Zim migrants still face challenges

Zimbabweans living and working in South Africa are still facing a number of challenges, according to the Migrant Workers’ Association of South Africa.

Butholezwe Nyathi
Butholezwe Nyathi

Addressing guests at a seminar hosted by the Congress of South African Trade Unions, MWASA said migrants were often vulnerable and desperate. They were afraid of joining unions, were affected by xenophobia and had to deal with day-to-day administrative hassles, including difficulties in opening bank accounts.

There were still some problems in getting proper documents, despite the amnesty and four-year special dispensation which, according to MWASA, discouraged many workers from getting documented for “fear of the unknown” after the four years.

More than 270,000 others – including political exiles who fled Zanu (PF) torture, are facing an unknown future, after they were recently told that they would only be able to renew their permits back home.

“Historically, migrant workers built unions and we need to have a detailed discussion on organising them towards that direction,” said Butholezwe Nyathi, MWASA national coordinator.

“All our affiliates will soon have organisers, who can address cross-border workers. We have a problem at the moment with many local politicians making anti-foreigner statements in the run-up to the election – including the ANC secretary-general (Gwede Mantashe), who recently stated that the unemployment problem was caused by foreign workers.”

Nyathi said that, with an estimated 80 per cent of catering industry workers being Zimbabwean, the South African Commercial, Catering and Allied Workers’ Union (SACCAWU) had tried to assist them with documentation, but did not have the expertise.

The Food and Allied Workers’ Union was also in the process of targeting Zimbabwean and Mozambican workers on farms in Limpopo and Mpumalanga, in a bid to organise them.

“There are many instances of migrant workers who lose their provident fund savings, while there are also instances of the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration making rulings based on wrong assumptions that SA law doesn’t cover undocumented migrants,” said Nyathi.

“We have realised that to organise migrants, we must learn to address their needs, which include documentation. MWASA will therefore, have a dedicated workshop on organising migrant workers – preferably two days in the third quarter, which will include some international input and inputs based on approaches of our affiliates.”

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