Oman for money: Marondera victim recounts escape

Opinion & Analysis
For Martha Ndove (not real name to protect her identity), the song is like a soundtrack to her recent experiences after travelling to the Middle East in search of greener pastures.

BY JAIROS SAUNYAMA IN one of his hit songs, The Other Side, the late famous South Africa reggae artiste Lucky Dube tells a story of one Jackson, a Jamaican who wishes to be in Africa while at the same time Themba, a South African  prays that one day he will be overseas, both in pursuit of “greener pastures’’.

Oman was the place to go in order to escape poverty and to find a better life.

However, the grass is only greener on the other side until you witness it.

NewsDay visited Martha, a victim of human trafficking, at her home in Marondera to talk to her about her ordeal in Oman. She said she travelled to that country on January 19 this year together with her friend.

It was their first time to board a plane as they headed to Oman where they were promised US$700 salary per month as housemaids.

A concerned immigration officer at the airport warned them against going to Oman.

“If we had listened to this immigration officer, we could have avoided this trouble. He begged us to cancel the trip but we were determined to go and ignored him,’’ recalled Martha.

Upon arrival in Oman, the girls were taken to two different bosses, and that was the last time Martha ever saw her friend.

“At the airport in Oman, they confiscated our passports and other documents. I was taken to a town that I cannot recall. For a week I worked in 48 rooms in different houses. The boss would take me from house to house. I got sick because of my workload but their medical team said I had fibroids,’’ she said.

Despite being ill and frail, Martha’s bosses decided to sell her to another person, this time in Khulabella South.“They told me that I was a kardama (slave) and that I was in Oman to work for two solid years before being set free.

“I tried to contact a Zimbabwean agent in Oman who had recruited us to tell him that I was sick and that the work conditions were not favourable. The agent said he had done his part, adding that I should stop bothering him,’’ she recounted.

Martha said she found out that more than 30 victims in Oman hailed from Marondera. Under her new boss in Khulabella South, Martha said she experienced the worst  inhumane treatment.

“Despite working in a big house with about 16 rooms, I slept under the staircase. There was an empty storeroom but they could not allow me to sleep there. At times I was told that I was smelly, and they would open all the doors and windows for fresh air. It was painful,’’ she said.

Martha endured several days and nights of hunger and starvation.

She would get sick often but was denied medical treatment.

“If you get sick in Oman, they give you Panadol painkillers. They love those pills. Hunger was the order of the day. They would eat spitting in their food so that you could  not even try the leftovers. They would order their supper online and there was nothing for me.

“The painful thing is that I would be ordered to cook for cats that strayed into the yard. They said Allah loved generous people hence the need to feed the wild cats. I would ask myself why people preferred to feed cats instead of another human being,’’ she narrated as tears fell from her cheeks.

As days passed, Martha said she began scheming how she would escape and taste freedom.

It was after she lied to her bosses that her mother had passed away that she escaped after they released her for two weeks.

“After telling them that my mother had died, my bosses demanded a burial order. My relatives back home then managed to secure a fake burial order which they sent to Oman. The bosses demanded that my relatives buy plane tickets, including the return ticket.

“After learning of my ordeal, the travelling agent sent a counterfeit return ticket, which convinced the bosses that would return to them. I was given US$300 as my salary, but my male boss took US$100 from me saying it was surety for my return. They also barred me from packing all my clothes.’’

Martha arrived back in the country on March 26.

“People are being sold to Oman in broad daylight. These human traffickers are known but nothing is happening to them,’’ Martha’s mother said.

During the interview, Martha showed NewsDay a message from her bosses in Oman who were demanding that she must return to continue doing her slavery duties.

The fake return ticket indicated that Martha was to travel back to Oman on April 9.

In March, the Zimbabwean government estimated that at least 100 Zimbabwean women could be stuck in Oman, with efforts underway to assist them to be repatriated to the country.

Secretary for Home Affairs, Aaron Nhepera told journalists that 18 cases had been reported so far, adding that the women were enslaved under the Kafala visa sponsorship in Oman and other countries.

The Kafala system of employment ties domestic workers to employers who facilitate their travel to Oman and ensures that they do not move to other jobs before the end of their contracts.

The female domestic workers are also allegedly sexually abused and treated as slaves, while their passports are withheld to stop them from escaping.

“Our prosecution pillar which involves the police and the courts were handling 18 cases. But we do know that there could be more people that have not reported, but by way of estimation, we think we could be having as many as 100 people in Oman currently,’’ Nhepera said

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