But thousands remain untouched by this noble aim. Thousands of visually impaired people have flooded South Africa from Zimbabwe in the past decade. And for most their journey has been a living hell.
In a series of interviews with The Zimbabwean, they revealed how they managed to get across the border, only to suffer terrible consequences.
Esnath Kokerai (30) from Gokwe recalled how she was harassed by SA home Affairs officials even though she had proper documents allowing her to gain access to this country.
“Since 2000 when Zimbabwe was going down economically and politically I had believed that South Africa was our hope as visually impaired people. We had heard it was the most democratic country in our continent,” she said.
“Unfortunately in 2010 when I came here I found out the direct opposite of what I had believed. I was told to return back to my country even though I had my passport with me. The official who attended me kept telling me that blind people are useless as they keep flooding streets and causing confusion. I had lost hope that I will be allowed to go on as this man refused to stamp my passport and was only helped by the driver whom we were with who ended up stamping my passport,” she recalled, sobbing.
“What made my day painful is that I wanted to take my son for an operation but I was denied access to that as I was kept waiting at the border post,” added Kokerai.
Her asylum permit expired and Home Affairs officials refused to renew it, demanding a R1000 fine even though she is not employed and survives by begging.
Edward Mabvura (56) a former singer with Midnight Magic and Sungura Boys, also shared the sad story about his two week journey to the promised City of Gold. He and a friend spent more than a week trying to cross at the border.
“At one stage we were urged to return home by Home Affairs officials who said South Africa did not want blind people. I understand I don’t have a passport but as a visual impaired artist I only wanted to come and try my luck in playing my music for people. After a lengthy of period sleeping at the border post, a lenient official asked me what I wanted to do in SA. I told him that I wanted to sing and he asked me to sing for him. He appreciated my voice and allowed me to proceed with my journey,” recalled Mabvura who still doesn’t know the fate of his lost friend who was denied entry at the border post.
“I have been playing my music in trains and street corners since then.Indeed, life is different from our life style in Zimbabwe. Here there are a lot of evil people who con us of our hard earned money.Just imagine if someone comes to you and says I have R100 I need change then when you try to look for change he takes your money and disappears. There is no humanity in this country, we are living in hell,” he said.
A mother of five children, Lucia Ntabeni (41) says she was made to cross through a flooded Limpopo river and lost a lot of money forcibly paying unnecessary fines by ‘Omalayisha’ who helped her to cross the river.
“On many occasions we were told to pay certain amounts of money as we encountered people who were said to be manning the bush where we went through and also I remember paying those said to be responsible for guarding Limpopo River (Amagumaguma). All in all I lost more than R2000 on my way here including bribes demanded by police as we didn’t have passports. They didn’t mind our blindness but they wanted money. I will never forget that journey and I saw and felt it even though I am blind,” said the soft-spoken Ntabeni.
However, there is hope for visually impaired Zimbabweans here as Pastor Peter Ngoma, President of International Federation of people with Albinism and Blindness is determined to improve their lot and fight for them to be accepted in the society.
“We have managed to source a place where we house and feed them. We have also established a pre-school for their children and now we want them to be considered for employment as many of them are skilled and talented,” he said.
Bishop Paul Verryn of Central Methodist Church also expressed concern over the continued influx of visual impaired Zimbabweans and their difficult conditions they live in.
“We need to establish a network to assist blind people.These people are talented and if their talent is utilised it can go a long way in helping them and the country. We have to build a school where we will train them in life skills. Begging is a waning survival skill,” he added.Post published in: Africa News