Economic migrant: “Itâ€s not like we donâ€t want to be in our own country”

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Xenophobic attacks in Soweto and Philippi have made the headlines this year, but away from the spotlight political or economic refugees struggle each day to make a better life in South Africa. BEAUTY MUGERUWA*, a Zimbabwean living in East London, told Bongiwe Tutu her story. 

Iâ€ve been in South Africa for about three years now. I came because I had to find work to support myself and my family. Where I come from, in Zimbabwe, work is really scarce and difficult to get.

South Africans always ask us: “What are you doing here in our country? This country has too many of you people – why donâ€t you stay in your own country?” And they demand explanations that you cannot always give, because you feel threatened and afraid of giving the wrong answer – if there is even a right one.

Itâ€s not like we donâ€t want to be in our own country – we do. I want to be home, but I have to earn a living. I tried applying for jobs in my country, and I didnâ€t even get contacted.

And I have responsibilities at home: my parents died and my aunt needs support for her children and my little sister.

I obtained my diploma in stalls management and inventory control in 2010. I wanted to be involved in procurement of buying and selling goods. But Iâ€ve never actually used what Iâ€m qualified for – Iâ€m even forgetting the things I studied.

But my dream is to pursue more: I want to advance myself. I want to get a stable, formal job where I can have my salary at the end of the month, with benefits like medical aid. But I havenâ€t been able to secure this since I came to South Africa.

I have dropped my CV at a number of places. I even applied to work at a salon where I could use my hairdressing skills, just so I could be doing something and getting something. I even applied to be a grade R teacher, just to find a starting point.

I did find work at a hair studio. But I saw that I was being taken advantage of. The owner did not pay me what we had agreed on so I stopped working there because it was not getting me anywhere.

We had agreed on a payment of R2,500 a month with transport money, because I have to travel to and from Berea, where I am staying with my uncle and his wife. What they did instead was to deduct the transport money from the agreed salary, so I would end up getting R1,800. If I didnâ€t have any relatives offering me a place to stay here, I was not going to be able to afford rent and food with that salary.

Iâ€d like to study in South Africa, and become a teacher. I see there is a great need for good teachers, and I have a passion for helping others. If I could get a good job, I would study here and teach. I know I would have to pay for my studies here, because they donâ€t offer free education to foreigners, and bursaries for foreigners are scarce too. So thatâ€s why I need a stable job.

I am now working as a shopkeeper at a spaza shop and I get R2,500 with transport money – which is not bad. But I have to send about R1,800 to R2,000 to my home in Zimbabwe.

The purpose of me coming to this country is so that I can make money – not spend it all. But I always end up with barely enough and I can never do nice things for myself. I donâ€t even have a South African bank account because there is no use for it; I canâ€t afford to save money.

I just want to go to school, you know. And become a better me. I sometimes look at South Africans and think they donâ€t realise how privileged they are. When they get a child, they get money. When they get ill, they get money. When they get old, they get money. When they donâ€t get food or transport money at school, they strike, and get money.

I wish things were that black and white for some of us.

*Name has been changed.
– Featured image: By Bongiwe Tutu.

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