The Sunday News
Robin Muchetu, Senior Reporter
THE search for a better quality of life has forced many to cross the borders of the country with a good majority moving into South Africa with the hope of earning the much sought after foreign currency to send back home.
This great trek, for many, has been punctuated by pain and suffering especially from women and children who usually fall prey to predators who promise them nothing but pies in the sky with gory sexual violation stories being told among other inhuman experiences.
Africa Diaspora Forum and Sonke Gender Justice representative Miss Nobuhle Virginia Ajiti who represents migrant communities in Johannesburg, South Africa said Zimbabwean women were finding the going tough due to unfriendly policies that do not protect migrants. She spoke of the challenges that migrants go through.
“Minority groups are not being protected in so far as their welfare is concerned. They are being turned away from hospitals and denied health care. When they go to police stations to report cases of rape or assault, they are turned away especially if they do not have documentation. Even if they have, the policies are not migrant friendly in general,” she said.
Miss Ajiti added, “There is a lot of suffering especially in the area of Gender-Based Violence (GBV). Women are told to go back to their country. They are told they are straining the South African health system when they seek help.”
That leaves many enduring a torturous exertion with nowhere to turn to for help. Another challenge is that migrant victims of GBV are not taken in shelters, leaving them at the mercy of perpetrators. Miss Ajiti said it was painful that foreigners have no access to life saving Antiretroviral (ARV) drugs.
“They tell you to go back to Zimbabwe and access drugs there. They demand a transfer letter from the hospital that you were getting drugs from in Zimbabwe. But in most cases, people would have left the country in a huff and would have sought asylum, how then does a refugee go and get a transfer letter? At times when they go to clinics, they are told drugs are out of stock but for locals they will be available,” she said.
This, she says, is the reason why several people on ART default and subsequently die because they would have run out of drugs and fail to get refills. This has seen several Zimbabweans opting to have drugs sent from Zimbabwe to South Africa via transporters popularly known as omalayitsha to ensure that they do not default in taking their medicines.
Mr Bongani Mthethwa who is a cross border transporter said ferrying drugs across the border was a norm for them.
“We carry ARVs and deliver to our clients; we have no challenges at all because we know that we are actually assisting and saving lives. We ensure that we deliver on time because we know the value of these drugs to people’s lives,” he said.
Hospitals can give three months’ supply of ARVs in advance if there is an agreement with the patient. However, they warn that there are dangers of not coming back home to consult a doctor which can be detrimental to a patient’s health. They encourage patients to come home regularly to consult with doctors. The migrants also allege that to receive medical attention at some hospitals they have to fork out R5 000 which is way above what they can afford.
Miss Ajiti told Sunday News of how a migrant lost a child after being denied assistance at one hospital.
“One woman was turned away while she was in labour only to give birth as she was walking away from the hospital. Unfortunately, the child’s head hit the floor and died. The nurses are said to have told her that they will not touch her blood and she had to clean it up. The situation is that bad for migrants,” she said.
This is contrary to the South African Constitution that gives everyone entitlement to medical treatment and migrants are asking for this right to be extended to them. Those that do not speak English face communication barriers at police stations and end up going back with their cases unattended and the police are not bothered.
“Now we are commemorating the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, but it only applies to South Africans and not migrants as the service providers only cater for their own and not us. I was fortunate to get the opportunity to present some of the challenges to President Cyril Ramaphosa last year, and he promised to look into the challenges and make funds available but we did not see any of those funds,” she lamented.
On the education front there are problems too.
“Children get arrested here, just last week there were schoolchildren who were arrested during a raid and they stayed for six days in holding cells while they were awaiting to be deported to Zimbabwe. These children had no documentation but it is not the child’s fault but that of the parent, again they do not make it easy for migrants to get documentation in this country,” she added.
Most children from Zimbabwe and other countries in the migrant’s population are said to be learning at “fly by night” schools. These are private schools owned by individuals who find people to teach children and most of them do not even have teaching qualifications. Accessing vital documents like birth certificates is also difficult for migrants.
“It is sad that some of our Zimbabwean women are paying security guards using sex, to get a place in the front of a queue at the Home Affairs Department in a bid to try and access documents. This is how desperate it has become,” she added.
Ms Grace Bofu* (20) from Chimanimani told of how she was kidnapped in October.
“I went to look for my mother who I had been told was in South Africa, I was kidnapped and drugged. I woke up to see naked men around me in a room. One of the men was actually raping me but I was powerless after being injected with a substance I did not know,” she said sobbing.
After gaining consciousness she had pieces of broken glass shoved up her private parts. After the repeated sexual violation, she was dumped in the streets and was taken to hospital for treatment.
“I was taken to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) where the doctors ordered a full body scan and that is when they discovered I had pieces of broken needles in my left knee and some shards of glass inside me. I also had a broken leg from the ordeal,” she said.
Ms Bofu was assisted by well-wishers who took her to a shelter in Johannesburg where she is recovering while waiting to return home. She alleges ill treatment at the hospital and could not keep up with being insulted by nurses for being a foreigner.
Medical reports which Sunday News got sight of the extent of her injuries.
Sunday News was also shown a repatriation certificate from the Ministry of International Relations and Co-operation which was giving the immigration department authority to allow her to cross back into Zimbabwe because her passport had been stolen.
These are just a few of the untold challenges that Zimbabwean migrants face in foreign lands as they seek greener pastures.