A ‘Makwerekwere’ perspective on life and elections in Khayelitsha

My name is Mercy Godwin I am a 28-year-old Zimbabwean national who has called a shack in Khayelitsha home for the last four years. A few years ago I had plans to pursue a degree in law back home, but instead, I left my two kids and a house with running water and a toilet in Harare for South Africa, hoping to bring my family closer to financial stability.

Life is better in Zimbabwe on every level. There, we live in big houses and it is safe, but there are no jobs. Even if you have a job, salaries are often not paid for months and so you work for nothing. I don’t pay much attention to South African politics and I don’t have big expectations of change post 7th May like some South Africans. I do long to live in a safer South Africa however.

The people in my community are unhappy with their country. They complain about the crime and about service delivery, but they are not prepared to change their vote. They will vote ANC again and then continue to complain because that is what South Africans do, complain.

In Zimbabwe we may not be happy with the way our country is run, but we don’t have the same freedoms that South African’s have to openly vote for who we please. If you speak out too loudly against the government you can get locked up. Here, everyone complains but don’t do anything about their feelings.

I live in Khayelitsha and experience the community in the same way the South Africans do and the people are fed up with violent crime. Like thousands of other women living in Khayelitsha, I was attacked and raped on my way home from church one night. I did not go to the police… most women don’t. It is a normal thing here and we just have to move on.

The streets are filled with young men. They have no jobs and nothing to do and so they get involved in crime. There are not enough police for all the crime and residents have had enough and so they take the law into their own hands. This place is more dangerous than home, especially for foreigners because nobody cares about us here, including the police. They can’t even help their own people so how will they help a foreigner?

In Zimbabwe there is also a slow response from police and the people may ‘arrest’ a criminal themselves and maybe beat him lightly until the police come but they don’t kill.

I stay to provide a better life for my children in Zimbabwe where I hope they can stay, because South Africa is no place for a child. I only see my kids for two weeks, once a year when I go home. It is heartbreaking to hear them cry on the phone and so I limit calls as well. Here I can live and eat and even send some money home to my kids each month and this is why I stay.

I often think of moving them here and I have tried it once before but it didn’t work out. They could not move around freely here because of the crime. They were attacked many times on the way to school and their standard of education went down. I found Zimbabwean schools to offer a much higher level of education than the schools here.

It is a hard life here and the Xhosa people hate us. I never in my life thought I would be in a foreign country surrounded by people who can attack me at any minute and looking after someone else’s children, but it is my only option.

I am often shouted at in the taxi and accused of stealing jobs but I believe Zimbabweans are better employees and that is why we get jobs here. The Xhosas are lazy and spoilt. They don’t really want to work and they want everything for nothing. Back home we can’t expect anything from our government. There are no child grants or houses that are handed out. We have to work for what we want.

I have never seen this kind of violence in my life. The police never come or come too late and so I understand why the community wants to defend itself, but they go too far. I have seen men stripped and beaten to death while small children look on or even help. This is no way to raise children. It can only lead to more violence in the community.


As told to Jess Mouneimne