Undocumented Zimbabweans in South Africa continue to face a myriad of challenges including abuse at their workplaces, the Zimbabwe Community in South Africa organisation has said.
Last year, the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (ZIMSTAT) revealed that there are 773 246 Zimbabwean migrants in South Africa, although this figure is considered a gross underestimate with millions of Zimbabweans thought to be in the neighbouring country.
About 180 000 Zimbabweans have legal documentation under the Zimbabwe Exemption Permits (ZEP) which allow them to live and work in that country.
However, these permits are set to expire in June this year with the South African government ruling that they will not be renewed further.
The permit holders have been told to move to other available permits or return to Zimbabwe.
Speaking on ‘This Morning on Asakhe’, a CITE daily Twitter Space current affairs programme, Monday, the chairperson of the Zimbabwe Community in South Africa, Ngqabutho Nicholas Mabhena said undocumented Zimbabweans are subjected to a lot of abuse.
“People are being abused, particularly domestic workers who work long hours, if you do stay in, most employers do not allow you to have visitors who either come and sleep or even just to sleep over or just to visit, which is problematic because some people will not have any other accommodation other than the works accommodations which keep them away from families even if they are on off day they are not allowed to sleep out,so thus the challenge,” he said.
Mabhena said in other sectors of the economy, undocumented employees are often threatened with deportation.
In other sectors of the economy, employers do not pay the minimum wage because if you are not documented you cannot challenge them to the Commission for Conciliation Mediation and Arbitrarion (CCMA) or the labour court because you are always threatened with deportation. So, in 2010 when people were granted the special permits we saw a number of ZEP holders then who had taken their employers to court to CCMA so that they are paid a minimum wage and so forth, they were battles that were won but with this reversal it becomes difficult,” he said.
He added that there were instances where documented Zimbabweans were taking advantage of their undocumented relatives.
“The other thing, ourselves we do abuse each other if I am documented, my cousin is not documented but they are working they can’t open a bank account, I have to open a bank account for them or they use my own bank account to receive their salary and in most cases, we end up abusing people’s money so these are some of the many challenges that an undocumented worker gets in South Africa.”
Mabhena said even migrant children are facing challenges in terms of attaining education.
“We are going to see most of these things playing themselves out as we approach the 2024 (South Africa) elections like we said migration is being used as a political issue, in 2019 the Gqeberha high court also passed a similar judgement that children born to migrant parents have a right to go to school and the minister of basic education had to make that announcement but the challenge that we are going through is that people find it very difficult to seat for their final matric results,” he said.
He added, “If some do sit for their final matric results, they do not get to collect their certificate or results which means the person cannot, therefore, continue with their academic studies, so these are the challenges that the people are faced with.”
Mabhena said in health facilities, migrants are told to pay cash if they want to access health services.
“People are told to pay cash when they go to health facilities, I accompanied someone to a hospital in Johannesburg, they were asked to pay cash even though the person is on ZEP, they are paying taxes in South Africa, which we think is the violation of workers’ rights of workers. We are going to have all these things playing out as we go to the 2024 elections in South Africa,” he said.
In August last year, Limpopo Health MEC Phophi Ramathuba sparked a storm of controversy after the emergence of a video showing her telling a woman that migrants from Zimbabwe were a “huge strain” on the provincial healthcare system.