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I left Zimbabwe to live in South Africa and I want to go back, but this is why it’s not so simple

I left Zimbabwe to live in South Africa and I want to go back, but this is why it’s not so simple
The family homestead in Buhera District in Manicaland Province, eastern Zimbabwe. (Photo: Bernard Chiguvare)

I have supported my family by working legally in South Africa.

Many South Africans wonder why so many of us Zimbabweans came to be settled in their country, and wonder why we do not simply return to our homeland.

This is my story — about my rural homestead in Zimbabwe that I felt forced to leave. I would like to go back and spend the rest of my life there, but it isn’t that simple.

From the early 1960s, I lived in Buhera District in Manicaland Province. I have a deep bond with this place, even though the soil is today very poor for farming.

In 1987 I got married. My uncle allocated me three hectares to build a family homestead. I was earning a salary that allowed me to immediately build a three-bedroomed house and also a small rondavel. Though my wish was to build a better home, I had limited resources.

We used to grow groundnuts and maize for our own consumption.

Then, around 1998, I became employed by the Zimbabwean Public Service Commission under the Department of Home Affairs, and I relocated my family to Harare, because I was working there. Later, I was transferred to Masvingo District.

During these years I used to employ someone to look after my home and the animals. I made sure that every holiday our family returned to our rural home.

In 2006, during the Zimbabwe economic meltdown, four of my six children were at boarding school. My salary had become tiny when converted to the South African rand or US dollar. I couldn’t even afford my accommodation. My resources were so strained that I had to let go of the person looking after my rural home. I still used to visit regularly, but I noticed the house was being burgled and vandalised.

It was a difficult situation. Should I leave my home to be vandalised so that I can just focus on my children’s education? I decided this was the best I could do, and I had to all but abandon my rural home.

But it soon became apparent that if I did not make a plan by the end of 2006, my children were going to be forced to drop out of school.

I sought advice from a friend, a teacher, who used to buy shoes from Bata Shoe Company in Zimbabwe to sell in South Africa. I tried to join him but it did not work out for me.

By 2007, I had noticed that a number of my friends had left for South Africa. My wife also went to Cape Town and was selling various things, such as brooms.

I asked myself, “Should I, too, leave Zimbabwe for South Africa?” I had worked for nine years under the Department of Home Affairs. What work could I look for in South Africa? I simply did not know. My salary had become worthless, so I left my job. In March 2007 I left for South Africa.

But always at the back of my mind was my rural and true home, where I wished to retire one day. I love the place — the environment and its biodiversity. There is enough space for gardening and a bit of crop farming. I used to keep ten head of cattle, but three were stolen and the others I had to sell.

By 2010 my home had been completely vandalised. I have no idea who did it, but they not only stole everything — our clothes, the three-piece lounge suite, the kitchen utensils — they also made off with the window frames, the panes and the doors. It was distressing, but I had to remain steadfast, concentrating on the education of my children.

I eventually found someone to look after the place again, but when he visited his family during the Christmas holiday, he never returned. I have been told he was seeking work at a mine about 60km east of my home. No one was staying at the house.

In November last year, I returned to find that the roofs of the rondavel and the house had caved in. But I have started to renovate the place and I plan to extend it.

In 2009, the South African government introduced the Dispensation of Zimbabwean Permit, which became the Zimbabwean Special Permit (ZSP) in 2014 and the Zimbabwe Exemption Permit (ZEP) in 2017. Then it was announced that the ZEP would expire in June this year.

For all these years I could manage to support my family by working legally in South Africa. If the ZEP ends, I will have to return to Zimbabwe and live at my rural home.

I love my home and wish to stay there, but right now I am not sure how I will manage it financially. DM

Bernard Chiguvare is a freelance reporter who publishes often with GroundUp.

First published by GroundUp.

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Peter Doble says:

    This is one of the most distressing stories of economic displacement that I have read. And yet it applies to so many Zimbabweans, and indeed emigrants from countries destroyed by war, political destruction, persecution and natural disasters. I know many hardworking migrants who are delightful, gentle and industrious who daily face xenophobic attacks, the constant threat of expulsion all while trying to sustain families and build or maintain a home in their native countries. Their resilience, resolve and optimism is deeply moving and is worthy of great respect.

  • Julia Thomas says:

    My housekeeper of 32 years has had to leave me to return to Zimbabwe because of the permits expiring in June, I am missing her terribly the plan was that she was going to be our carer instead of us having to go into a home later on, she was our carer now to a certain extent, she’s irreplaceable after all this time, she is still only 60 years of age, supports her family back in Zim, over the years we have been very generous employers, 2 months fully paid leave to tend to her affairs in Zim, helped paid towards her kids tertiary education etc. So hardworking, she was part of our family, this of course affects at least 200,000 Zimbabweans, SA economy is going to suffer has any politicians thought of that? Fidelia also has a homestead , animals, children that had to be looked after, a very similar story to the writer. Millions if you include their dependents are going to suffer, I hear heartbreaking stories, presumably this is only happening to garner votes.

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