Migration is affecting the women of my country Zimbabwe both positively and negatively. Due to its economic problems, Zimbabwe has witnessed the movement of men, women and children, mostly to South Africa. Although my article will concentrate on South Africa, Zimbabwean women are all over the SADC region in countries like Botswana, Namibia, Mozambique and Zambia. I am writing this also as an immigrant who moved to South Africa a couple years ago.
Some women from Zimbabwe make it, while others are struggling to survive in a foreign land. Some of them become sex workers, as that seems to be the only way of surviving. There are several places in South Africa where one can see the Zimbabwean women in this trade. The situation is exacerbated by the discrimination that happens in some sectors in terms of citizenship. No matter how qualified an immigrant is, many South African companies now require South African citizenship before one can get the job. It is very common to see advertisements for jobs clearly stating SA citizens only.
However, there are also those women who stay in Zimbabwe and who actually reap the benefits from having husbands and children who have left home for South Africa. The men get jobs in neighbouring countries and are able to repatriate earnings, food, clothes and even building materials to their wives and children at home. Some old women also receive gifts and money from their sons and daughters who are in South Africa.
However, a lot happens whilst women are in transit to South Africa. There have been cases where women were made to “jump” the Beit Bridge border and cross the crocodile infected Limpopo River in an attempt to seek better life. In the process, some may be raped and robbed of the little cash they may be having. There once was a case of a young girl who was raped by thugs, and she subsequently fell pregnant. Some of these cases were revealed by the Award winning documentary Special Assignment in an episode called No Woman’s Land, which aired on SABC3.
Once they are in South Africa, women face many other challenges. Sometimes their men turn their backs against them as they look for South African women who are believed to be more beautiful and bigger than the Zimbabwean women! Some of the women who were left in Zimbabwe had their marriages broken, as their husbands settled for the South African women. It happens all the time.
Because of a lack of jobs in South Africa, quite a number of Zimbabwean women find themselves selling wares around the suburbs in many South African towns and cities. In other words, these women have been reduced to mere informal traders. Some of these women have been professionals in their own right in their countries of origin. The most common profession that most come from is teaching. They ran away from the profession after the economic hardships meant that their salaries were useless, as inflation jumped a trillion times. These were trained teachers who used to command respect in Zimbabwe. Now they have been reduced to mere traders, and in some cases they have to do menial work to eke out a living. Because most educated women have migrated to South Africa to look for greener pastures and a better life, the schools have been left with a shortage of teachers. A trained teacher now works in a hotel as a waitress, instead of enlightening our children back home in Zimbabwe. I have seen a trained female teacher work as a maid in Cape Town. That is really a brain drain and misallocation of resources.
Bad economic planning, political instability and intolerance have put Zimbabwean women in a position where, no matter where they go, they are taken advantage of. It is sad that women migrate to South Africa in search of greener pastures, and yet in essence they will be chasing rainbows. People look down upon them. They are reviled. And they are called denigrating names. The trials and tribulations that Zimbabwean women go through are well documented. And yet no one seems to take note. Maybe they will have their say one day.
Pasipanodya Mubaiwa was born in a Zimbabwean rural area some 89km to the South west of Harare. He has a BSc degree in Economics from the University of Zimbabwe. He came to South Africa to work as a projects officer for a conferencing company. While he is still working in that industry, he believes that he is grossly underemployed. Currently, he is doing an M Phil in Land and Agrarian Studies with the University of the Western Cape, Cape Town.