BY BLESSED MHLANGA
RURAL communities in southern Zimbabwe are bearing the brunt of government neglect, 39 years after independence forcing them to turn to neighbouring South Africa for greener pastures and general upkeep.
Many have to travel over 200km to access basic identification documentation, do not have access to basic communication owing to the non-existence of infrastructure. This has forced the youth of Zaka, Gwanda, Beitbridge and their environs to migrate to South Africa, many of them illegally, were they work on farms and do other menial jobs just to eke out a living. A councillor in Beitbridge, Samson Ndou says most people in his ward have no birth certificates and
Identity documents, with generations in this area having failed to access these important documents because they do not know their parents after most of them
perished during the protracted 1970s liberation war.
Others, he said, disappeared into South Africa and never came back; and their children now have their own children; and one after the other, they all also cross the Limpopo without documentation to work menial jobs across the river.
“It is a chain that can never be broken unless government acts, gives birth certificates and jobs; the problem of illegal and dangerous migration into South
Africa will not stop. Many die, are robbed, raped or murdered as they cross over illegally,” he says.
Farming in Dite is virtually impossible, the soils are rocky and rains hardly fall sufficiently enough to sustain crop life, leaving the Venda people to
survive on cattle ranching and border jumping as a means of survival. Onias Mutangadura, a dreadlocked young man milling around the area’s shopping centre
after some months labouring in the Musina farms, tells of how years of neglect by the government have continued to force many in Gwanda, Beitbridge, Zaka and
surrounding areas to migrate enmass to South Africa.
“There is no secondary school within a 21km radius in Dite, nearly 40 years after independence, this means after primary school children do not pursue further
education, they then cross to work in farms around Musina. It is a curse that needs to be broken. We need help, we need recognition so that we feel like we are
part of Zimbabwe,” he says.
One can hardly make a call in Dite, there is no mobile network connection, those who leave home in search for work cannot call back home. It’s a hole that
government has neglected to fill. Radio or television signals do not even reach this area, Samson says they listen to South African radio stations and also
have mobile lines from South Africa, even trade in this area is mostly in rands.
“I am a local leader so I make effort to listen to local news so that I can communicate with others, but here all information we get is from South Africa. I
have to take my radio and look for a spot from where I can get some waves,” Samson says.
Those who have an interest in getting travel documents have to sell cattle for busfare and the passport itself only available some 300km away in Gwanda, they opt to forgo and risk limb and life skipping the border through treacherous paths leading to many going missing or dying along the way.
Hundreds have left their homes in Zimbabwe owing to the failing economy and neglect by their own government, joining the great trek to neighbouring South
Africa. The dangers they face to survive can only be imagined. Many are never to be seen again, others return empty-handed, while some continue their search
for greener pastures. Enos Samupinya Ndou of Dite is one of the lucky survivors having crossed the great Limpopo River in 1974 as a 15-year-old boy, drifting
some 1 000 km to work in Mpumalanga, Badplaas, as a farm labourer.
It was an emotional story of human will and breaking the odds; and tears, hugs and joy met Enos when he finally reunited with his family through an initiative
by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) who tracked him down and found him — alive at Goodhope Farm.
Having left the country 44 years ago, Enos had never returned home, and had given up all hope of ever seeing his family members alive, never thought of
returning saying he had also lost compass not knowing how to go back or if ever again he would see his family — two sisters and uncles. His uncle, now a Zanu
PF councillor in Dite, had crossed the Limpopo together with Enos, worked for two years, returned home and approached the ICRC to search for his relative under
the Missing and Deceased Migrants pilot project.
“Growing up in this area, our lives are more joined to South Africa than Zimbabwe. The children in this area don’t dream of going to Bulawayo or Harare to
search for jobs, they know South Africa, it’s the same today as it was in 1974,” Samson says.
Emudzani, Enos’ younger sister, could not hide her happiness and tears streamed down her cheeks, as she failed to contain the joy of the news that ICRC brought
to her about Enos who left when she was still an infant. She too does not have a passport, but has crossed into South Africa a number of times although she
could not make the journey to Badplaas to see Enos because of ill health.
“We know a number of people in this village who have not seen their loved ones for years, we had no hope that he could be found, but the family wanted closure.
We wanted to know if he is still alive or if he is dead and the Gods answered our prayers,” she said in tears.
In 1974, farmers from South Africa would come with trucks and pick cheap labour, making the journey easy and safe. But today it is a different story. First
it’s a 20km journey by foot to the illegal crossing point, which is guarded by soldiers and police armed with AK 47 rifles.
Locals are, however, allowed free passage to South Africa four times a day. Others have to bribe their way through on both sides that is if they cross the
mighty Limpopo River. Enos says many have been swept away by the powerful waters of the Limpopo never to be seen again, others perish in the jaws of crocodiles, but faced with biting hunger at home, these challenges have not stopped them.
After traveling 900km to Badplaas, Enos’ search for greener pastures was in vain. At 59 he is still herding cattle at the farm he first settled on with
nothing to show for his 44 years in the wilderness.
He stays with his son Boyick Ndou, who does not even know his own age, and a live-in girlfriend Flora Gomba.
Close friend Fabion Manyisa from Mozambique, but now earning an elderly pension from the South African government, is happy that his friend’s family has found
“He was going to be buried like a dog if he had passed on before this day, many who have worked here suffered that fate, but I am happy his people have found
him. We came here through great pain and struggles to find better lives for ourselves, but it’s still not easy,” Manyisa says.
Enos had never told his child about his Zimbabwean roots, he says because he never thought they were still alive and, therefore, just wanted to forget about
“I am so happy. Iam at peace with myself and even if I am to die today I will do so in peace. My God helped my ancestors to get my family to me,” he says
while dragging lazily on his homemade cigar.
ICRC Restoring Family Links field officer, Unita Ndou (not related) stands with a huge smile on her face because this is one of 20 successful family
reunifications that she has handled successfully. But her plate has 72 cases that are still pending.
Her work involves weeks in the field hoping from one farm to another, using pictures and other data brought to the ICRC by families seeking closure and hoping
to find their missing loved ones.
She also works with the South African police to track and trace hundreds of missing Zimbabweans, either living or who died in South Africa.
“When we deliver good news, it is one of the happiest moments of my job and the ICRC. This is why we have this project to restore families. However, sometimes
we get to discover that the person is dead and we have to carry the message back to the family. It is one of the most difficult message to relay,” Unita said.
Her job is made more difficult when some people have changed their identities so as to blend into the South African lives and black out their history. Hilton
Zvidzayi, adviser to Head of Mission (Zimbabwe, Zambia, Namibia, Malawi) at ICRC, says the ICRC is building a database which it is sharing with the South African Police so that they can track the missing and deceased.
“That database will only be used for humanitarian tracking of deceased and missing, the agreement is that the police cannot use the data we give them to chase
for criminals,” he said.
So far Zvidzai says the ICRC has received 100 cases under the programme which is still at pilot phase. Eight were closed with their help, while 20 were
successfully completed where one person was deceased.
“We are going to spread the programme to the rest of the country and engage more partners. We would want to work with those who believe they can help restore
family links,” Zvidzai said.