Nokuthula Khanyile

Weekend Witness - - News -

Malaw­ian street ven­dor Ra­jab An­gry. LIMP­ING from one cri­sis to an­other.

That is the daily strug­gle some mi­grants who have trekked to Pi­eter­mar­itzburg for bet­ter lives, say they are faced with, hav­ing lit­tle to hold onto ex­cept their own re­silience and the will to sur­vive.

They un­der­take this com­pletely dif­fer­ent jour­ney for the dream of a bet­ter life. Once they get to South Africa — of­ten en­ter­ing the coun­try il­le­gally — they are con­fronted with the re­al­i­ties of how dif­fi­cult it is to be an im­mi­grant in a coun­try that is some­times un­wel­com­ing to for­eign­ers.

Ac­cord­ing to Statis­tics South Africa, there are 2,2 mil­lion le­gal im­mi­grants and close to one mil­lion un­doc­u­mented for­eign na­tion­als in the coun­try.

Gaut­eng has the high­est pro­por­tion of for­eign-born work­ers, num­ber­ing about eight per­cent of the work­ing pop­u­la­tion, fol­lowed by Limpopo and Mpumalanga at four per­cent, while in the North West and West­ern Cape the fig­ure stands at three per­cent, and in KwaZulu-Na­tal, the Eastern Cape and North­ern Cape, at one per­cent.

In Pi­eter­mar­itzburg, the ma­jor­ity are from Malawi, Ethopia, Zim­babwe and the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo, although other na­tions like Kenya and Nige­ria are also rep­re­sented. All hope to find a job that will al­low them to send money back to their fam­i­lies or bring their rel­a­tives into the coun­try.

Kotelo Na­dia Mpi­ana (25) was born in the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo (DRC) and moved to South Africa at a very young age.

Her fam­ily lived in Jo­han­nes­burg and later moved to Pi­eter­mar­itzburg in search of a place to call home. She did most of her school­ing in Pi­eter­mar­itzburg, from high school right through to her civil en­gi­neer­ing stud­ies at the Msun­duzi Tvet Col­lege.

She told Week­end Wit­ness that go­ing back to the DRC was not an op­tion.

“When I think of go­ing home, the im­age of peo­ple be­ing killed by rebels flashes back. My fam­ily is not go­ing back there, never. I would rather die here,” said Mpi­ana, a hair­dresser and nail tech­ni­cian in Tim­ber Street.

Mpi­ana said most for­eign na­tion­als who do not want to be repa­tri­ated or rein­te­grated back into their com­mu­ni­ties, seek refuge in run­down blocks of flats in cen­tral Pi­eter­mar­itzburg.

Tim­ber Street is lined with hair sa­lons, tuck shops, cloth­ing shops and cell­phone re­pair shops owned by for­eign na­tion­als.

“My sis­ter, things are bad for us and we don’t know who to turn to for help. We are limp­ing from one cri­sis to the next,” said Mpi­ana, while past­ing ar­ti­fi­cial nails on a client.

My cur­rent work per­mit has to be re­newed ev­ery six months. It’s like Home Af­fairs cre­ates a bar­rier for us to be able to get proper em­ploy­ment. Even with a civil en­gi­neer­ing qual­i­fi­ca­tion, I don’t think I would be able to get a se­cure job.

Nige­rian busi­nessper­son Paul Osagie.

She said that while she man­aged to fin­ish her ma­tric and en­rolled at a Tvet for a civil en­gi­neer­ing diploma, she was forced to drop out when she could no longer af­ford to pay her tu­ition fees.

“It’s very hard to get a bur­sary. I tried to ap­ply for fund­ing, but I was told that I did not qual­ify be­cause of my for­eign sta­tus. I have to work full time to save up money to go back to school next year.”

Mpi­ana said the big­gest chal­lenge has been get­ting proper doc­u­men­ta­tion to be able to se­cure per­ma­nent em­ploy­ment.

“My cur­rent work per­mit has to be re­newed ev­ery six months. It’s like Home Af­fairs cre­ates a bar­rier for us to be able to get proper em­ploy­ment. Even with a civil en­gi­neer­ing qual­i­fi­ca­tion, I don’t think I would be able to get a se­cure job.”

Mpi­ana said while her fam­ily had ad­justed to life away from home, start­ing afresh was dif­fi­cult.

“It was very dif­fi­cult. When we ar­rived I thought that French was spo­ken ev­ery­where; no one could un­der­stand or ut­ter a word of French here. I had to talk loudly and use more de­scrip­tions to piece con­ver­sa­tions to­gether,” she said.

Paul Osagie (40), the owner of pop­u­lar cos­met­ics and hair ex­ten­sions shop, Buka T’s, said not hav­ing proper lo­cal iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, and busi­ness reg­u­la­tions that seem de­signed to sti­fle rather than en­cour­age en­trepreneur­ship, are just two of the myr­iad prob­lems en­coun­tered by mi­grant busi­ness peo­ple.

And then there is dis­crim­i­na­tion. And the mis­trust. And the vi­o­lence.

“I em­ploy about 25 peo­ple and the ma­jor­ity of them are South Africans. I make money and in­vest it here,” said Osagie, who has been in South Africa for the past 23 years.

He said: “Although I am a per­ma­nent res­i­dent of South Africa with a South African ID, I don’t feel part of South Africa. I am re­minded at ev­ery junc­ture that this is not my home and will never be my home.”

He said South Africans need to in­te­grate “for­eign­ers” into lo­cal sys­tems and not make them feel as if they do not be­long, or do not de­serve to work with or em­ploy South Africans.

Osagie said he moved to the coun­try be­cause he al­ways grew up with a “trav­ellers’” men­tal­ity and had told him­self that he wasn’t go­ing to live in Nige­ria for­ever. “I was a po­lice­man in Nige­ria but I have al­ways be­lieved that trav­el­ling is part of learn­ing, which is why I de­cided to move to South Africa.”

Osagie added that he has al­ways had a prob­lem with break-ins at his shop and he be­lieves this was be­cause he is a for­eigner here. “I have loved be­ing in South Africa and although the level of crime is wor­ry­ing, I will not al­low this to chase me away,” he vowed.

“It’s tougher for men. Some South African men de­spise us. When we are not be­ing ac­cused of steal­ing their women, we are called [a pe­jo­ra­tive name for for­eign­ers]. It’s tough but I just ig­nore it and move on. If you fight, you get killed.”

He added that South Africa is a demo­cratic coun­try where peo­ple are free, which is why he left Nige­ria. CON­TIN­UED ON PAGE 7


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