Zimbabwean migrants making it big in South Africa

They have become major economic players for both Zimbabwe and South Africa, contributing significantly to the growth of both economies.


WHEN he made the decision to leave the country and cross the border into South Africa several years ago, his family and his peers tried to dissuade him, telling him he was putting his life in danger unnecessarily and that he would get nothing out of it.

Today, 12 years down the line however, Chandagwinyira Chose is an entrepreneur, an employer of note and, needless to say, a proud breadwinner for his family and a role model to his peers.

His is a story for many thousands of Zimbabwe who were pushed out of their country by an economy torn apart and violent politics.

They have become major economic players for both Zimbabwe and South Africa, contributing significantly to the growth of both economies.

Chose recounts how he navigated the forest and crossed the crocodile infested Limpopo River, ending up in South Africa’s sprawling economic hub of Johannesburg – without travel documents.

He now runs a successful consultancy in machinery and logistics and sales business.

He is the managing director of Investing In Africa Pty Ltd, a company he founded with the help of a South African friend, Betty Baby Ledwaba who is the company’s sleeping partner.

He founded the company in 2016 after hustling around to capitalise it through menial jobs.

Chose (62), son of the late former Police assistant inspector Jeremiah Tongai Mubaiwa of Hwedza, left Zimbabwe on June 6, 2009, running away from the harsh economic conditions in Zimbabwe, to seek for greener pastures down South.

“I am an irregular immigrant from Zimbabwe who is self-employed. I run a business, a machinery consultancy, logistics and sales here in Johannesburg,” Chose said.

“Each country has rules and regulations for anyone forming a company and we were privileged to have a local member Ledwaba, a very honest and straightforward person to deal with. We do everything together without any problems and we are not even asking our banks to fund our business, our business is self-financing,” Chose said.

“I am in the process of regularizing myself in SA. I wasn’t going to expose myself with the system or the law enforcement. I have played low because of my status.

“Yes the government of South Africa knows that I am here illegally hence the name Chandangwinyira Chose.

“I am not evading the immigration laws but I am within the system.

“I have managed to avoid any illegal dealings with anyone and I stick to my straight forward business.”

Chose said his business had branches in other African countries, which include Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana and Eswatini.

Besides being home-sick and away from close relatives, Chose says he is content with the life he is living in South Africa as his family back home is enjoying a comfortable life.

“We have the African continent as our first priority,” he said.

“As people of Africa we should share ideas towards African development.

“It breaks my heart seeing African leadership going to the western world and Asia to look for investors when our own continent is brimming full with resources,” Chose said.

Chose considers both South Africa and Zimbabwe as home owing to shared languages and cultures.

There are many other Zimbabweans who, like Chose, have made it in business and are contributing to the economic development of both Zimbabwe and South Africa even though they may be in the neighbouring country irregularly.

Khumbu Mguni (47), of Gwanda in Matabeleland South migrated to SA in 2008 without travel documents, but used the cross border transport operators popularly known as Omalayitsha.

Due to harsh economic conditions back in Zimbabwe, he found himself in Johannesburg where he now operates a car repair garage with a South African partner.

He initially had managed to acquire asylum status but his papers have since expired and he is now an irregular resident in that country.

“Life has been okay since I started car repair services, but because of the current situation caused by the Covid-19 pandemic everything has just gone down in terms of business,” Mguni said.

Mguni took his immediate family to South Africa including his wife and three children.

Estimations by the Zimbabwe Community in SA (ZCSA) organisation, MyRight2Vote pressure group and others are that between three million and five million Zimbabweans now live in South Africa after fleeing economic and political crises in their country.

Of those figures, the majority are irregular migrants who crossed the border into South Africa without travel documents and most of them do menial jobs where they are often subjected to unfair labour practices due to their status.

ZCSA chairman Ngqabutho Mabhena said there are a number of Zimbabwean illegal immigrants who are running small and medium enterprises in SA.

“The requirement is that one must have R5 million  to qualify for a business permit,” Mabhena said.

“This R5 million should have been made outside South Africa.

“The challenge that we have is that we have business people who have assets or money that is worth more than R5 million, but because they reside in South Africa, they do not qualify for a business permit.

We are hoping for the White Paper On International migration, which recognizes such migrants within the Sadc region and will allow such people to run businesses in South Africa.

“The White Paper On International Migration proposes a Sadc work visa.

“We believe that once it is operational such immigrants or business people will then qualify to apply for the Sadc visa so that they are able to run their businesses freely.”

Mabhena said the South African government had already begun to review its white paper on international migration which was adopted in 1999.

“This process started in 2015 but the White Paper was gazetted in 2017 and is now before parliament,” he said.

“The reason to review the White Paper on international migration as adopted in 1999 was the realization that the immigration policy in South Africa is Eurocentric and does not accommodate Africans, it is not Pan Africanist in outlook.”

He said the process was before parliament to see if the proposal contained in the white paper as gazetted in 2017 would be incorporated into the Immigration Act and this was expected to happen in 2022.

“Assuming that were to happen, it would then afford an opportunity to immigrants from the Sadc region, those who are in South Africa, those of low skill in different sectors to regularise their stay in line with the Act that is if it is going to be adopted,” Mabhena said.

“The discussions with the government of South Africa and other stakeholders are an ongoing process to ensure that people are regularised.

“We are also alive to the fact that especially under Covid-19 many jobs have been lost and people are continuing to flock into South Africa.

“It’s also adding pressure to social services in SA and pressure in poor communities leading to xenophobic attacks that we have seen in the past.”

Mabhena said while they did their best for regularisation of citizens as proposed through the International migration paper, it was critical that Zimbabwe and other neighbouring states build economies that employed their own citizens as opposed to having young people migrating to South Africa in droves.

He said the Zimbabwean government and other governments also needed to build their economies to lessen the burden on South Africa.

“We are making an input in the drafting of diaspora policy as proposed by the Zimbabwean government,” Mabhena said.

“ One of the issues we are raising is that while we have migrants coming to South Africa to work, we should not look at only how Zimbabwe benefits in the diaspora, but also focus on how we can keep our people in the country.

“We think that political and economic reforms may create a conducive environment back home, which will lead to investment in Zimbabwe and less people will leave the country.”

The Migrant Workers’ Association-SA (MWA-SA) Chairman Butholezwe Nyathi is hoping that the White Paper for International Migration would be adopted soon.

He said MWA-SA was working within the labour space by engaging the labour federations like South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu), Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu),  and other federations within the Sadc region to create migrants desks in their affiliates to facilitate the organisation of migrants including their movement within the Sadc region for better socio-economic activities.

“We envisage a situation where a person can be even organised from their country of origin into a union so that the migrants are protected from exploitation and get a good and safe landing in their host countries.

“Solidarity among workers should cut across borders,” Nyathi said.

Cosatu international relations secretary Sonia Mabunda-Kaziboni said as the home for millions of South African workers, through their engagements with workers on the ground, their strong relationship with friends from the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (and a network of progressive SA civil society organisations representing Zimbabweans – they were aware of the existence of Zimbabwean migrants running businesses who are yet to regularise their stay in the country.

“However, we are unable to give an estimated number of such businesses.

“Over the years, Zimbabweans have been granted many favours, including the Zimbabwe Special Permit , so people have had ample opportunities of regularising their stay,” Mabunda Kaziboni said.

She said while they may not be aware of the specific policies regarding businesses owned by irregular migrants, the irregularity of their stay in South Africa may make it difficult to acquire formal documentation to regularise their stay, such as those with study, spousal or other permits.

“Generally, it is no secret that South Africans hold negative sentiments towards non-South Africans,” Mabunda-Kaziboni said.

“This is not unique to Zimbabweans.

“However, the attitudes of citizens are idiosyncratic, and I am sure you are aware that there are many Zimbabweans running businesses in South Africa, which South Africans support.

“Then there are cases where the opposite is experienced.

“No one blanket answer can be used to cover all South African people’s attitudes towards businesses owned by irregular migrants,”.

Some of the regularised Zimbabwean owned small and medium enterprises and companies operating in South include Ethelic Boutique, Divine Robes, Wasilla Projects, You Drink, We Drive, Cutting Edge Tents, Dharican International, Dreamworld Promotions and Zororo- Phumulani  Funeral Assurance who sometime in 2015 won awards in South Africa for good business operations.

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