Can somebody school our neighbours?

HARARE - Zimbabweans in the diaspora like émigrés from other countries look forward to the annual trek home during the festive season from wherever they are based.

One would like to think that the journey home is easiest for our South Africa-based compatriots but unfortunately the opposite is the case.

Recent press reports that people are spending as long as three days waiting to clear the South African border are becoming a recurring and worrying refrain as we have had similar situations during past festive seasons.

This year the situation got so bad it prompted Home Affairs co-minister Kembo Mohadi to request a meeting with his South African counterpart Naledi Pandor.
 
A diplomatic Mohadi described the South Africans’ behaviour as “unneighbourly”.

I think it’s worse than that and could come up with other adjectives among them “unAfrican.”

After their meeting, Mohadi said the South Africans were not expecting the rise in traffic and would deploy more immigration officers to the border and open up more clearing points to clear the logjam.

I just feel the South African minister is being disingenuous; the situation was like that for days and Pretoria must have been aware of what was going on but they only reacted after Mohadi asked for the meeting.

This buttresses the argument in some quarters that the South African authorities themselves are not too happy about the growing number of black African foreigners in their country.

In other words xenophobia is institutionalised in South Africa. As long as the South African government does little to educate its people that other Africans are human beings and not aliens from outer space by treating us with respect the possibility of the ugly xenophobic attacks which left more than 20 dead in 2008 erupting again is always a possibility.

 In fact the attacks continue but on a low intensity scale.

Sadly, the problems of Zimbabweans in South Africa do not end at Beit Bridge but despite this, Zimbabweans and other Africans keep flocking to South Africa.

South Africa is an attractive destination, Africa’s biggest economy and offers opportunities due to the shortage of skilled South Africans and for Zimbabweans it’s just down the road, a neighbour.

Even the unskilled take their chances by crossing the border into South Africa illegally to try their luck in what they believe to be a land of milk and honey.

Some put the figure of Zimbabweans in South Africa to as high as two million but I always want to qualify it by saying the figure is unsubstantiated as nobody has, as far as I know, carried out a census of Zimbabweans in that country be they legal or not but I’ll save that argument for another day.

Zimbabweans are singled out for “special” treatment because according to some South Africans there are “too many” of us in that country and we are stealing their jobs and their women.

 It’s true that some Zimbabweans have very good jobs in South Africa but like anywhere else preference is always given to locals who qualify before any aliens are considered.

Thousands of our teachers are currently working in that country.

So South Africans should be grateful Zimbabweans are helping develop their country.
 
As for the women I cannot think of a more puerile allegation.

As the old Shona saying goes, Moyo muti unomera paunoda which loosely translated means the heart is like a tree which grows where it chooses.

 The other gripe is that unskilled foreigners accept to be paid less than South Africans therefore taking jobs from locals.

But I think the root cause of the problems faced by so-called African foreigners in South Africa is ignorance.

Apparently, some South Africans talk about South Africa and Africa as if they are not part of the continent.

An example is the pop singer Zahara who on being asked by a ZTV reporter if she had been to Zimbabwe before said she was really excited because it was her first time in Africa.

I was so miffed not only at her but with the reporter who failed to ask her to explain what she meant.

Needless to say that did it for me as far as Zahara and her music — which I always thought is nothing more than formulaic South Africa bubblegum anyway — are concerned.

I mentioned this to a South African colleague and she said other people who should know better than Zahara — whom she described as a simple girl from rural eastern Cape — also view South Africa as a separate entity from the rest of Africa.

She pointed out that the thinking during the apartheid era was so chauvinistic that the damage remains to this day.

I suggested that maybe somebody should buy an atlas for every South African.

In view of their experiences in South Africa I am convinced that many Zimbabweans would opt to stay at home but the economies of both countries provide strong push and pull factors.

 As long as our economy does not recover we shall be viewed as the poor neighbours who deserve such pejoratives such as mahere, magirigamba and makwerekere.

 The last one was used by the Botswana President Ian Khama to refer to a Zimbabwean working for his government in 2011.

His faux pas was greeted with anger by some Batswana but at least we know xenophobia is encouraged at the highest level in Botswana, a country also renowned for its ill-treatment of black foreigners.

It is therefore imperative that instead of the bickering that has characterised the Government of National Unity it should be focusing on rehabilitating our economy so that we won’t have to leave home for economic reasons.

Expressions of pan-Africanism and brotherhood by African leaders are nothing more than platitudes they exchange at their ostentatious meetings. Zimbabwe is not a poor country and we deserve better. - Ish Mafundikwa, ishmafundikwa@gmail.com


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