Double Tragedy; COVID Worsens Migrants’ Oppression in SA

Scores of Malawians being checked for COVID-19 at Malawi's Mwanza border post upon arrival from South Africa Scores of Malawians being checked for COVID-19 at Malawi's Mwanza border post upon arrival from South Africa - pic by Pasqually Zulu, spokesperson for Mwanza Border Post

Noel Kadzem’mawa has just arrived back home in Malawi from South Africa, fleeing from a pinch of COVID-19 aftermath. He is one of over ten thousands Malawian self repatriated Malawians from South Africa who have arrived home since April this year.

Noel Kadzem’mawa has just arrived back home in Malawi from South Africa, fleeing from a pinch of COVID-19 aftermath.

“In February 2018, I went to South Africa to look for greener pasture. South Africa was my last hope looking at how tough life was here at home,” says Kadzem’mawa.

The 26 year old father of a five year old son dropped out from Soche Technical College. His sponsor pulled out after he got injured in a road accident in 2017.

“I applied for military training after dropping out of college. I was not picked. I did all the required paperwork in readiness for my journey. I happily left my family hoping for better life once I get to my destination,” he added.

Kadzem’mawa envisioned good life in South Africa. He hoped for a better job that would help him save money for his school and remit some funds back home for his family.

Little did he know the other side of life; circumstances clattered this journalism student’s dream.

“Life in South Africa was not the way I expected. I stayed months without getting a job. Lucky enough, my friends were accommodating me.

“There are more Malawians in South Africa looking for jobs. Many people end up selling in shops. The pay is just too meager to carter for needs; rentals, food, you name it. You can hardly send money back home,’ he says.

The lockdown

COVID-19, according to Kadzem’mawa, aggravated living conditions for a migrant in South Africa.

“During the lockdown, companies and shops were forced to retrench labor because businesses went down.

“We the migrants were the victims. As I’m telling you now, there are thousands of jobless Malawians in South Africa who can’t even afford transport to come back home. They wish to come back home but they cannot,” says Kadzem’mawa.

He added; “some people are sleeping under bridges; some at bus stations because they have been chased from rented houses. Life is not easy at all. The sufferings we face for being migrants have just been aggravated by the pandemic.”

Migration back in the days

Malawi’s international writer, Mallick Mnela, writes in The Sunday Times, November 1, 2020.

“At some point, my late father told me that back in the days, people could trek to Salisbury or Johannesburg in search of greener pasture just to make sure that they are not involved in squabbles over land for cultivation. Then, the population boom at home and designated host countries were reasonably low.

“Today, I doubt travelling to South Africa or Zimbabwe would be welcomed the way my father and many of his peers were welcomed. Things have changed. Jobs are scarce and hosts are no longer hospitable.”

As this is evidenced in Kadzem’mawa’s narrative, it is also echoed by Dr. Harvey Banda, a migration expert and lecturer at Malawi’s Mzuzu University.

“Labor migration has been there since time immemorial. There was the Native Labor Bureau, locally known as Mthandizi (helper) in vernacular and the Witwatersrand Native Labor Agency (WNLA). They facilitated labor migration to various countries in the continent. Things have, however, changed with time passing,” he says.

Dr. Banda says that “most Malawians in South Africa work on part time basis. They usually work just a day or two per week. In addition to that, they are low paid.”

“Now with the COVID-19 amidst us, you will find that even the few that are employed are not paid because the pandemic has halted economic activities. Some of them are even sacked because most companies cannot afford to pay them,” says Dr. Banda.

Migration as Africa issue

According to Internews, a South Africa based international, non-profit organization, which works with citizens and local media in more than 100 countries, there were 4.3 million international migrants in SADC region in 2010, in 2019 the estimate was almost 8 million. In Southern Africa, 75% of all the migrants from Africa are from within the SADC region.

“This has not been without its challenges. The rise of nationalism globally also creates a hostile environment for migrants. COVID-19 has also made the situation worse by limiting mobility, increasing unemployment rates and creating a fertile policies and attitudes that do not favor migrants and many other,” it says.

African Union Director for Political Affairs, Dr. Khabele Matlosa, describes Africa as “a continent of migration.”

Dr. Matlosa says “migration is an opportunity rather than a threat. It provides for developmental opportunity. It is time to make Africa the Africa we want in 2063.”

He told a meeting of the 3rd Ordinary Session of the Specialized Technical Committee on Migration, Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons in Addis Ababa – Ethiopia in November, 2019 that Agenda 2063-The Africa We Want-sets out a clear vision for our continent namely “an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in the international arena”.

Dr. Matlosa challenged journalists at a weeklong Changing Narrative of Migration virtual training facilitated by Internews in October 2020 to report positively about migration if we are to have a continent we want in 2063.

“There are questions we have to ask; how to report on migration in a positive way and how is African Continent Free Trade Area going to succeed without free movement,” he challenged.

Mankind as migration story

Biblical account of migration paints numerous pictures of how our ancestors used to migrate from one land to another; hence, a plea for hospitality for all towards migrants.

Cain was punished to wander the world after committing murder but was left with a mark that no one should kill the migrant killer.

“Today, very few migrants, criminals or not, are protected. If they are undocumented, they are arrested and deported. Asylum seekers, who have been persecuted in their homelands, are routinely placed in immigration detention and must defend themselves or seek legal help from behind bars,” writes Rev. Joan M. Maruskin, National Administrator of the Church World Service Religious Services Program.

“When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not wrong him. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt,” Lev. 19:33-34.

It is high time Africa embraced migration as a window for development.

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Last modified on Tuesday, 10/11/2020

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