The organisation of Zimbabwean migrants defends and fights for all migrants.
Tariro Mhuru (51) from Mpumalanga province almost returned her three children back to Zimbabwe after they were pulled out of school due to invalid study permits, two years ago. That is until a non-profit organisation formed three years ago by Zimbabweans in Gqeberha, the Zimbabwe Migrants Support Network (ZiMSN), intervened.
“I reached a time when I wanted to take my children back to Zimbabwe. Children from Zimbabwe and other neighbouring countries were ejected out of the [high] school when it was mid-year. It was only after the ZiMSN came here and held marathon meetings with the principal, the community and the department of education that our children were admitted back to school,” she explained.
ZiMSN focuses on the plight and welfare of African immigrants living in South Africa. It has become a rallying point for immigrants facing insurmountable challenges. The organisation operates on a shoestring budget financed by donations from its members which are collected only when there is a problem to solve. Office space is also paid for from member contributions.
ZiMSN chairperson, Chris Mapingure said, “We have intervened in several cases where our members were evicted for failing to pay rent in time. One such case was when we assisted a family in Durban that was moved out deep at night by their landlord after the mother couldn’t get rent in time.
“We have a volunteer in every province and the one in KZN was our middleman while we raised donations from members. Luckily, we managed to pay for the family’s rent.
“We have managed to assist hundreds of school-going children to get places in schools across South Africa. We have assisted a lot of people to get employment in the republic. During the lockdown period, we provided food handouts to thousands of desperate families that were donated by the Red Cross and the Gift of the Givers.”
Mapingure said the advent of Covid-19 subjected immigrants to unprecedented suffering. “We rescued a dozen of our people who had turned destitute. We persuaded some of our members to live with those people who were in dire conditions. We have reunited families with their loved ones after being separated because of various reasons.”
Mapingure said ZiMSN conveys messages to its members through various WhatsApp groups and Facebook platforms. Recently, they posted messages advising immigrants living in Soweto to be vigilant before Operation Dubula kicked off. The operation by residents of Diepkloof targeted foreigners, accusing them of taking their jobs, market stalls and causing crime.
The organisation was gearing up for the impending local general elections in October fearing that candidates would stoke xenophobic sentiments during campaigning, said Mapingure, adding that some politicians have already started their election campaign by blaming foreigners for their failure to provide quality services to the residents. He gave an example of the DA mayor of Nelson Mandela Bay, Nqaba Bhanga, who recently blamed the mushrooming of informal settlements in the metro on foreigners, accusing them of selling land to locals.
ZiMSN issued a media statement then, saying, “We are shocked to hear such utterances from the mayor whom we believe is there to unite people. The message can result in xenophobic attacks. We appeal to the mayor to revisit his speech.”
The mayor however later told the media that he heard the allegations from the police. The police have refused to comment and instead referred the media back to Bhanga.
ZiMSN secretary general, Shelton Chiyangwa said the organisation discourages members from committing crime in the country. He added that those using fake documents should desist from doing so and strive to get formalised. “We always assist police to arrest and prosecute our members who are into crime,” said Chiyangwa.
Chiyangwa recently spearheaded the arrest of a 40-year-old Zimbabwean father in Zwide who habitually raped his two teenage daughters, aged 13 and 15. The elder daughter had to undergo an abortion at Dora Nginza Hospital. He was eventually arrested and is in custody facing rape charges. “This is a very sad and heart-breaking story. The victims have been taken to a safe place with the assistance of our head of social services and development,” said Chiyangwa.
However, not all is doom and gloom as there are a host of other civic organisations lobbying for peaceful and harmonious living with immigrants in local communities. The Bill of Rights protects all people who live in South Africa and it provides security to those whose lives are under threat. Refugees are protected under the Refugees Act which stipulates that refugees and their families are looked after by the government and are provided with social services.
The Cyber Crimes Act is a step in the right direction in combating the abuse of the internet and the spread through social media of malicious, inflammatory and hate speech, videos and images. This should be welcomed because many xenophobic attacks are planned using social media.
This report is supported by Journalists for Human Rights (JHR) through its Mobilising Media in the Fight against Covid-19 (MMFC) programme, in partnership with Media Monitoring Africa and Sound Africa