Friday, August 28, 2009

Zimbos in limbo

As a Zimbabwean working in South Africa, issues to do with nationality, immigration and xenophobia tend to attract my interest and scrutiny. I have experienced some of the difficulties of being a Zimbabwean in this land. I acknowledge with pain the hurt,injustice and harassment that is faced by my other foreign brothers and sisters. The Somali shop owner facing the risk of being burnt in his shop, the Cameroonian being unfairly denied a well deserved post in a organization that supposedly stands for black business interests, merely because he is a naturalized and not indigenous South African. I acknowledge and weep for the Mozambican lady in a "bribe me or face arrest," situation in the harsh streets of Yeoville and Hillbrow.

This pain however, I will delve deeper into in more blogs to come. Today allow me to be somewhat selfish and dwell on the pain I have for the plight of my countryman. As he crosses the crocodile infested Limpopo, or pumps out a small fortune to finance visa fees (only recently wavered) and passport costs, he hopes to receive a welcoming hand from his brothers across the border.


Upon his arrival, he realizes that he could not have been further from the truth. The influx of others before him, the accusations of job threats and the media coverage of the Zim debacle over the years have created an unsympathetic, hostile and resentful South African (black in particular) who would much rather he returns home. Only the situation that drove him to leave, keeps him in this hostile land.

He soon realizes why some of his predecessors choose to assimilate themselves and hide their true identity. Those who speak languages similar to those of the South Africans, (such as Ndebele, Sotho, Venda, Shangaan and Xhosa) and have similar names and surnames to those of the locals have a better chance of survival as they can disguise themselves. It is still not a guarantee though that they will not be detected, since accents and diction have come to differ slightly over almost two centuries of migratory separation.

This woe befallen immigrant will note as he walks in the streets of Johannesburg seeking basic survival that some of his tormentors are his long lost cousins who are not even aware of events such as the turbulent Mfecane of King Tshaka's era that scattered many all over Southern Africa, to places such as Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Ignorance of history will always demand an explanation as to why he is a Zimbo but speaks SiNdebele or other local language, why his name is Thabo, Mduduzi or Ntokozo, why his surname is Hlongwane or Mnkandla(Mokgatla)or Ndlovu. With time he will tire from having to always explain himself and will opt to just adapt the accent and pretend to be South African born.

He might soon find that getting himself documented legally is a nightmare as the system smacks of what can be described as "Bureaucratic Xenophobia" emanating right from the Home Affairs department and spreading like a virus to other sectors such as banks, recruitment agencies, the health sector, name them all. From that point onwards, bribery and begging for service will be the order of his days. Despite having skills and qualifications that the state has deemed scarce skills that are in demand, he will be made to feel like a criminal for daring to want to be part of the South African labour force.


The contribution that he will make, educating the children of the nation, providing health care for all, managing industrial and commercial concerns for the good of the economy and even creating employment for locals, will all be irrelevant. The fact that Zimbabweans in South Africa will contribute to economic development through their skills, payment of taxes as well as purchasing vast amounts of goods to send back home, all seem to count for naught. The help rendered to black South Africans during Apartheid times is not to be considered as calls are made for Mzansi to be left to the people of Mzansi.


Ironically when the Zimbo loathing South African goes home after a long hard day's work of Zimbo bashing, he will turn on the tele to enjoy the acting talents of Enerst Ndlovu and Luthuli Dlamini (a.k.a Stan Nyathi). He will watch with pride as Tinashe Nengomasha guides Kaizer Chiefs to yet another victory and "The Beast" scores yet more spectacular tries for the Boks. He will dance to the ever popular beat of Oscar "Oskido" Mdlongwa or Jahseed. The business executive exploiting the Zimbo working for his firm will sit and smile with pride over his MBA earned at the prestigious Mthuli Ncube run Wits Graduate School of Business. He will read over the latest business news in Trevor Ncube's Mail and Guardian. The news read by Obriel Mpofu and the sound political commentary of Professor Shadrack Gutu will make for an intellectually stimulating evening. In all these instances he will forget that these comforts and joys emanate from "Amakwerekwere" from Zimbabwe.


The white Zimbabwean / ex Rhodesian will not encounter as much if any of the death threats, beatings, arrests, denial of service (that he pays taxes for) or the generally snide remarks and out of taste jokes about his country. He is treated with the same respect (and fear?) that the black South African reserves for the white South African "Baas." Likewise it is predominantly the black South African that the black Zimbabwean immigrant avoids in fear of being harassed for "stealing my job and my wife."

The peak of the Zimbabwean crisis seems to have been crossed and the situation seems to be improving even if it is a snail paced improvement. As news of a single digit inflation rate and other positive news creep in, some have packed their bags and gone home, while some eagerly await that little improvement before returning home. We all know or should know that the sad African tale of economic and political crisis seems constantly do the rounds from one nation to the other. It is Zambia one day, Angola the other day, Mozambique today, Zimbabwe the next and so on.

This then builds up speculation as to who might be next. Could it be Zimbabwe's southern neighbour? Any news bulletin will testify that this is indeed a possibility if not probability. My question is what will the Zimbabwean returnee say should the South African cross into Beitbridge seeking refuge? Will he open his arms given the pain and resentment that he went through in South Africa or that a loved one went through? I would think not, but then this is the just the humble opinion of a Zimbo in Limbo!

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