Thursday, July 15, 2010

Fear drives migrants away from South Africa

From IRIN, a story on an escalation of attacks on foreigners living in South Africa since the conclusion of the World Cup.

John Muswere, 34, arrived four hours ago at the main bus terminus in Harare, capital of Zimbabwe, after making an unplanned journey with his wife, their three-year-old child and few household possessions from Johannesburg, South Africa, where he spent 18 months working as a mechanic.

"I am left with little money on me because I left South Africa in a hurry and before my employer could pay me. All the transport operators are saying my money is too little and I don't know how I am going to leave this place [the bus terminus]," Muswere told IRIN while his wife tried to pacify their wailing child.

The hasty trip was prompted by rumours that foreigners would be targeted once the FIFA World Cup finished, just as they were in May 2008, when 62 people were killed and more than 100,000 displaced.

Since the final game on 11 July there have been numerous attacks on foreign nationals and their businesses, mainly in Western Cape Province. The Forced Migration Studies Programme (FMSP) of the University of the Witwatersrand, in Johannesburg, estimates that 1.2 million Zimbabweans live in South Africa, mostly arriving in the past decade after their country's economy collapsed.

"I will be starting from scratch, and at no time has life been so uncertain for me. I don't know how I am going to feed the family because it might be a long time before I get a job here," Muswere said. His uncle has offered them temporary accommodation.

The threats began a few months before the soccer world cup, and came in the form of notes pasted on the door of their one-room rented flat in the inner-city suburb of Berea, Johannesburg, "telling me that they would kill me and my family if I remained in their country after the World Cup".

The notes accused Muswere and other Zimbabweans in the suburb of "stealing their sisters, jobs and houses".

"I thought they were mere threats until they accosted my neighbour, who was coming from night duty at a local supermarket where he worked as a security guard, poured petrol on him and set him alight. Fortunately, he survived but he is still in hospital," said Muswere.

Grace Takawira, 46, arrived on the same bus as Muswere after travelling from Western Cape, where she had been employed as a domestic worker for the past four years. "I just packed my few belongings and hitch-hiked to Johannesburg, where I boarded a bus to Harare," Takawira told IRIN.

"I had seen several Zimbabweans and other foreigners being attacked shortly after the World Cup ended. Many foreigners who feared for their lives sought shelter at police stations, but I could not stand the idea of living as a refugee." She has decided to try cross-border trading to feed her three children.

"Hundreds of Zimbabweans are crossing back to Zimbabwe on a daily basis as they flee xenophobic attacks," said the bus driver, who plies the Harare-Johannesburg route but declined to be identified.

Burdening a weak economy

"Most of them are in a desperate situation, as they don't have enough money for bus fares. Some of them only managed enough money to come as far as Beitbridge [on the Zimbabwe side of the border] and are squatting in that town," he told IRIN.

"The South African government should improve on its policies, so that more jobs are created and there is greater literacy among citizens of that country," John Makumbe, a Harare based political analyst, told IRIN.

"It is clear that high levels of unemployment, widespread poverty, and low levels of skills are contributing to xenophobia among South Africans, who see foreigners as the main cause of their problems."

Innocent Makwiramiti, an economist and former chief executive officer of the Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce, expected problems. "The economy is still weak and the return of Zimbabweans from South Africa will push up unemployment. While those that are returning might have skills in their respective professions, it will be difficult for them to start their own ventures because they don't have the capital."

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