Migrants Recount Horror
Clad in shabby and ragged trousers with callused toes poking through tattered sneakers, Tafadzwa feels scared, ashamed and alone at the little ‘Sodom and Gomorrah’ in Shoshanguve in Pretoria as he leans on a moribund house with draughty corridors that allow cold air to seep under the door like the tide on the frigid desolate beach.
By Silence Gwande
Plagued by nightmares, flashbacks and definitely unpleasant memories, the 33-year-old father of five narrates his ordeal.
‘’I was sodomised by four men.”
The horrendous story of this Rusape born puny ragamuffin who is one of Zimbabweans living as vagabonds in Soshanguve in South Africa, at a health hazard and desolate homestead that has been turned into a home cum shebeen where prostitution, thuggery and every kind of social ills are wild and flagrant is painful.
He is HIV positive but he is failing to get anti retrovirus drugs.
‘’Two men approached me when I was in Petersburg working for a construction company and asked me if I knew how to do plumbing. I told them I was a plumber by profession and they asked me to accompany them to Rustenburg the following day for a big contract they had had struck,” recounts Tafadzwa who left Zimbabwe for South Africa in 2008 in search of greener pastures when the economic and political temperatures had reached boiling point.
“They came the following day as per our agreement. They had promised me a lot of money. Little did I know these men were up for something,” says the former Railways of Zimbabwe employee who was left jobless when he got retrenched in 2007.
“We travelled about 200km when one of the two men moved closer to me. He took a white cloth and blindfolded me. I asked him what was going on but the man did not respond. He sprayed something on my face that made me dizzy and only regained consciousness later on. I found myself in a very big house facing four men, one of them holding a gun”.
“One of them came and took me to another room and ordered me to undress. I tried to resist but he threatened me with a very big knife that was in that room and I complied forthwith to save my life. He sodomised me and left me lying prostrate in the room. After I regained some strength, the other men came and sodomised me once more. This happened for several days,” says the father of five who does not even know how his children are surviving back home in Manicaland province.
According to Tafadzwa, the sodomists would leave him locked in the house and come back and take turns to abuse him. He escaped from that house when he found a window and broke it with a chair.
“I then jumped the security wall that surrounded the property when I realized that I was in the midst of a very big farm. I started running until I got to a train station, where I met a Zimbabwean man. I told him my story and he brought me to this place here in Soshanguve. I am happy I managed to escape from those men,” said Tafadzwa as he broke down uncontrollably.
To put it perfectly, the place where Tafadzwa and other foreign nationals live is an abomination and unpleasant sight.
Young children could be seen playing with used condoms and due to lack of sanitary pads, women in that area use pieces of dirty cloths that are disposed of in the open. Serious drug shortage including anti retroviral drugs is a major cause for concern as almost all residents at that place need medical attention.
“We use these cloths because we don’t have money to buy pads, we are not working we just rely on the benevolence of our clients,” says Emma, a Ugandan woman who has since taken to sex work out of desperation.
The place is overpopulated and has only small two rooms that are shared by more than 30 people. These use one mobile toilet that was donated by a well wisher in July this year. Sometimes it gets so full leaving these people to relieving themselves at a nearby bush along the banks of a stream. Severe outbreaks of diarrhea are very common because the fecal contaminated stream is their only source of water.
Women, men and children who reside at that shebeen in Soshanguve experience all sorts of abuse and although they make a report to the police nothing is done because authorities start by first demanding passports and valid permits. This has resulted in most of the women to suffer in silence according to Anny, a Somalia national who fled hunger and political instability from her country five years ago.
“We are being abused all the time but it is difficult for us to report because we have no proper documents that allow us to stay here because most of the times when we alert authorities we end up being arrested. Our passports and asylum documents have long expired and we are experiencing difficulties to renew these papers,” she said.
Children, who are supposed to be in school, can be seen wandering around the area. Some of these minors were abandoned by their parents leaving them to beg or pick food from rubbish dump sites.
“I was left here two years ago and I don’t know where my mother is because she said she was going to town to buy me bread but she hasn’t returned since,” said a 10-year-old Malawian boy who last bathed in January this year.
According to people who live around a nearby shebeen noted that sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in these children were just too high.
“It is so painful to see children failing to go to school and worse there are no ablution facilities except the mobile toilet that was donated to them by a well wisher few months ago. They have been affected seriously by this situation and a large number of these people staying there have STIs,” said Mandla Maponyane, a South African who stays few metres away from the area.
Another case of migrant abuse has also been witnessed in Botswana where Zimbabweans are being sexually abused by Botswana soldiers after being arrested for not having valid permits or passports said Chipo, a 28-year-old former supermarket worker who is a victim of such abuse.
“We are suffering here but the situation in Botswana was worse than we are in right now because we are being abused by the soldiers whom we thought would protect us from the same abuse,” said the Mberengwa born mother of two pointing out that this was the reason why she left Botswana in May last year for South Africa.
According to the migrants in Soshanguve, the situation is not all that rosy and their dream to improve their situation economically and get safe haven as some had run away from war tone countries has been shattered. They are enduring quite a number of problems ranging from health problems, hunger, sexual abuse especially women , destitution due to lack of job opportunities, STIs, HIV and other traumatic issues that cause stress and disorders.
Zimbabweans living outside the country are estimated to be around four million with the majority in South Africa, Botswana and the US and the United Kingdom. This mass exodus was engineered by political and economic instability in many parts of African countries in the north of South Africa.
Africa report on internal displacement says at least 2.4 million internal displacements were caused by conflict and violence making Africa second only to the Middle East for violence as a cause of flight. 1.1 million displacements were caused by rapid- onset disasters, a million caused by flooding alone leading to migration.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) Zimbabwe launched a four year IOM Zimbabwe Strategic Plan (2015-2018) to set out the cooperation agenda between the IOM, the Government of Zimbabwe, development partners, United Nations agencies, civil society organizations on migration management.
Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) member states as well as aid agencies concurred that protecting and assisting migrants is “our collective responsibility”.
“We must join efforts to respond to crises impacting migrants to save lives, increase their protection, decrease their vulnerability and improve targeted assistance”, said Bogdan Danila, Emergency and Post-Crisis Specialist with IOM’s Regional Office for Southern Africa recently at the conference in Pretoria, South Africa.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030 seek to address these humanitarian crises and vulnerability of migrants as well as protecting them. According to United Nations, the number international migrants reached 244 million in 2015 translating to a 41 percent increase compared to 2000 and has probably increased to date given the conflicts and disasters in most continents especially Africa.