Africa.
But not-so for 26 year-old Fortune Nyikadzino, whose life almost came to a premature and horrific end in Verulam, Durban, at the hands of machete-wielding gangs who threatened to destroy his shack if he did not leave the country immediately.
Less than an hour after stepping out into the harsh sun in searing hot Beitbridge on Friday aboard one of five buses for repatriated Zimbabweans, Nyikadzino told the Zimbabwe Independent that he was merely coming to cool his heels in his home town of Chitungwiza, dormitory town of Zimbabwe’s capital Harare, before re-tracing his steps to the fabled “land of gold”.
“Mara, lapha akukonto yokuhlalela, abantu abas’ phani. Bheka abanengi bangama vendors. Mina ngahamba ngo-2013 izinto zibheda ekhaya. Angina nix, ngoba inyanga ibinga phelanga. But if into le iphela ngizo buyela eMzansi (There isn’t anything to live for here in Zimbabwe.
I left in 2013 and I’ve come back with nothing because you could not retrieve anything during the attacks. I had not been paid, but once this thing (xenophobia) is over, I will go back because life is hard here in Zimbabwe. Look, most people are not employed here and they are just vendors. And I had not been paid since the month was not over,” Nyikadzino said in not-so-proficient Zulu, spoken with a heavy local accent.
Ironically, Zulu is the language of those who tormented him back in Durban. Learning the language and speaking it in less than two years is quite a feat for Nyikadzino who said he had never heard it spoken before he left Chitungwiza for South Africa.
However, it was not enough to save him from brutal attacks.
“They waited for us to come back from work,” said Nyikadzino of the machete-wielding and balaclava clad gangs, who came to his home where he had lived for the past two years at the informal settlement in Verulam, Durban.
“They called me and my two friends to come out because they wanted to teach us a lesson for invading their country. They were going to light up our plastic and board shack so we had to come out. We were beaten and told to leave. That night we made our way to a camp for refugees before agreeing to be repatriated to Zimbabwe.”
Nyikadzino and his friends are among the lucky ones who were given time to flee in the deadly violence whose most poignant illustration has been the killing of Mozambican national Emmanuel Sithole — now officially identified as Emmanuel Josias — which was captured live by Sunday Times photographers.
And while Nyikadzino and about 800 others made it to their homeland, they say their stay will only be temporary as there are no prospects of finding employment in a country they abandoned just a few years back due to ever-increasing joblessness and resultant soaring poverty.
Nyikadzino is not the only one intending to retrace his steps as many others who spoke to this paper at the holding camp set up by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) on the outskirts of Beitbridge expressed similar sentiments.
The much-touted repatriation exercise was shunned by most Zimbabweans as those who came in two batches (the first arriving last week on Tuesday and the other last Friday) were just over 800 — a miniscule figure given that estimates are that there are more than three million Zimbabweans in South Africa.
In addition, a random survey conducted by this paper at the IOM camp also revealed that those who came back were largely drawn from informal and illegal settlements popularly known as imikhukhu in South Africa.
All of those interviewed also revealed that they had entered South Africa illegally and continued to stay there without proper documents. They said they will go back to South Africa as soon as the situation allows.
Labour and Social Welfare permanent secretary Ngoni Masoka said “407 people had returned on the first trip on Tuesday”.
“We are still working on today’s (last Friday’s returning batch) but the number is around the same as that which came on Tuesday.”
The returnees got counselling and medication while waiting to get food hampers and starter packs.
The starter packs comprised two blankets, groceries, pots as well as smart kits with sanitary wear for ladies. Zupco buses transported them to their provincial capitals where they would be given bus fares by the IOM to proceed to their final destinations.
But as revealed by Nyikadzino, this is only a stop-gap measure which will not cushion returnees from the full effects of high unemployment which is estimated close to 90%, and counting, and resultant high poverty levels.
Nyikadzino’s feelings that there is nothing to come back or to remain for in Zimbabwe are widely shared by immigrants who say it is better to brave xenophobia than unemployment and poverty at home. Zimbabwe’s economy is on a tailspin again, with massive company closures, job losses and poverty, as well as hunger and suffering which fuel emigration.