Zim refugees in SA demand real independence

MUSINA - There are more Zimbabweans than South Africans in this town according to the last official census in South Africa.

Infact Musina, the busy border town between Zimbabwe and South Africa has assumed a Zimbabwean face.

Several churches in the town have been turned into shelters for desperate and homeless Zimbabweans.

Many of these Zimbabweans first trooped into South Africa in 2008 fleeing political violence that engulfed the country following a disputed presidential poll.

While many Zimbabweans where celebrating independence on Thursday, April 18, 2013, a Daily News team spent the day with the Zimbabwean refugees and asylum seekers.

At the Roman Catholic Church Shelter for homeless Zimbabweans in Nancefield suburb located next to the busy N1 highway to Johannesburg, we found a group of women gathered waiting for the arrival of food handouts from local well-wishers.

While many Zimbabweans around the world were celebrating 33rd independence, for these women, it was just another day.

“I don’t know what is happening today,” the women said collectively when asked what was happening back home on April 18.

They were visibly not interested in the subject.

“I don’t care what is happening because I have forgotten about Zimbabwe at the moment and concentrating on my life here,” said Selina Chimoyo, a teenage mother holding her toddler. It was as if she was cradling her baby sister.

We asked another group of women at the shelter what independence day meant to them?

“Independence day is the day that the country was won. It was the day that we got our sovereignty and self-rule,” one of the women said.

But others were of a different view.

“There is no self-rule because we have no money, we have no jobs, life is tough,” said an elderly woman.
But why do you say there is no self-rule, we asked them?

“There is no self-rule at all because we are just suffering and the country is doing nothing to help us.

Here in South Africa when they celebrate their Independence day, you could see that they are really independent. Women in this country give birth to children and those children receive State-funding but there is nothing like that in Zimbabwe,” said Dudzai Chireshe from Epworth, who first moved to Musina in 2008 with her husband and children fleeing violence. The couple went back home in 2010 but are now back in Musina ahead of another election.

“This time around we can’t risk because we are afraid we could be attacked again, so it’s better to stay here until those elections are done,” Chireshe said.

Another woman said independence means nothing to her because she can’t find a job to look after her children back home.

“I have been looking for a job. I want to look after my two children but there are no jobs in Zimbabwe yet here in South Africa I can easily get a job. We also want a good life and to be told that its Independence Day it doesn’t help us at all because it’s like a 33-year-old mother who can’t look after her children, ” said Priscilla Chatikobo from Mashenjere in Masvingo -— a mother of two who came to South Africa to look for a job after she was left by her husband.

On the day of the visit to the Roman Catholic Church Women’s Shelter, there was a hive of activity. Several women walked in and out of the centre.

Others tended to their toddlers. Almost everyone here was either pregnant or nursing a toddler.

“Most of these women came here without travelling documents. They travel through the bush and the Limpopo River to get here and they are raped on their way here. Others are raped when they decide to prostitute themselves to get some money,” said a Roman Catholic nun who is in charge of the Musina centre.

These women have a long list of things that they want addressed before they can consider Zimbabwe a truly independent country.

“Schools and hospitals must be for free like here in South Africa, that’s what we want. We want to give birth for free,” said Mashenjere.

Gladys Chino, a 24-year-old mother told the Daily News that she was HIV positive but her life changed when she arrived in Musina.

“Life is totally different here than at home. I am HIV positive and I don’t look like I am sick because I got tested and get ARVs for free. If I was in Zimbabwe I would have died because you have to pay for everything. I feel more at home in South Africa than in Zimbabwe,” said Chino.

“I would like to send a message to Baba Mugabe and say we are suffering and we need real independence that will allow us to look after our families. If I had opportunity I would like to meet the president and tell him that he should look after us but the problem is we have no access. I wish the president could be accessible like here in South Africa.”

Our interview with the women was interrupted when some well-wishers arrived with foodstuffs.

But as we left the shelter, one thing was clear, no one among the women is ready to go back home to the so-called independent Zimbabwe.

The Roman Catholic Church nun said many of these women hardly get by.

“They have gone through a lot. Some of them have been raped. They eat porridge in the morning and only get supper in the evening. Many of them are not willing to go back home because they say they won’t have any work and life will be difficult so they prefer to stay here, walk through the streets looking for piece jobs,” said the nun.

Lazarus Chidumwa, aged 15, says independence should be a day of celebration but he could not do so in a foreign country.

“The country is independent from colonialism but there is no real independence because people are running away from Zimbabwe, coming here to look for jobs and that means there is no freedom,” said Chidumwa who came to South Africa in search of an education. He does not see himself going back home anytime soon.

“The fact that we are now using foreign money means the country is not stable and the country has problems.”

Chidumwa stays at the Christian Women Ministries (CWM) in Matswale — a sprawling high density suburb in Musina. More than 80 young Zimbabwean boys who came to South African mostly without identity documents are kept at this centre, funded by the South African government’s department of Social Development, other international and local non-governmental organisations as well as other well-wishers.

Believe in Jesus, is a shelter for men just a stone’s throw away from CWM. It is home to several homeless men from Zimbabwe.

This is a dusty outfit with no proper rooms. The men sleep in tents and hardly get food.

Albert Nyoni is a resident of the shelter. He believes 33 years into independence, there is still a lot that still needs to be done for celebrations to start.

“Zimbabwe is independent but things are still tough, we want to go back home but there are no jobs, we want jobs. The politicians must get their act together for us to be truly independent,” said Nyoni who had just returned from a day job sorting out bricks at a local brick factory where he earns $6 a day. - Own Correspondent

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