SA’s own wave of ex­iles

African Independent - - OPINION -

AFRESH wave of re­luc­tant eco­nomic ex­iles from across the Lim­popo River now call South Africa home, and bur­rowed deep within a five-kilo­me­tre ra­dius of one non­de­script shop­ping mall si­t­u­ated in the heart of Gaut­eng stands an un­pleas­ant demon­stra­tion of rad­i­cal eco­nomic em­pow­er­ment in Zim­babwe gone wrong.

I drive along Harry Galaun Drive, near Mid­way Mews Shop­ping Mall, on a Satur­day morn­ing, hop­ing to get a long hard look at the job seek­ers from Zim­babwe who reg­u­larly pro­mote their ser­vices at the shop­ping cen­tre.

Be­fore I turn into the road that leads to the mall, I im­me­di­ately see scores of po­ten­tial labour­ers milling around in the sun­shine on ei­ther side of the nar­row street, only a few me­tres away from the mall’s gated en­trance.

The Zim­bab­wean women ap­pear rather anx­ious and pretty des­per­ate. In the past, as­pir­ing do­mes­tic work­ers placed ads in the Midrand Re­porter, a lo­cal pa­per, or stuck no­tices of avail­abil­ity next to the pub­lic board at the FNB ATM, af­ter which they would wait for peo­ple to call them. How­ever, as more and more asy­lum seek­ers from Zim­babwe set­tled in the nearby ar­eas the com­pe­ti­tion for scarce jobs stiff­ened, and the di­rect ap­proach to seek­ing work be­came in­cred­i­bly pop­u­lar. I drive past the ladies leisurely, but do not make eye con­tact with any­one. The women stand and watch an end­less trickle of cars slow down be­fore the speed hump and at­tempt to gain at­ten­tion through rais­ing card­board signs: each will do house­hold chores for an agreed fee.

The largely emo­tion­less and mo­tion­less mob of women re­main on the crowded kerb un­til late in the af­ter­noon, hold­ing onto the im­prob­a­ble hope a pay­ing cus­tomer will ap­pear from the mul­ti­tudes of mon­eyed res­i­dents who en­ter the mall com­plex in­ces­santly. While the ladies wait in highly con­tem­pla­tive mood for peo­ple to stop and make in­quiries, a subdued cho­rus of chit­ter­chat­ter echoes but barely ri­vals the roar­ing sounds of ve­hi­cles park­ing next to the fuel pumps at the En­gen fuel sta­tion, a stone’s throw from the over­crowded road­side.

En­gen cus­tomers en­ter the con­ve­nience store and fill up and leave the sta­tion within a few min­utes – but the al­most life­less women are left be­hind, chill­ingly silent and clearly dis­qual­i­fied from the prof­itable mar­gins of main­stream eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity and so­cial life since mall se­cu­rity of­fi­cers will not al­low the women to can­vass for jobs near the busiest sec­tion of the mall: the en­trance to a Pick n Pay su­per­mar­ket.

I meet more Zim­bab­wean ladies as­sem­bled out­side Blue Hills Shop­ping Cen­tre nearly five kilo­me­tres to the north, all will­ing to work for about R200 per day. While on my way back to Mid­way Mews Mall, I en­counter an­other lot of job hunters await­ing a much needed source of in­come: a small group of road­side elec­tri­cians and me­chan­ics, who claim they can fix all things elec­tri­cal and me­chan­i­cal, like fridges, stoves and elec­tric gates and garages.

Near the ap­par­ently multi-tal­ented spe­cial­ists there are on-the-street ven­dors from Zim­babwe sell­ing an as­sort­ment of fruits, pi­rated videos, cheap plas­tic de­vices and coun­ter­feit replica kits at the cor­ner of New Road and Harry Galaun Drive.

Also present at this traf­fic stop are two young women who are dressed in bright or­ange garb and hats. The ladies hand out leaflets for a R499 car ser­vice deal in a rather slug­gish and un­en­thu­si­as­tic man­ner when­ever I see them at work. To the left hand side of this busy stop, there is a pop­u­lar fam­ily restau­rant. There, Zim­bab­wean wait­ers work for tips and a small per­cent­age­based commission.

I move on. I park along Church Street and cross the busy road and en­ter Midrand Hyper Meat & Chicken, a bud­get su­per­mar­ket and butch­ery. I shop and the not-so-cus­tomer­friendly ladies who work at the tills are all Zim­bab­weans. The man who helps me carry my pur­chases to my car im­mi­grated to South Africa from the DRC. It is just an­other fine day in a for­eign par­adise for re­luc­tant eco­nomic ex­iles from Zim­babwe and Africa.

The pos­i­tive as­pect is: dili­gent and trust­wor­thy mi­grants of­ten find hon­est paid work. How­ever, the over­all out­look re­mains neg­a­tive: there will un­doubt­edly be an­other and per­haps much big­ger wave of un­ex­cited ex­iles reach­ing these shores soon as par­lia­men­tary and pres­i­den­tial elec­tions in Zim­babwe and DRC draw closer.

So, the strug­gle for dear life will con­tinue for the peo­ple on the kerb.

• Tafi Mhaka works in the com­mu­ni­ca­tions in­dus­try in Jo­han­nes­burg. He holds a BA hon­ours de­gree from the Uni­ver­sity of Cape Town

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