For those that dont know, this concerns Zimbabweans who have been working on fruit farms (mainly grape farms) in De Doorns which is about 3 hours out of Cape Town. They have had their homes and property destroyed by South Africans who have forced them to leave on the grounds that Zimbos take their jobs and undercut locals by accepting lower wages.
I am pretty disheartened by the reports about these attacks because I had the privilege of going there and visiting a church of Zimbabwean farm workers at this time last year for a research project I was working on that dealt with the casualisation of farm labour (ehe, I am a labour law researcher and my field of specialisation is precarious or vulneable workers) . We spent the whole morning in a church service where these people gave testimonies about the trials they had been through to get to De Doorns. Many of them had come straight from Zim, after hearing (from family or friends) that De Doorns was a good place to find a decent job and some money. Others had been living elsewhere in SA and had come to De Doorns in search of greener pastures. A lot of these people had completed high school and had worked very dignified jobs, teachers and so on. Many had children that they had left at home or were old enough to be retired, but they had felt they had no choice but to come here and work.
One lady recounted how she and a group of others had travelled all the way to the Eastern Cape to get their asylum papers because the farmers did not employ workers without papers of some sort. They spent several nights there before they were even allowed into the Home Affairs Office and served. Only on the first night they were able to sleep on the bus, the rest of the time they slept out in the open and with no access to water etc they were not even able to take a bath during that time! The lady (very bold and with a lot of drama and humour) said that the home affairs people had treated them as dogs and tried to chase them away, and so she and her friends decided “bva tirimbwa” (then we are dogs), and refused to back down and refused to leave until the Home Affairs people assisted them. YHO, the lady had guts! A very sad tale was that of a Zim farm worker who was part of this congregation that had died while in De Doorns. Money was tight so there was no question of taking him to his family in Zim for burial. In fact money was a problem for him to be buried in De Doorns, he had been sitting in a mortuary for two weeks because the family and the congregation had not been able to raise just over R 1000 that was needed to take the body and bury him.
My colleague and I spent the afternoon interviewing individual workers to get to know more about their personal experiences. We spoke to about 20 farm workers who worked on different farms in the area, but their experiences were very similar. EVERY SINGLE ONE of them said they were earning R 60, which at the time (we had confirmed in separate interviews with South African workers) was what the South African casual workers were getting everyday.Many of them were employed through SOUTH AFRICAN individuals who operated as labour brokers by supplying workers to farmers in exchange for a fee. They worked long hours, no social security benefits, no sick leave and no work no pay really. This was very similar to the situation of South African workers we had previously interviewed. So while I cannot totally dispute the claims that the South African workers have made, I really think there is reason to be skeptical about these claims that all the foreigners are undercutting the locals.
Things were very very hard for our people, it was just heartbroking to hear their experience, and at the time there had been some xenophobic rumblings but those were nipped in the bud before things got out of hand. At that time I was very grateful that God had spared them and that at least they were able to live and work peacefully. But that was only to be for so long. So reading these reports now really makes me sad because they are not random people who I dont know from a bar of soap. Reading about these attacks, I can see their faces, hear their voices, feel their hands on mine as we shook hands… They are fellow Zimbabweans, whom I sat and fellowshipped with, sang and prayed with, talked and laughed with. People who were very warm, very welcoming and friendly and shared a lot of jokes and good Zimbo humour despite their circumstances. We were so humbled to be invited to the pastor’s home where we shared a meal with the family, it was just so moving.
That was a profound experience for me because up until then I had thought I had problems. But here were my fellow country people living and working under really appalling conditions, talking laughing, holding on to their hope and faith, they were were so dignified. They were keeping their heads up in the worst of circumstances! I was truly awed and ashamed of myself. It was truly inspiring, there was a semblance of a silver lining to this cloud.
AND NOW THIS??????????????
Thixo somandla, senzeni na? Nhai Mwari tatadzei? Lord, What have we done??
By Pamhidzai Bamu