The struggle for references

JOHANNESBURG Zimbabwean professionals working in neighbouring South Africa have complained that they are finding it difficult to get letters from their employers, for use when making applications for work permits.

Zimbabweans in their countrys southern neighbour are required to apply for free permits before the end of this year. To be able to do so, the Zimbabweans should, in addition to having valid travel documents, also produce letters confirming their employment, but some teachers employed with backyard colleges, especially those owned by their countrymen, are finding it difficult to get the letters.

Those who spoke to ***The Zimbabwean in Johannesburg this week said they had tried to get their employers to draft the letters for them, but had so far hit a brick-wall. Most colleges are not willing to give us the letters that we require and keep telling us to wait without doing anything tangible, said a Zimbabwean teacher who is based in Johannesburg. The biggest concern for us is that we might fail to beat the last-minute scramble for the permits, as many people are still waiting for the queues to shorten before they can apply.

The teachers said that they had sought assistance from the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) and the Johannesburg branch of the smaller MDC formation, which is led by Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara. We held a meeting with the MDC last week and they promised to do something to assist us and we hope that whatever they do will assist us, said Mhlupheki Mpala, another teacher.

Ngqabutho Dube, the MDCs Secretary for Johannesburg, confirmed to ***The Zimbabwean that his party was trying to assist the teachers. We are trying to assist them, but it is not teachers alone because there are qualified nurses who also have a similar problem, said Dube, whose organisation held two separate meetings with the professionals and businessmen during the past two weeks.

We held a meeting with the teachers and nurses at COSATU House two Saturdays ago and another one with businesspersons, including business owners, at Booysens last Saturday and they all seemed to be productive. We will continue to engage with the college owners so that they can write the letters for their staff members. Dube said that most foreign college owners, especially those from Zimbabwe, were using fraudulently-obtained South African documents.

The other problem is that some of the teachers at these colleges are employed on one-year contracts that are renewed yearly and thus, it makes it difficult for them to apply for the four-year permits. These are some of the issues we want addressed so that the teachers can qualify for four-year permits. The colleges also fear that since they have been underpaying the teachers, they might lose their staff members who might look for better jobs with the permits they will get and would rather people remain undocumented for their continued exploitation.

We will soon approach South African government authorities some time this week and request that it issues a directive to employers compelling them to comply with the cabinet announcement that they should write letters of employment for their staff. Dube said that most nurses, who had literally thrown away their certificates to take up menial jobs, were also finding it difficult to get permits stating their true qualifications.

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