For many Zimbabweans living in South Africa, it is not a case of wanting to be here, but more of not being able to return home.
They are unable to find work in Zimbabwe and to provide for their families they have to be here.
Many are fearful of political violence at home and do not believe elections later this year, for which South Africa has made R900 million available, will lead to change.
Domestic worker Angela Engina, who works seven days a week cleaning five households, says “things were tough at home”, so she moved to South Africa in 2009.
Engina now lives in Khayelitsha with her son, Bombojena Engina, but the rest of her family remain in Zimbabwe and can’t afford to visit.
Of her treatment here, she says: “South Africans are not always good to foreigners. They say we take their jobs, but if there was a chance to get a job I would go home.”
Engina says if Zimbabweans are doing jobs here that need to be done, she doesn’t understand why South Africa shouldn’t put money into the Zimbabwean elections to make it better there. “We want to vote for our country,” she says, but does not have the money to go home to vote.
Taxi driver Minos Moyo came to South Africa in 2011 to find work. He found no opportunities to work in Zimbabwe so came here believing things would be better, and so far they have been. He has a big family at home and, while he would prefer living in Zimbabwe with them, he needs to work here.
“I help them. I’m the breadwinner of the family,” he says. “Everything is in order as long as I am working.”
He has generally found South Africans to be friendly.
“People depend on me,” he says. His family at home work in exchange for food, so he needs to send money for everything else, including school fees and uniforms.
Loren Landau, director and associate professor of the African Centre for Migration and Society at the University of the Witwatersrand, says: “What the Zimbabweans are expressing acutely is a sentiment and fact shared by many of those who have come to South Africa in search of protection or work: the vibrancy and viability of the regional economy depends heavily on migrants and their ability to find work in South Africa.
“While South Africans may feel this threatens their own efforts to counter poverty and inequality, such a position ignores migrants’ real and potential contributions to South Africa and the degree to which South Africa benefits from a more stable and prosperous region.
“Were our country to work to facilitate rather than frustrate cross-border movements, I have little doubt we would multiply the benefits to families, communities and countries throughout the region.”
Tendai Bhiza’s reasons for coming to South Africa in 2004 were varied. She was disenchanted by the political situation at home and struggled with having political views that differed from those of her family, workplace, personal relationships and church.
“Home is home, but also there are some things which need to be changed for the better, not for the worse,” she says.
Bhiza was a trader on Greenmarket Square until 2009, when she says foreigners were “pushed out” of the market before the World Cup.
“Our bread was buttered in Greenmarket Square. It was honest, selling our curios. We were helping the economy here and sending money home. After that we were stranded.”
Her son, Trevor Hewitt, lives in Zimbabwe with his grandparents. Bhiza returns when she can but wants him to be at home with a support network in case anything happens to her. She sends money home for her son’s education.
“In Zimbabwe, to make things better they have to start with the health system.”
She said she needed to be here for her health, but would rather be at home and feels threatened here sometimes.
“Whenever Mandela is in hospital and people know I am foreign, they tell me things are going to change when he dies because it was only Madiba who welcomed foreigners.”
But she doesn’t understand why the colour of your skin or where you were born matters.
“When a white person is cut, red blood comes out. When a black person is cut, red blood comes out. We have different views, different thinking, different religions, I respect that.
“There are many Malawians and Mozambicans in Zimbabwe and they are welcome. We never had xenophobia.”
Bhiza laughed when asked if she would go home to vote.
“It won’t make a difference,” she says. “They always rig the elections.”
Landau believes it is in South Africa’s interests for Zimbabwe to stabilise and begin its path to economic recovery. “Although free and fair elections are part of that – and something we should support - this must mark the beginning of a progressive engagement in the country’s reconstruction,” he says.
Nehemiah Simango came to South Africa in 2007 because he was “obviously gay”.
“My brother saw the situation and decided to come with me here,” he says. “I would love to be there. I was born and bred there, but I’m happy to be here.” - Sunday Argus