Exiles watch GNU for way out of abuse

refugees1.jpgZimbabwe immigrants sleeping outside the Johannesburg Central Methodist church.

CAPE TOWN - George Chipere (not his real name) walked out on his teaching job at a private school in Harare last year, hoping to settle in Cape Town and bring his family of three

Chipere (32) has a Bachelor of Education degree from the University of Zimbabwe.

When
I left Zimbabwe I thought I would find work as a teacher here,
considering that this country is experiencing shortages of qualified
teachers, he said in an interview this week.

But I have been
to all recruiting centres and distributed my CV (curriculum vitae)
without getting any feedback. I am tired now.

Odd jobs

To survive, Chipere has had to do odd jobs. He has done some gardening at properties in Belleville, Rondebosch and Athlone.

Occasionally, he has also worked as a night watchman, a porter and picked some shifts in the Parow area.

It
is hard work for poor pay but I have to survive and my children back in
Harare need sustenance, he said while he waited to consult legal aid
lawyers at the University of Cape Town over his refugee permit.

Chipere works 12-hour shifts for which he earns R100, R30 less than what domestic workers earn for an eight-hour shift.

That
is the going rate for undocumented migrants regardless of your
qualifications. South Africans are exploiting us because they realise
that we are desperate. As long as you work in industry, mowing
someone's lawn or doing their dishes that will pay you whatever they
deem appropriate.

Across town in Sea Point, another Zimbabwean
teacher who only gave her name as Virginia and has lived in Cape Town
for nearly three years holds similar views on her adopted country.

I
work three jobs but still do not make enough to afford a place of my
own, buy groceries and remit some money to my family in Gweru, the
former primary school teacher said this week.

She too has no valid permit to live and work in South Africa.

Raw deal

The
papers are meaningless. Whether you have [refugee] status or not is
immaterial. If you are not South African you get a raw deal. It is
either you take what your prospective employer for the day is offering
you or you starve, she said.

With some three million
Zimbabweans reportedly living in South Africa and Botswana – the
majority of these without permits – South African employers are not
short of cheap labour.

A Social Law Researcher at the University
of Western Cape who asked for anonymity said that industrialists in the
Western Cape were keen on Zimbabwean workers because the majority had a
good education, were honest and hard working, attributes which are rare
among locals.

The down side to this attraction and what for all
intents and purposes should be a symbiotic relationship is that some
employers grossly underpay these people, dismiss them days before
payday or call in the Home Office to avoid paying them, she said.

This
flies in the face of a 2008 labour court ruling where the fundamental
rights of undocumented migrant workers were placed at par with those of
locals.

Migrant workers

Despite the ruling in
Discovery Health Ltd v Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and
Arbitration, Zimbabweans – especially undocumented migrant workers –
still fear that instituting legal proceedings against recalcitrant
employers might lead to their expulsion from the country.

The
same court however refused to offer the same legal safeguards to sex
workers, declaring that courts do not involve themselves in
illegalities.

Sex work, which has absorbed large numbers of Zimbabwean women here, is illegal in South Africa.

Zimbabweans
fleeing a decade-long political and economic meltdown have swamped the
streets of South Africa's Mother City, where they work as domestic
help, gardeners, security guards, waiters and street traders.

However,
thousands more with scarce skills such as maths and science teachers,
artisans, engineers, geologists, IT technicians and aeronautics
technicians have been absorbed by the growing South African economy.

Suffered abuse

While
this group is securely protected by its host country's labour laws,
Chipere and other migrants existing on the fringes of the law have
suffered abuse not only at the hands of employers but also from
ordinary South Africans and particularly the police.

The
bloodlettings that typified the xenophobic violence in undeveloped
informal settlements early last year and continued harassment by police
have driven less resolute Zimbabweans to beat a hasty retreat back
across the Limpopo.

Others are nonetheless banking on the
recently formed government of national unity (GNU) between the MDC and
Zanu (PF) for an end to their suffering. The GNU's decision to pay
salaries in foreign currency, albeit at a nominal US$100 has some
skilled Zimbabweans thinking of returning home.

Says Virginia:
Here, I have to wheel and deal to make R1 500 per month. If I can earn
that much at home doing what I am trained to do, then I am better off
in Zimbabwe. There I will not have to duck and dive to escape the
police or demean myself just to survive.

For Chipere and
thousands more, however, a violence-free Zimbabwe with sturdier economy
will also mean re-unification with their families.

I squat in a
two-room house with eight other people in Kayelitsha so bringing my
family over here is definitely out of the question. It would be nice to
go back home to my students and more importantly to my family, he said.

BY JUMA DONKE

Post published in: News

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