The year 2019 has arguably been a bloody one for Zimbabwean nationals living in South Africa as xenophobia reared its ugly head once again and as the rate of homicides soared even higher. What makes it more difficult for us to understand the urgency of the situation is the lack of official bonafide statistics from both governments on those Zimbabweans who die due to homicide in South Africa. Let me hasten to add that crime in South Africa does not discriminate on the basis of nationality and locals suffer the scourge as much as anyone else. However, it’s not an exaggeration to state that foreign nationals, and Zimbabweans in particular, are a vulnerable group – an easy target – for all manner of crimes in South Africa.
‘…the nonsensical and painful order or proceedings’
Whilst statistics matter and whilst the situation is the hot topic of the day, what’s often not appreciated are the people, the humans, the fathers, sons, mothers and daughters behind the headlines and WhatsApp forwards. What’s also difficult to fathom are, at times, the trivial circumstances that lead to the demise of an innocent person. I looked into some of the cases where Zimbabwean lives ended violently to highlight the nonsensical and painful order of proceedings in South Africa today. Many families I approached declined to
contribute as the pain of losing a loved one remained too unbearable to share.
It was a calm day and Themba was in a pub sipping a few beers when armed men barged in and demanded that everyone hand over their cellphones. Themba had two phones so he gave just one to the robbers. That was a grave mistake. As the thieves were leaving, his other phone rang. One of the robbers, with anger etched across his face, turned on Themba. A gunshot rang out and soon after, Themba’s body lay lifeless.
He was a security guard, recently promoted and given a house to go with that promotion. Some locals were bypassed for the same promotion. One night, three men broke into his home and shot him four times in the chest. He left behind a family cursing the ill fate that
came with what had appeared to be a blessing
He was a young Uber driver in Cape Town found dead in his car with stab wounds. No one has been arrested.
Amos was another Uber driver who went to pick up a customer from a pub. When he walked into the pub, a gang stole his phone. As he tried to get it back, they led him outside under the false pretense of returning it. Unsuspectingly, Amos followed them. Once outside, he was stabbed in the face and left to bleed to death. A graphic video depicting him gasping for breath went viral.
Jason was a Zimbabwean teacher who had been in South Africa for barely three months when he was gunned down for a cellphone.
He was an entrepreneur selling livestock in Pretoria. One day late in November 2019, men with guns passed through his place of business and gunned him down,
leaving his family in deep grief.
‘Why should people take steps to avoid being killed rather than murderers simply stop killing?’
Cases like these are repeated hundred-fold across the nation. Some say that foreign nationals should be careful about where they live and avoid places like Mfuleni, Delft, Slovo, Gugulethu, Delft and Nyanga in Cape Town where the murder rates are apparently high. However, many Zimbabweans (and other immigrants) have limited choice when it comes to where they can live because of their precarious financial situations. In many ways, this is a form of victim-blaming and will not in any way solve the problem. Why should people take steps to avoid being killed rather than murderers
simply stop killing?
‘Our lives matter’
A foreigner anywhere in the world is vulnerable – that is fact – but of course the risks that come with that vulnerability vary. Whilst those in power work out how to address the situation, we ourselves have to find a way to demonstrate that our lives matter. With this
in mind, Zimbabweans in South Africa should claim agency so that issues that affect them are dealt with at the highest level. Agency refers to the protection of the rights of those that find themselves in the diaspora. To achieve this means that one’s presence in the country is recorded. This is not to say that being a faceless, nameless person means you have no rights to being treated as a human being should. Name or no name, a human
being has a right to life.
What else can we do? Diasporan organisations can consider taking steps to ensure that any death of a Zimbabwean is documented. This solid evidence can then be taken to the relevant authorities. Not only does this provide them with the statistics they say they need
to act, but it also increases the chances of the perpetrators being brought to book. Perhaps with time this will reverse the notion that Zimbabweans are easy targets who can be eliminated without consequences. These are by no means the only steps that we can take
to protect Zimbabwean lives, and indeed the lives of any vulnerable group of people. But…the situation is urgent, and we must start somewhere.
We at HoM would like to extend our condolences and
wishes for peace to all who lost loved ones this year in
NB – For the sake of the dignity and privacy of the families
of the deceased the names used in this piece are not
the names of the actual people involved.