With the availability of basic goods not being guaranteed in their home country, many Zimbabweans make their way across the border to stock up on basic goods before returning home.
It’s a journey that has played itself out over and over again over the past few years.
Zimbabweans looked again to South Africa to buy goods that are not available in their home country after Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s announcement of petrol price increases that would see the cost of fuel increase three-fold. The announcement triggered uncertainty surrounding bond notes and currency and also led to protests, including shops being looted. The government has responded by cracking down on protesters and blocking the Internet.
Citing safety concerns, various bus companies temporarily suspended their cross border services for a few days last week, leaving commuters stranded in Joburg until services resumed – by the weekend.
“It’s a very tight situation, unbearable. You have to come here, buy whatever you want and return home in the hope that things will get better soon,” said 35-year-old Jacquelin Bere from Chipinge in Zimbabwe.
Bere and a relative came to South Africa to buy groceries and other household goods. Speaking to Daily Maverick on Friday she said had they not made the trip to South Africa, they don’t know how their families would have survived. The two left Zimbabwe on January 11 and were due to head back on Tuesday, but instead found themselves stuck in Johannesburg because there was no transport due to the protests in Zimbabwe.
“You have to think that the Mugabe era was even better than what we are going through now. Mnangagwa goes on a R70,000 per hour plane and spends R5-million on a trip to Russia amid so much suffering in our country,” Bere said. Mnangagwa said on Sunday he was cutting short his current foreign tour to return home “in the light of the economic situation”.
Bere said before she came to South Africa, she had spent 24 hours at a garage waiting to fill up her car despite there being only six cars ahead of her in the queue. She said before she left Zimbabwe fares had tripled, and that many garages had already run out of fuel even before the price increases.
Bere and her relative were not the only ones who found themselves stuck in Johannesburg. Many other Zimbabweans who planned to go home or send goods home were left stranded.
“I have been stuck in South Africa since Monday because there were no buses home,” said 43-year-old Letticia Ndlovu from Kwekwe in Zimbabwe.
Ndlovu travels to South Africa frequently and normally spends a few days selling ornaments before she returns to Zimbabwe to get more stock. Ndlovu, who begged for food, said she was extremely hungry as she had run out of money. She said her other fear was that due to the large fuel price increase she might have to pay more for her luggage. Ndlovu spent four nights at the Johannesburg Park Station waiting for buses to resume services.
“The problem in Zimbabwe is the president. He has failed to attract investment to stimulate the economy,” Ndlovu said.
“Now schools are closed, but they do not care because their children are studying in good schools outside the country.”
Greyhound was one of the bus companies which suspended its services to and from Zimbabwe. A Greyhound spokesperson said its services had been suspended for two days while the company monitored the situation.
“Our offices advised us that there was a threat of violence against our staff and coaches if we operated. Also, an Eagle Liner was attacked and torched the Tuesday/Wednesday,” Unitrans operations executive Jasen Smallbone said.
“Not operating was in the interest of our staff and customers’ safety,” said Smallbone.
While some Zimbabweans said they were struggling to send food parcels home, others said they had sent enough food in November and December. Many said they were sending much more food and money than they used to.
Food items include cooking oil, flour, and canned goods.
“You obviously want to send more money than you used to because things have gone up,” said 28-year-old Thandi Moyo, who lives in Johannesburg.
The mother of 16-month-old twins said she was the breadwinner for people back home. Moyo is currently not at work because her twins are still quite young. She came to the bus terminus to meet her younger sister who is in the country to visit. Moyo said her view was that Zimbabwe was failing because of poor governance.
“The same people are still in power. Nothing much has changed, really. The country is still in the same hands as before. Instead of witnessing positive change, things are starting to look much worse,” Moyo said.
Natasha Bhinga, 32, concurred.
“You cannot say that there has been change in Zimbabwe when the same regime is still in power. It would be naïve to think that the removal of one individual, Robert Mugabe, would usher in big changes.”
Bhinga said she had not been able to send her family anything since the strike as there was no transport. She said she went to the bus terminus on Tuesday, but was told there were no buses. She was worried that because of the fuel price increase, she might have to pay more for her parcels.
“I am used to paying R400 for my parcels irrespective of their size, but now with the petrol hike, prices might have go up.”
Added Bhinga: “There are currently far too many problems in our country. They want to use US dollars, yet the exchange rate of bonds to dollars is too high. They don’t want rands either. If you have rands you have to change them”.
Many Zimbabweans declined to speak to Daily Maverick, saying that the levels of intimidation since Mnangagwa took over the reins from Mugabe were unprecedented.
The South African civic organisation Right2Know protested outside the Zimbabwean embassy in Pretoria on Friday in solidarity with the people of Zimbabwe.
The picket was to demand that Mnangagwa’s government “stop their attacks on and the killing of the Zimbabwean people who are simply exercising their right to protest against escalating political and economic repression”.
As the violence escalated in Zimbabwe, there were pleas from various quarters for the South African government to intervene.
“We are calling on the government of South Africa to take a firm stand against the attacks/killings and internet shutdown and act in support of the Zimbabwean people and to place maximum political pressure on Mnangagwa and his government,” read a statement from the South African labour union Solidarity.
Said Bere: “I’m sure Mugabe is smiling from cheek to cheek, wherever he is.” DM
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