The Sunday Mail
“IN times of test, family is best” is a Burmese proverb that pays tribute to the family unit.
Family is indeed one of the most important institutions in the world, especially in an African context, where sacrifices are made even for distant kith and kin.
What more one’s child or spouse?
Last week, The Sunday Mail visited one of the country’s Covid-19 quarantine centres, NSSA Hotel in Beitbridge, where it came face-to-face with that undying love that sees spouses, fathers, mothers and brothers leaving their homes and families behind in search of greener pastures.
And when the once attractive pastures, for one reason or the other, become unpalatable, they retrace their footsteps to what they know and are comfortable with — home and family.
Some returnees from South Africa like Mr Obey Mpofu of Chitungwiza, said they had been having sleepless nights in the neighbouring country thinking about their families.
“My family has had a hard time for the last six weeks under a lockdown filled with uncertainty, especially that the border is closed to non-essential human traffic,” said Mr Mpofu, one of the first people to respond to the call for repatriation.
“We are grateful for this. We managed to travel home. Being quarantined at home brings hope for a reunion with your family.”
Most of those coming back home narrated heart-rending stories.
“The situation in Cape Town is bad for most Zimbabweans and on behalf of my compatriots, I appeal for the Government to evacuate its citizens,” said Ms Gertrude Mawunde.
“Most of those who are in less formal jobs, cannot hustle. They have been evicted from their lodgings because they can’t afford rentals.”
Mawunde fears life might get worse for her compatriots as Covid-19 infections are rising in South Africa, having recorded over 13 500 cases as of yesterday.
The country has been on lockdown for the past seven weeks.
As a result, Zimbabweans in informal work have been hard hit with nearly 3 000 seeking assistance to be repatriated home, while over 6 000 are food-insecure.
Ms Susan Rukweza described the last four weeks of her stay in the southern neighbouring country as “pure hell”.
“I had only gone to South Africa for a church gathering and left my children in Zimbabwe. Staying away from my children gave me nightmares. I was heartbroken when the lockdown was extended by another two weeks.
“As a parent you get worried when you do not know how your children are coping under such conditions. I am glad that our Government managed to facilitate our return.”
For Mr Shepherd Mufara of Masvingo, lockdown in a foreign land is something he never wants to experience again.
He said most cross-border traders were caught unawares and had run out of food stocks and money.
“I am one of the people who got ecstatic when news broke out that the embassy was facilitating our repatriation,” said Miss Ashley Nyamhondoro from Mashonaland West.
“Things were getting tough. I could neither raise money for rentals, nor upkeep. I have been working there (SA) for six months.
“I would rather start a new life in my home country than being locked up with nothing to sustain my stay in a foreign land.”
Several other returnees had similar tales of agony, relief and gratitude.
Migration itself is nothing new globally, more-so in Southern Africa where colonialism forced people to migrate from rural areas to towns to seek employment to fend for their families.
Later, with the growth of mines, particularly in South Africa, people travelled from all over southern Africa to work in the gold and diamond mines of Africa’s biggest economy. Thousands from the region worked and perished there.
Zimbabweans are spread all over the world — with about 300 000 formally registered as migrant workers in SA. Most are drawn to the expanse south of the Limpopo River because of that country’s sound economy while for others, labour migration is simply a way of life.
Though many people have moved to SA since the 19th Century, many migrated around 2009 when Pretoria relaxed travel restrictions.
The following year, SA was to host the FIFA World Cup, but had a lot of outstanding infrastructure development projects hence the introduction of the Zimbabwe Special Dispensation Permit (DZP) to boost their workforce.
Hundreds of thousands responded to the neighbourly call.
Since then, SA has become a second home to citizens from north of the Limpopo in either a formal or less formal setup.
Through labour migration many Zimbabweans have afforded the general upkeep of their families.
However, the year 2020 has been a turning point for many migrants, mostly the Zimbabwean community, with the rapid spread of the Covid-19 pandemic.
In response, Government is assisting its nationals, with the help of many partners, to bring its nationals home via the Beitbridge Border Post.
Upon getting to Beitbridge, they are screened and sent to various quarantine centres closer to their homes.
Several Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and UN agencies have responded to the Zimbabwean Embassy’s call to assist their compatriots with varied needs.
The Zimbabwe Community in SA has a database of 1 500 of their fellow countrymen in need of food aid while another organisation, Unity Zimbabwe, said it had registered more than 1 000 people for similar aid.
In essence, the situation for most Zimbabweans in the neighbouring country remains dire.
Others are not too keen to come back home as they anticipate the Covid-19 phase will pass soon but for many, home is best.