Most people in South Africa say 2012 has been full of challenges. The year was marred by violent strikes in the transport and mining sectors, while unemployment increased in a nation where an estimated two million Zimbabweans live in South Africa.
Most of them would agree that 2012 was a difficult year, but many are optimistic that elections in Zimbabwe in 2013 will bring stability, so that they may return and settle permanently back home.
Ugly scenes of violent striking miners and truck drivers singing and wielding traditional weapons dominated South African news in 2012. The events of August 16, when police opened fire using live ammunition and gunned down 35 striking miners, were perhaps the bitterest reminder that economic conditions for both the employed and the unemployed are tough.
For many of the estimated two million or more Zimbabweans living in South Africa, 2012 has been no easier. With the recent census revealing that six million South Africans are jobless, Zimbabwean Sipho Moyo says finding work—especially without proper documentation—was especially challenging.
“Zimbabweans in South Africa are still facing a lot of challenges, especially on jobs, unemployment in South Africa,” Sipho Moyo says.
“What we have seen is that in South Africa now those jobs are now scarce, there are no jobs. People come here with the hope for a better life, but it turns out the life becomes even more harder when you are here in South Africa.”
Arthur Ncube, a Zimbabwean artist living in South Africa, submitted a number of proposals requesting funding for his acting, music and dance projects, but none of them was accepted.
He is concerned by what he terms increased ill-treatment of Zimbabweans by the South African police in 2012.
“We still suffer this word that I can quote as ‘a foreigner coming from Zimbabwe to come and grab my stuff here’, so, mostly we were just people who were left out. And there is still lots and lots of people who have got xenophobic attitudes. So, definitely all things were closed out for people like us,” says Mr. Ncube.
However, Butholezwe Nyathi believes the year wasn’t all bad for Zimbabweans living in South Africa.
He says he saw slight improvement of economic conditions and the availability of basic commodities back in Zimbabwe brought some relief to those in the Diaspora who previously had to provide from South Africa virtually everything their families back home needed.
According to Mr. Nyathi, the issuance of work, study and business permits to many Zimbabweans who applied during a special dispensation in 2010, was the greatest relief in 2012.
“We saw people using their permits that they were given here in South Africa to go in and out of Zimbabwe, to settle in jobs where they are employed and to access their income properly through banks and all the stuff and they were able even to support people in Zimbabwe properly, so I will say it was a better year,” says Mr. Nyathi.
Regardless of how 2012 was, most Zimbabweans agree that the national Zimbabwean elections in 2013 are their greatest hope to enjoy normal lives back home.
Although they still hope South African authorities will work on creating more jobs and improving the lives of both locals and foreign nationals, they want elections next year to pave the way for their return to Zimbabwe.
Arthur Ncube sees the South African economy slowing and says he would prefer to return to his homeland.
Mr. Ncube says, “A lot of strikes happening in here have actually crippled the whole economy and I for one see that it’s more or less following the Zimbabwean channel. This is what happened way back home. We don’t know. Only the clock knows the answer.”
Sipho Moyo says she is also eager the elections next year. “I’m looking forward to change in Zimbabwe, like politically we are hoping that there will be an election in Zimbabwe that will bring economic and political stability. In that sense then we will have hope of coming back home.”
Butholezwe Nyathi is also hopeful that the 2013 elections can provide those suffering in the Diaspora with a chance to return. “It’s a year when people must decide on a government that they want.They need to choose a political party that will gain legitimacy and govern with the people’s mandate. And govern properly, so that we create pull factors, so that our people who had left the country may go back to Zimbabwe and settle in their country. It’s not nice to exist next door.”
The economic and political future of Zimbabwe and the southern Africa region is unclear, but one thing is plain: Zimbabweans in South Africa yearn to return home.