While the daily life of people in Zimbabwe offers very telling insights into the extent of Mugabe’s decades of tyranny and neglect, by far the most telling cases are in South Africa. This week a Union for Sustainable Democracy team visited some of the refugees in that country as part of ongoing efforts to assist displaced Zimbabweans. Our findings were that innocent people are being made to endure a horrible lifestyle that can only be compared with the aftermath of an armed conflict.
While living in South Africa has many attractions, life for Zimbabwean refugees in that country is as inhuman as it can ever get: living conditions are generally appalling; people live in squalor, sometimes sharing a single toilet with over a hundred others; women are giving birth and having to raise their babies in filthy, overcrowded conditions; many are resorting to prostitution; and xenophobia is rendering an already bad situation worse -just recently, a clean-up exercise ahead of the World Cup, targeting street vendors (mainly Zimbabwean refugees) was undertaken with devastating consequences.
Mugabe’s misguided policies and entrenched indifference spanning more than a quarter of a century have stripped these people of everything they own, including their dignity and the very humanity of their children. A great number of these Zimbabweans are highly qualified. We spoke to teachers, nurses and engineers.
However, because of the scarcity of formal employment in South Africa, made worse by the Black Economic Empowerment Act’s prohibition of preferring aliens to locals when hiring for jobs, many have resorted to routinely queuing along busy roads in the morning for much more occasional, informal and usually demeaning work.
It is common to go for an entire week without scoring a chance and when they eventually do, the money is enough to survive for only a few days. Some have resorted to labouring on farms but, with farm owners contemptuous of labourers in general, and alien labourers in particular, sweat from a full day’s work doesn’t count for much, we were told.
Meanwhile, women walk from location to location selling self-crafted, Zimbabwean style garments. They are so desperate that they are willing to sell on credit even though payment is hardly ever received.
These people all cherish the dream of going back home. They all long for the day when they can once more live in peace, safety and prosperity in their own country. Their hearts are in Zimbabwe. Their dreams are there. But, despite all of the hazards and demeaning trials and tribulations of refugee life, none of them even remotely considers returning home in the near future.
Why would they go back to terror, torture and oppression on top of poverty and unemployment?
In these circumstances, we call on President Jacob Zuma to take a stronger hand with the members of the unity government to ensure that they transcend party politics and work for the common good of the country as quickly and as productively as possible. Political bickering and grandstanding serve no purpose at all other than to further hurt an already fractured and devastated country.
Zimbabwe is starved of the human resources represented by the nurses, teachers and engineers whom we met. The successful repatriation of Zimbabwean refugees is essential for rebuilding our country and will relieve an unnecessary stress on the economy of South Africa.Issued by the Information & Publicity Department, Union for Sustainable Democracy, 7th June 2010