African nationals remain outsiders in SA

Voices of Africans for Change says that the Department of Home Affairs is delaying the re-opening of the Refugee Centre in Cape Town despite a High Court instruction to do so. Archive photo by Mzi Velapi

South Africa is said to have overcome the peak in covid-19 cases, while many African nationals will take much longer to recover from the lockdown.

Having been unable to apply for any social security grants, food parcels or any payments from the rescue fund given to employers, African nationals living in SA are pushed to the margins.

Voice of Africans for Change (VAC), a community-based organisation that actively does education and legal advice work in townships such as Du Noon and Imizamo Yethu, says that societal resistance towards the true unity of African nationals and South African-born Africans is the result of a lack of social cohesion and Africanism at the community level. “The history of post-apartheid could not include the advantage of African unity. It has always been challenging to explain the rights of refugees and the Refugee Act to community members who have refugees staying there. There shouldn’t be competition between locals and African nationals,” said Germain Kalombo Ntambue, the director of VAC.

*Lizzy Chari (45) is a Zimbabwean-born African who came to SA in 2014 and is now living in Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape. Like many others like her, the single mother of three daughters left Zimbabwe because of the political and economic crisis there. She is a qualified nurse but was unable to find a job: “I could not even afford to leave home and had to come here with no papers. I started to look for work and had to take any job because I needed money to survive, so I decided to be a cleaner and now I’m a domestic worker,” said Chari.

The South African government’s silence on African nationals under the coronavirus pandemic has been louder for the families who have been excluded from food parcels and unemployment grants. “I still skip meals and eat once a day. At the start of the lockdown, I didn’t have money to pay rent in April because I was at home and my employer couldn’t allow me to go to work. I didn’t get any support from my church because they were only choosing the SA citizens.” Chari says it pains her to think her only options are to be jobless and poor in Zimbabwe or to suffer and starve in SA.

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In a recent parliamentary presentation, Minister of Employment and Labour, Thulas Nxesi, announced new employment policies and regulations that would limit the employment of African nationals in industries such as hospitality, restaurants and agriculture in response to unrest in the trucking sector.

*Tanaka Tineyi (37) is a Zimbabwean-born African who lives in Happy Valley, Cape Town, and works as a hairdresser in a container salon. Tineyi is a divorced single mother who came to SA in search of a better life for her and her three sons back home, who are now being raised by her older sister. “I arrived on the 24th of April 2017. I remember the day because we had to cross the border through the Limpopo river, me and my brother. There was so much water, it was not safe, and not all of us crossed over but it was the only option to come,” she said.

Tineyi says she was able to buy masks and sanitisers but was hoping that the South African government would provide her with a food hamper.

“I felt a lot of pain because during the lockdown salons were closed for a good three months and we were not getting paid. Less people want to come out and do their hair. I needed money for rent and food but didn’t even get donations from anyone,” Tineyi said. Although she is fearful of continuing to live in poverty with the little she makes so far away from home, she believes she would have absolutely nothing if she went back home.

One of the biggest challenges faced by Voices of Africans for Change is assisting undocumented African nationals: “The Department of Home Affairs [DHA] has been reluctant to reopen the reception centre since its closure in 2013. The Supreme Court of Appeal ruled in favour of refugees but since 2018, the DHA has been purposefully delaying the reopening of the centre, increasing the number of undocumented people and in turn, manufacturing undocumented African nationals,” argued Ntambue.

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The Department of Home Affairs did not respond to questions sent to them.

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