OVER a month ago, a social media campaign under the hashtag #ZimbabweansMustFall trended as South Africans urged their government and companies to get rid of Zimbabwean citizens at workplaces and put South Africans first.
As a result of the campaign, which triggered fears of xenophobic attacks, many Zimbabweans in that country were left with no option but to return home. But for others, that option simply did not exist; they would rather stay on in a nation in which they are facing hostility than return to Zimbabwe where daily struggles for survival seem to be greater.
The Covid-19 pandemic has made things worse, with some immigrants telling the Zimbabwe Independent this week that they are caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place.
The country they thought would be their refuge has almost turned them destitute.As early as April this year, Zimbabweans have been lining up at the country’s embassy in Pretoria to apply for voluntary repatriation.
And they have been flocking back to the country, some willing and prepared for the 13 days in quarantine, while others are absconding. Plenty more are sneaking in through the numerous undesignated entry points along the Limpopo River.
With South African President Cyril Ramaphosa’s administration indicating it is too financially hamstrung to feed other nationalities through its social support scheme, many of them told the Independent they are now depending on charity for food handouts.
“My situation as well as that of fellow countrymen and countrywomen is a terrible one. Most of us are struggling to get food since we are undocumented migrants,” 46-year-old Ishmael Kauzani said.
“What makes things worse about the situation of migrant Zimbabweans like me is that we are not going to work and we used to be self-employed as traders. Most of these activities are not allowed under the Covid restrictions. Although some are employed, they are not going to work as most of them used to work in restaurants which now are giving first preference to South African citizens, with most foreign nationals in that sector losing their jobs.”
“Most of us are surviving by the grace of God to a point that some are volunteering to return back home and at the same time are afraid to return as a result of the quarantine period. Others, like me, do not have any choice because we are here as a result of being persecuted by our own government.”
Kauzani, based in Johannesburg, said he was almost killed by suspected state security agents during last year’s street protests on January 14 , after which he fled to South Africa. His shortlived stay there has been anything but rosy.
“After my escape, they went further to beat my wife and my family members. They were accusing me of being one of the people who organised the 14 January 2019 shutdown.”
The problems are not only being experienced in Johannesburg, in Durban, things have also become tough for Zimbabweans.Forty-nine year old Timothy Rukombo said many people risk being kicked out of their lodgings for failing to pay rentals.
“What is affecting us now is rent which is between R1 000 (US$59) and R8 000 (US$477) per month depending on where one stays. You find a landlord asking you for rent when she or he knows that there is Covid-19 and we are in lockdown.”
Rukombo moved to South Africa in 2001, again fleeing political persecution. He works in the construction industry. The lockdown has been very hard on him and his family.
“When I came to South Africa I continued with politics and recorded two albums of protest music. Life here in South Africa is not easy. People think that when you are in South Africa you are making a lot of money. It is totally different. The South Africa of now and of 2000 is totally different,” he said.
“We are not wanted here. If you look at it right now, truck drivers are having a difficult time. They do not even feel safe driving in South Africa. We need to go back home, but if you go back, what are you going to do? There is nothing, there are no jobs. Back home there is nothing, and here it is another story.”
The same goes for Bernard Mataruse and many other Zimbabweans living across the Limpopo, who are facing hunger and a tough existence.
“On the other side our customers are also hit by this lockdown, they are also struggling with life. We are trying to look for someone who can help with food. Those who are employed are also facing the same problems as those who do self-job. Most of the companies that employ foreigners take advantage of us and are not paying the prescribed wages,” Mataruse said.
In the middle of this calamity, the South African government frequently rounds up for deportation undocumented Zimbabweans and those violating the coronavirus lockdown regulations.