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lawyers, restaurant staff, doctors, gardeners and office accountants
-- all are among a growing number of Zimbabweans who have fled the
chaos of their country for refuge in South Africa.
They are a diverse
cross-section of Zimbabwe's people, from highly skilled professionals
to manual labourers. Most are economic refugees, but a sizeable
number are also survivors of state torture and organised violence.
Some enjoy affluent and comfortable lives, while the vast majority
eke out a living as illegal immigrants.
agree that, although they love Zimbabwe, they do not want to return
until conditions improve.
three million Zimbabweans currently live in South Africa. "I cannot
go back until Zimbabwe's economy is better," said James Moyo, who
works as an accountant for a large Johannesburg firm. "I am supporting
my family back in Zimbabwe by sending them money every month. I
cannot stop those payments or they will go hungry."
Moyo (25) is
one of the many Zimbabweans who are sending money back to their
families. Surveys conclude that more than 50% of Zimbabwean families
depend on money from family members abroad.
"Once I finished
my studies, I decided I had to come to South Africa. I had worked
at a good job in Zimbabwe for four years, but I could not even afford
to buy myself a bed. When my mother had a diabetes attack she had
to go to hospital and I didn't have any money to help her. I felt
completely useless. Now I am able to help my family every month."
qualifications, earned in Zimbabwe, are well regarded in South Africa.
He has been able to find steady employment and has married his Zimbabwean
girlfriend, a graduate of the University
of Zimbabwe, and the couple have a baby. He says that a professional
worker in Zimbabwe gets the equivalent of about R400 a month. A
similar professional in South Africa gets R8 000.
Moyo and his
wife live in a pleasant rented flat and have purchased a car --
achievements that would be unimaginable if he had stayed in today's
Zimbabwe. "I would love to go back, but things would have to get
better. I have a cousin who was tortured by police. But for me it
is mostly an economic decision."
Many other Zimbabweans
have made the same calculation. Although it is difficult to get
work permits, the generally higher levels of literacy in Zimbabwe
help many emigrants to find jobs in South Africa.
(34) left her country nearly 10 years ago. Today, she is a waitress
at a trendy Camps Bay restaurant in Cape Town. "I am far from home
and the work is hard, but I have purchased a house for my mother
in Bulawayo and I am helping her with money. I am working to buy
a house here, too. My two daughters are going to good schools."
For every success
story there are many Zimbabweans who live much more precarious lives
in South Africa. The Central Methodist Church in Johannesburg is
home to an estimated 700 Zimbabweans who would otherwise be living
on the streets.
More than 100
000 Zimbabweans were deported from South Africa last year, according
to the International Organisation for Migration. The rate of deportation
is rising sharply. More than 50 000 adults were deported in the
first three months of 2007 alone, most between the ages of 18 and
Nearly 800 children,
aged between 11 and 17, were returned to Zimbabwe in the same period.
But the numbers deported are just a fraction of the total number
of Zimbabweans coming to South Africa.
Shumba (33) was an officer of the Zimbabwe
Human Rights Forum. He was tortured twice by Zimbabwean police
before he fled to South Africa in 2003. "There are outrageous abuses
going on," said Shumba, speaking from his flat in Pretoria. "I was
assaulted when I investigated reports of police brutality … police
beat me and applied electric shocks to my private parts. I was followed
and threatened. I left Zimbabwe to be able to live and fight another
Exiles Forum to assist others seeking asylum. Shumba has prepared
cases that are before the African Union's Commission on Human and
Peoples' Rights and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture.
"We are collecting evidence on torture so that the perpetrators
will be held accountable," he said.
was a judge in Zimbabwe who was threatened by state agents after
he ruled that The Daily News should be allowed to publish. He fled
in 2003. Although he has not succeeded in getting South African
authorities to grant him political asylum, he is studying for a
master's degree in Human Rights law.
here in South Africa and across the world wants to go home," said
Majuru. "For me, when change comes, I will go right away, to stand
on Zimbabwean soil again and to see how things are. But I would
not be able to stay. It's not just Mugabe, but the entire administration
that must be reformed."
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