Twenty-year-old high school dropout Allen Muganhire migrated to South Africa at the height of Zimbabwe’s economic and political crises in 2008 to seek treatment for cholera.
Like many of his compatriots, Muganhire did not return home after he was discharged from hospital. Instead, he joined fellow Zimbabwean menial labourers toiling in South Africa.
Often poorly paid and without work and residency permits, many face deportation and are confused as to what to do next.
This comes after the South African government announced that Zimbabweans without the required papers would be deported if they failed to acquire proper documents by year-end.
Muganhire is even more sceptical about the “olive branch” being offered by the South African government.
“This is a witch-hunting process. I have no proper papers and due to the paltry salary I earn as a waiter, I could not save enough for a passport while sending enough groceries back home,” Muganhire laments.
He says he was earning R1 500 (about US$231 — enough for shared lodgings, a few basic necessities and groceries for his orphaned siblings in Zimbabwe.
Muganhire says his return home early this month comes after two developments: the reduction of passport fees by the Zimbabwean authorities and the end of the special exemption from visa requirements by South Africa.
Earlier, media reports had quoted the South African government spokesperson Themba Maseko as saying the relaxation of the rules that had been specifically done for Zimbabweans would be over in the next three months.
The official said: “The special dispensation that was put in place during the political crisis in Zimbabwe was to allow free movement of Zimbabweans into the country to come, live, study and start businesses here without requiring a permit.”
However, he said South Africa believed some form of stability had returned to its northern neighbour and all Zimbabweans will now be treated like any other foreign nationals.
About three million Zimbabweans are said to have migrated to Botswana, Britain and South Africa as the country reeled under hyperinflation, which once peaked to 231 million per cent, forcing shops to increase prices twice a day in some cases, and rendering the local currency unusable.
The situation was made worse by perennial tensions between the country’s two main political rivals and also by a wave of xenophobic attacks targeting Zimbabweans, Mozambicans and Nigerians living in South Africa.
Despite the horrific images of a Mozambican migrant burning alive and other brutal public assaults against foreigners in South Africa, desperate Zimbabweans continue to cross the Limpopo.
Muganhire says he plans to return to Johannesburg as soon as he gets his new passport, even with the low wages being offered in South Africa.
He is still not keen to return home permanently in the face of unemployment, pegged at more than 85%.
Meanwhile, talks of possible elections next year are also said to be disturbing many others, who fled the political violence which marred the presidential run-off two years ago.
Reports say they fear a repeat of the hostilities, in which hundreds of people were reportedly killed or displaced in the nation of about 13 million.
The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) says it has since 2009 assisted 314 000 Zimbabweans returning home after being deported or failing to make it abroad.
Its focal communications officer Yukiko Kumashiro says the help given to returning migrants aims to ensure skills retention. Beneficiaries are given a total of £2 000 to help start projects when they return home. —Afro Futures