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18. Jan. 2023 city press

Life in SA through the lens of a Zimbabwean


For 12 years, Zimbabwean Martha Muhamba* has had to find a way to ensure that she remains in South Africa because, when she moved to the country in 2010, her mission was to `find work, make money` and send her child `to a decent school`.

While Muhamba has been able to find employment since her first year in South Africa, the 42-year-old tells City Press that she has never been in possession of a work permit and the only documentation she has is her Zimbabwean passport, which she has managed to keep valid with border post stamps, even though she has not left South Africa for more than a decade.

The mother of two explained:

I give my passport to bus or taxi drivers who travel between South Africa and Zimbabwe and when they get to the border, they present the passport where it is stamped for it to go to Zimbabwe and, on their return, it is stamped again for it to slip back into South Africa, giving me another three or six months in South Africa each time.

She tells City Press that she forks out between R400 and R500 for this service.

The spokesperson for the minister of the department of home affairs, Siyabulela Qoza, tells City Press that, while Muhamba`s passport is still valid and allows her to be in South Africa, as she has been able to acquire a stamp at the border, and any person owning such a stamp is in the country illegally.

However, Muhamba said this was worth it, adding: `I came here seeking employment because back home in Zimbabwe, things had reached a stage beyond deterioration.

`There are no jobs. There is no money and no life in general. Things were terrible when I made the decision to come to South Africa and I could not just sit and do nothing.`

At the time, Muhamba had one child and her mother to take care of.

She emphasised:

I came [to South Africa] to survive and feed my family.

She told City Press that, while the passport she had used to enter South Africa in 2010 had expired in 2013, she had been able to renew it at the Consulate of the Republic of Zimbabwe in Bedfordview, Johannesburg, with her new passport set to expire `after 10 years or so`.

Living in fear

Muhamba, who is employed by a cleaning company in Sandton, said that, while she was grateful for the job she had, life in South Africa had not been smooth sailing, as she constantly lived in fear and had been discriminated against because she was a foreign national.

Difficulty accessing healthcare and education for her son, threats to her life and being underpaid compared with her South African counterparts are just some of the struggles Muhamba says she has had to grapple with.

She shared with City Press how, after months of searching for employment on her arrival in South Africa, she was subsequently hired as a domestic worker.

`Before my employment, they asked me if I had the proper documentation and I told them I had a passport. They then told me how much they could pay me and that was a lot and it was better than nothing,` she said.

`I was paid R1 000 for the first three months, but, after that, I began experiencing problems. They started giving me less money every month and it continued to decrease over time with no explanation.`

Job conditions

`I started looking for another job and, after a month of searching, I was hired at Pep Stores as a cleaner. They then found out that I did not have a work permit and they fired me.`

Muhamba expressed how not being able to obtain a work permit or acquire South African citizenship has left her in the trenches, unable to climb out to `credible and better-paying employment`.

`I tried applying for a permit in 2017, but, when I went to home affairs, I was told that Zimbabweans were no longer allowed to apply for work permits.

`The reason I was only able to do this in 2017 was that I needed about R1 000, I think, to be able to acquire it. I know this amount might not seem like a lot of money to a lot of people, but to a foreigner who had nothing, this was an amount I could not afford.

As a foreign national without proper documentation, finding a proper job is difficult and I will always take whatever work I am offered, just to survive.

`I currently work at a place where my colleagues are South African and there is a clear distinction, not just in terms of our salaries �` where I am paid much less than my counterparts �` but also in terms of how South Africans are given preferential treatment in terms of time off and sick leave, while I am unable to take it, for instance.

`I now earn R3 000 per month.`

Qoza explained that South Africa had at least four identifiable ways of getting citizenship.



`The first one is in terms of the Citizenship Act of 1995 where, regardless of where you were born, if both or any one of your parents is a South African, then you are a South African citizen. This includes adopted children,` he told City Press.



`The second can be acquired through various routes in the immigration process. For instance, acquiring permanent residence through a particular visa and then qualifying to apply for citizenship.`

He said another way of getting citizenship was by naturalisation through merit: `This is when a country values something about you, be it science, culture, sport or investment.`



The fourth one is by marriage to a South African citizen.

The revealing accent

Born and bred in Bulawayo, the Ndebele native said she was well aware of how her accent made her `a target for insults by South Africans` whenever she spoke in public.

I had never heard the word `kwerekwere` �` a derogatory term used to refer to foreigners �` until I came to South Africa.

`I am aware that the languages spoken in South Africa are foreign to me and that would always make me very wary because, whenever I try to speak, my accent immediately alerts people that I’m a foreigner and I will be called names, but there’s nothing I can do about those insults.

`On the streets, a random person will hear you speak and, even though they do not say it to your face, they will randomly make untoward comments about `amakwerekwere` but, because of fear, I keep quiet and don`t respond. Where I am from, there are a lot of South Africans, but we never ill-treat them.`

She added that this was also the case at healthcare facilities. `Even when I go to a clinic, medical practitioners would say things like `amakwerekwere are filling up our health facilities and they should go back home`, but I keep quiet, even though it hurts.`

`Being in a country that is not of my origin, I’ve learnt to take it on the chin because I don’t want to lose my life.`

Access to education

When her son was born in 2012, Muhamba, who has lived in Yeoville, Johannesburg, since arriving in South Africa, was ecstatic at the prospect of her second-born child accessing the country’s education system.

`I have a 10-year-old son who was born here and getting him into a school proved difficult because I do not have the necessary documentation and paperwork,` Muhamba explained. `Eventually, I found a school where the principal was understanding and allowed him to enrol �` even without the necessary paperwork.`

Death by association

`I think the other dilemma we are faced with is that, as Zimbabweans, we are all painted with one brush.

`We hear of some of our brothers and sisters taking part in criminal activities and, because I too am Zimbabwean, I will be ostracised. This has also affected our chances of getting employment because people will immediately assume that we will steal from them just because we’re Zimbabwean.`

Asked if she would consider returning to her country of origin, Muhamba told City Press that she could and would never deny her country of origin.

`The problem is, how will I survive when I get there?` she asked, drifting into deep thought.

www.samigration.com



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Articles

23. Feb. 2024 SABC news

SCA dismisses Motsoaledi’s bid to appeal ZEP ruling

Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi has suffered a blow in his bid to appeal the judgment of the High Court Pretoria. The court had invalidated his December 2021 decision to terminate the Zimbabwean Exemption Permit (ZEP) and an interim interdict, which stopped government from detaining or deporting any holder of the permit. Motsoaledi turned to the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) in Bloemfontein in November last year to appeal the judgments, which he argued had set a dangerous precedent. V.5203

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