Even the Zims have advice for Zims going to South Africa: stay home.
I often wonder whether it ever crosses people’s minds that if South Africa is a place where money is so easy to make, then why do millions of South Africans live in squatter camps with no proper roof over their head.
The most popular destination is the metropolis of Johannesburg. With a population of approximately 10 267 700 people, Joburg, as it is popularly known sprawls over an area of 1 645 square kilometres. The population density is 2 364 inhabitants per square kilometre
Most buses from Zimbabwe offload passengers in central Johannesburg in an area spanning four blocks. Dozens of buses arrive every day, disgorging thousands of passengers, many of them bewildered and carrying cash on their persons. Many of the arrivals are not familiar with Johannesburg and are clearly identifiable as newcomers to the hordes of criminals, even from a distance.
The area teems with all kinds of fully-fledged tsotsis and other scoundrels, from pick-pockets to hardened robbers who will not hesitate to pull a gun on you in broad daylight. Pick-pocket is a misnomer, in fact. They boldly confront you and search your pockets, relieving you of all valuables.
Women carrying luggage on their heads, some with a baby on their back, are particularly vulnerable. Their handbags are ripped open and searched in broad daylight, while they are busy trying to protect the load on their head. People carrying their shopping to the buses are mobbed by young Zimbabwean men who confuse them while their friends make off with the goods.
Many Zimbabweans who have no experience have this picture of South Africa in general and Johannesburg in particular, as places full of riches.The truth is that it is also a place full of risks.
Crime is often violent and fatal. The country is awash with illegal firearms. In some of the townships buying a gun is like an investment. The mentality is that once you have a gun then you can ‘just get money’. ‘Just getting money’ means robbing people.
I have personally observed that a lot of Zimbabwean criminals have moved down south from Bulawayo and Harare. Those from Bulawayo blend in easily because of linguistic advantage. Most of them operate around the Park Station area where most Zimbabweans board or disembark from buses.
I would advise my fellow Zimbabweans to think very carefully and plan equally carefully before coming over to South Africa, whether it is on a short shopping trip or a long term working stay. A friend of mine who lectures at a local university was robbed of US$600 two years ago soon after he got off a bus from home.
A week ago an uncle who stays with me met a man who had just been robbed of R3 000. The man told my uncle that he had been approached by six men and three of them grabbed him and held him down while the other three searched his pockets and his luggage.
That was in broad daylight under a very bright African sun.
I have talked to many new arrivals from home and almost all people, most without any qualification beyond GCE Ordinary Level, and all of them have this belief that Johannesburg is a city where they come to make quick money before departing in a few months to start big projects like buying residential stands, building houses or starting businesses back in Zimbabwe.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
I often wonder whether it ever crosses people’s minds that if South Africa is a place where money is so easy to make, then why do millions of South Africans live in squatter camps with no proper roof over their head. If ever the equivalent of Zimbabwe’s Operation Murambatsvina were to be unleashed in South Africa half the population would easily find themselves living in the open.
South Africa is no different from any other place in the world. You will find it relatively easy to make it if you possess a good education rounded of with some skill which is in demand. If you are like every other Tom, Jack and Harry without any skill then you will find yourself living like every other Tom, Jack or Harry. In South Africa that means living in a shack in places like Alexandra, Tembisa, Diepsloot and Thokhoza.
If you want a decent roof over your head you will be looking at rentals of no less than R1000 per month per room. And that is a room with a communal bathroom and toilet. It is common to find four a five people sharing a room to bring down costs as low as R200 a month.
Those unskilled workers who are lucky enough to hold down a permanent job usually earn between R1000 and R1500 a month. If we take into account the costs of relocating from Zimbabwe, that is the bus-fare, the accommodation costs, buying new household amenities like a bed, utensils a stove and so on it will take the average unskilled person years to just recover the costs and make enough money to go back home with the clothes on their body.
That is if they are lucky enough to land a regular job in the first place.
For those who don’t land a regular job, circumstances can become pretty desperate. Just now I came across this advert on a South African website popular for its classified advertisements:
“Gumtree: Lady available, I am a Zimbabwean lady available for any casual relationship. Hey guys, don’t you want to have a taste of this. I am very cheap, Northern Suburbs”
It is claimed that South African brothels are 80 percent populated by Zimbabwean women. About five kilometres from where I live, there is a street that has been nicknamed Mashonaland. Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare, stands somewhere at the centre of the three provinces of Mashonaland.
Prostitution is rife in Johannesburg’s Mashonaland area.
Those who want to come to South Africa should make proper plans before they leave Zimbabwe. They should not just jump onto a bus and leave everything to fate. If they have a relative who can take care of them on arrival in South Africa the better. They should however make sure they can rely on such relatives. I have met many people who came with the expectation of staying with relatives but landed on the streets in no time because the relative switched off the phone or simply did not show up at the bus station.
Many people are surviving through vice and they are not too keen to let relatives from back home into their life-sustaining secret.
Two years ago I came across a young man trying to walk the 70km from Johannesburg to Pretoria. He had come to live with a cousin in Joburg. It turned out the cousin was part of a gang of robbers. The new arrival did not want to get involved with robbery so the cousin kicked him onto the street. The poor man didn’t have a single cent on him so he thought if he could walk to Pretoria then maybe he could hitch a free ride on a truck back to “home sweet home” back in Zimbabwe.
I gave him a lift to a church which looks after Zimbabwean refugees.
The best advice of all is that people should simply stay at home. They will not make much money there but they will enjoy the services of a very wide social safety net. Often they can stay free of charge with their parents or in their village. Johannesburg might be eGoli (The Place of Gold) but its streets are certainly not paved with gold or lined with diamonds.
In fact, they are full of lurking danger especially for a foreigner with nary a Rand in their pocket.