Zimbabwean Exiles: Life in the Dark Valley between starvation and desperate poverty


A fresh wave of reluctant economic exiles from across the Limpopo River now calls South Africa home. And burrowed deep within a five-kilometre radius of one nondescript shopping mall situated in the heart of Gauteng Province stands an unpleasant demonstration of radical economic empowerment in Zimbabwe gone wrong.

File picture of Zimbabwean exiles in South Africa

While the place is fairly small and unsophisticated by any substantial standard in Johannesburg, Midway Mews Shopping Centre – one of numerous communal facilities in the sprawling residential area commonly known as Halfway House, is ever so busy, especially after work hours and on weekends, because it is located in a very profitable catchment area for national supermarket chains, fast food outlets and an anomalous mass of economic migrants from across the whole sub-Saharan African region – as Halfway House houses thousands of upper and middle-class residents, and that rich and diverse population lures thousands of would-be domestic workers unrelentingly, both locals and foreigners, who live in nearby Tembisa – a huge high density suburb, to look for full-time and temporary work in the area. Lately, the hunt for household jobs has developed into an enormously conspicuous public spectacle. 

I drive along Harry Galaun Drive, near Midway Mews, on a Saturday morning; hoping to get a hard, long look at the job seekers from Zimbabwe who regularly promote their services at the shopping centre. Before I turn into the road that leads to the mall, I immediately see scores of potential labourers milling around in the sunshine on either side of the narrow street, only a few metres away from the gated entrance to the mall.

The Zimbabwean ladies appear rather anxious and pretty desperate. In the past aspiring domestic workers placed ads in the Midrand Reporter, a local paper, or stuck notices of availability next to the public board by the FNB ATM, after which they would wait for people to call them. 

However – as more and more asylum seekers from Zimbabwe settled in the nearby areas, neighbourhoods like Ivory Park, Ebony Park, Mayibuye, Olievenhoutbosch, and Diepsloot, the competition for scarce jobs stiffened, and the direct approach to seeking work became incredibly popular. I drive past the ladies leisurely, but do not make eye contact with anyone. I feel a slight sense of guilt overwhelm me, and wish I could help. I really do.

The women stand and watch an endless trickle of cars slow down before the speed hump and attempt to gain attention through raising cardboard signs: each will do household chores for an agreed fee. The largely emotionless and motionless mob of women remain on the crowded curb until late in the afternoon, holding onto the improbable hope a paying customer will appear from the multitudes of moneyed residents who enter the mall complex incessantly.

Whilst the ladies wait in highly contemplative mood for people to stop and make inquiries, a subdued chorus of chit chatter echoes but barely rivals the roaring sounds of vehicles parking next to the fuel pumps at Engen Service Station, just a stone’s throw away from the overcrowded roadside.

Engen customers enter the convenience store and fill up and leave the station within a few minutes – but the almost lifeless women are left behind, chillingly silent and clearly disqualified from the profitable margins of mainstream economic activity and social life since mall security officers will not allow the women to canvass for jobs near the busiest section of the mall: the entrance to Pick n Pay supermarket. I do my best to stay positive about this scenario but cannot shake off the dreadful impression that some of these ladies may become victims of sexual and physical abuse. The streets of Johannesburg are mean and dangerous and unforgiving.

I meet more Zimbabwean ladies assembled outside Blue Hills Shopping Centre – nearly five kilometres to the north, all willing to work for about R200 per day. While on my way back to Midway Mews Mall, I encounter another lot of job hunters that awaits a much needed source of income: a small group of roadside electricians and mechanics, who claim they can fix all-things electrical and mechanical, like fridges, stoves and electric gates and garages.

Near the apparently multitalented specialists – right by the traffic lights near Carlswald Lifestyle Centre – there are on-the-street vendors from Zimbabwe selling an assortment of fruits, pirated videos, cheap plastic devices and counterfeit replica kits at the corner of New Road and Harry Galaun Drive. (My uncle used to sell the same goods in Randburg. He did not well or badly.

But it is a tough and insecure occupation. Metro police officers often confiscate goods sold by vendors.) Also present at this traffic stop are two young women who are dressed in bright orange garb and hats. The ladies hand out leaflets for a R499 car service deal in rather sluggish and unenthusiastic manner whenever I see them at work. To the left hand side of this busy stop, there is Dros, a popular family restaurant. There, Zimbabwean waiters work for tips and a small percentage-based commission – yet without the relative reassurance of a monthly salary, social benefits and job security.

That is the miserable reality for the luckless beneficiaries of political and economic upheaval and absolute uncertainty in Zimbabwe who are competing for jobs in an economy hit by slow growth, and where, Statistics South Africa reports, the unemployment rate is approximately 27.7%.

Subsequently, these young exiles work hard and sometimes under dubious terms, simply so they can make an honest living beyond the borders of manufactured impoverishment that Zimbabwe is wallowing in. It is an excruciatingly difficult and thankless cause for the Zimbabwean exiles at times – like the unpaid car guards who wear dishevelled reflective vests and stand in the car park at Midway Mews the entire day, performing what can potentially be a highly dangerous job – one which the men are not trained nor appropriately armed to do.

The men survive on spontaneous tips from sympathetic patrons but have to pay R50 – R100 for the right to work in the car park on a daily basis. I never interrupt their conversations in Shona. But now and again I tip them more than I should. I drive further on, until I reach Caltex Garage, a short drive from Midway Mews Mall. There, the conditions of employment appear much better for the loud and humorous petrol attendants, who are mainly from Zimbabwe. 

I fill up a little and move on. When I arrive at Boulders Shopping Centre, where I usually purchase cheap, jumbo-sized chicken eggs, I see more economic exiles clad in orange overalls distributing the infamous R499 flyers. (In fact I see Zimbabwean men and women distributing these pamphlets all over the northern suburbs every day.)

I park along Church Street and take a short walk past the vegetable store. Should you ever feel homesick in Midrand and crave a packet of Cerevita Cereal, Maputi or Willards Things, to help pacify your hunger for home, Fruit and Vegetables @ Health Emporium has a superb but pricey selection of sentimental foodstuffs. I cross the busy road and enter Midrand Hyper Meat & Chicken, a budget-supermarket and butchery.

It is nestled at the corner of Church Street and real close to Midrand Taxi Rank. I pick two trays of jumbo-sized eggs, a 10kg bag of potatoes and two packets of fresh tomatoes. The not-so-customer-friendly ladies who work at the tills are all Zimbabweans.

While the man who helps me carry the potatoes to my car, immigrated to South Africa from the DRC. (And he laughingly suggests that he needs a new job. I wish he knew I do as well. He sounds knowledgeable and educated. Thanks to the political theatrics of Joseph Kabila, he lives alongside us now.) And by the way, the security guards in the store are also from DR Congo.

I thank the nameless DRC man and take a look at the Ghanaian barber in the hair salon across the road – next to the bottle store. He used to cut my hair. Then I engaged the service of the Nigerian barbers down the road a couple of times. But later, I bought a shaving machine instead. I can also see the Internet Cafe that is owned by a couple of professionals from Zimbabwe – an accountant and mining engineer. It is quite a popular place. I start the car and leave for home.

It is just another fine day in a foreign paradise for reluctant economic exiles from Zimbabwe and the African continent. The progressive aspect is: diligent and trustworthy migrants often find honest paid work to do. However, the overall outlook remains negative: there will undoubtedly be another and perhaps much bigger wave of unexcited exiles reaching these shores soon as parliamentary and presidential elections in Zimbabwe and DRC draw closer. So, the struggle for dear life will continue for the ladies on the curb.

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  • It’s sad

    • Hauzive iwewe gara kuzim kwacho

    • Nelia

      So what….tell me any country where foreigners without proper qualifications can secure a meaningful job…….

      • Baba Tencen

        Some of these authors they dont even know why I came to South Africa….I worked for 5 years in Zimbabwe and in that period I never got my full salary and how they owe me more than 15 000 (yet the company can close at any day). My calculations tells me that an average of R200 per day is far better than working for mahala in Zim……from my R200 a day I can send some dollars to Zimbabwe too

  • ichokwadi zviri kuitika

  • Not forgetin these mothers with kids who js roam round at every robot from leaf suburbs with a plate askin for coins

  • R200 when we call for them to come back home n register to vote they say we r jealous of them. Its very sad what our brothers n sisters are going through in the diaspora.

    • Its better than nothing

    • There is no need to us to vote, Mugabe will win what so ever

    • It’s better than nothing oh yes that’s true bro

    • vote for who

    • Mugabe has won already b4 u even vote

    • thats waisting money coming back to vote nekuti nezanu kupnda mumakwikwi wakadyiwa kudhara mari iyoyo kutotumira vana kana vabereki its rather better that to wast buying a ticket

    • no need to vote even if 5 people vote Mugabe will have 20 votes

    • the vote which was cast in 1980 was the root of all evil…Mugabe will always be in power kusvika azorega ega zvake.better tishandire ma2wire ..tingapere kuita ma vendor tose here,anozotenga vacho ndiani???

    • Vote for MDC to Win and join Zanupf on a coalition government and the loosers still rulling Nxaaaaaa

    • Now u are talking guys, why people dream of removing him with a ballpoint, he did air it out long ago takatora nyika neropa tichaidzosera neropa

    • Evelyne hausati wadzidza ZANU nanhasi?

    • Zanu haitombodi struteg zvachose kana diplomatics inongoda kuisiya yakadaro kusvika Mwari vazvichinja . Tsvangirai ndiye one akanga ashinga kuita nharo nayo asi he failed 2008 and will never win again isu vamwe tikangonzwa panotaurwa zve politics vanhu vakawungana tobva tatonyenyeredza hedu nekuti vanokuita short sleeved vakomana

    • How much would they get per day in Zimbabwe after registering to vote

    • vote n fr who n if u vote your vots are rigged

    • How much would they get paid per day in Zim. If you think voting will change you life think again

    • And how does that bring bread on our table since when pple are starving in Zim then l will sit down waiting for mavotes vana vachifa nenzara tisiyei zvedu isu murege kutitaurira zvekupenga kusiri kufa ndekupi . poverty is not our wish

    • 200/day is good money even here in Zim

    • Arikudheerera r200 per day uyo haazive kuti muSA unenge utori bho zvasiyana nekuZim kwamurikuAbuser $.

    • Voetsek iwe voter wega

    • Munhu uyo idofo uyo. Dei ivovacho varikuZim vaiwana R200 pazuva haiswera vachiita demonstration mumastreets. R200 yakawanda kana musingazvizive.

    • Kuvhota kunonondipa sadza here.

    • Tell them Charles ma

    • Say it again Blessing moya

    • Votai tiwone Tinashe

    • Imi shandai ikoko kuvota kun bsa rei zvisingavhinje

    • The PhD Graduate

      . Mentality yaMugabe nevanhu vake kufunga kuti munnhu wese ari kudiaspora arikushupika . Sorry hako Tinashe and dont generalize your opinion. Ini nemhuri yangu will forever be grateful and thankful to Mugabe for his mismanagementt of our economy nokuti if he had not done that I would have never attained the level of education I have now, never experienced the good life, good job, healthy investments and peace of mind I am currently experiencing in Canada. Tichadzoka kana mapedza kutishandira basa rekuchinja maitiro a sekuru. Rambai makashinga kumusha wemadzibaba

  • Shame, come back here

  • At least they have hope and a real chance of getting the job. Pamwe Ndosaka zvadaro

  • so u say R200 is not worthy a day.mmm saka iwe unotambira yakawanda kkkk

  • but surprisingly those doing (chars) are making more money than those in retail and small shops. did you know some of these ladies (with a few in mind) have at least 3 up to 5 bosses they work for every week. if we do the math, her take home could be nothing less than a 1k a week depending on how generous her char boss is. they even have Calender’s with dates and addresses. so its not always about poverty or not being able to be employed no. most have been doing it for years. its their critical skills which makes them keep on keeping on. salute ladies.

    • I like this reasoning

    • TRUE… They are getting good at the end of the month.

    • haaa amana mamai aya akarongeka and hazvidi school futi. i will tel you one thing. my boss maid is also like that. and when hes happy he can throw around a few hundred bucks just to say my home is neat. saka musashora mabasa evamwe muchiti inhamo. 200 yavanowana haina difference ne 250 yaunopiwa pa company asi remember you have 48 hrs a week. she does a few hours a day for 3 to 5 days a week and then gets a lekka pay and a few unused shirts and skirts which where bought but iri wrong size. guess whos wearing those. ivo vana vaye vekushora vari kuzimbabwe. musadaro

    • haaa amana mamai aya akarongeka and hazvidi school futi. i will tel you one thing. my boss maid is also like that. and when hes happy he can throw around a few hundred bucks just to say my home is neat. saka musashora mabasa evamwe muchiti inhamo. 200 yavanowana haina difference ne 250 yaunopiwa pa company asi remember you have 48 hrs a week. she does a few hours a day for 3 to 5 days a week and then gets a lekka pay and a few unused shirts and skirts which where bought but iri wrong size. guess whos wearing those. ivo vana vaye vekushora vari kuzimbabwe. musadaro

    • Say that again and our kids are not starving

    • Bt then we hear a lot of these Zim maids are sleepin with their white bosses

    • Truce kungomhanya kuti R200 a dae what’s wrong with that money . Of course jealous riripo

    • Sure @ taita

    • TAWA U HAVE GOT IT ALL. THEY DON’T LIKE THAT TRUTH

    • Thanks Tawa Inno Gore ngavasatitaurire zvemisara ngavadye kuvhota ivo ikoko chero uine kabasa kumusha kwacho urikutoshandira Futi Mari yawakashanda pa que kuti uwane dollar retransport haiwawo .

    • Samanyika Wenharo zvekurarana kwevanhu isu tozvipinda papi? Inga chero kuzim zvirikuitika wani?

    • Samanyika Wenharo zvekurarana kwevanhu isu tozvipinda papi? Inga chero kuzim zvirikuitika wani?

  • asi amwe acho atova ma mai ekutengesa musika and I know so because tinozombo kanganwa kuti hatisi tega kana taakutaura tuma skeletons twedu tiri paruzhinji. nndakazoseka vamwe vaakuti ndaramba 250 zvaanga akuda handisati ndambozviita🐒 zvii izvozvo. I thought it was house cleaning. what’s new??

  • Garai ikoko ne bond fokofo dzenyu!

  • Takatodaro mumakona imomo nema R200 per day dzimba tirikutovaka ikoko ku zim ma stands ari tii

  • So do y fee them when tbey come back home, mahouse 3muzim anopihwa marii?

  • The person who caused all this misery is in luxury.His family lives in luxury.His dogs live in luxury.Africa must wake up & face those who deny us what God has given us.

  • We have definitely become a laughing stock in the region and beyond, who can address this embarrasment?

  • Its not honey and milk in SA

  • R200 is a lot of money. It’s better than working for nothing .

  • Instead cum and register to vote

  • Death be thy shepherd 😢😱

  • Listen to Azon Streita feat. Rockers Jnr -Exile (prod by Rockers Mix) by Heartical Reggae #np on #SoundCloud
    https://soundcloud.com/azon-i-ministretta/azon-streita-feat-rockers-jnr-exile-prod-by-rockers-mix

  • Hanzi come and vote ndodya vote ini

  • R200 x 20 working days = R4000/$300 per month. I don’t know many in zim

  • Without crushing the point of voting. As we can see from where we are standing brothers and sisters. Nobody chose to be where we are now. Everyone is searching for green pastures whether it’s little or more to help their families. One thing that I have learnt is that nobody in this world can carry our burdens. All the calls for people to come back now it’s a nightmare and it’s too late now. Wherever people are they are ready to die there because we feel much better and comfortable with how we are leaving. What else are we left with? Nothing not even the one whom we think is better is going to change our lives. Don’t forget to leave your life to the fullest coz you dying to change things forgetting to change ways. Time is the cycle of it all.We are going down as we age. Salute to all who stepped to go hunting for their families in whatever as long it makes you happy.

  • How much is the airtime guy earning in zim per day…..10cents per every dollar

  • Takangodaro takazvarwa takangodaro

  • No one is geared to help smeone in Zim coz of the poor economy so whoever is saying R200 a day is nothing is blinkered. We voted several tymz and nothing changed since 1980 everythng is going down for the majority. Inďeginise in Zim while others look for smtng out of Zim. Its clear to every Zimbo that nothing to enjoy much back home better to save R100/ day and send it back home than spending hrs on the streets doing nothing , forgeting that tym is moving.

    • Meaning Vote haichinji magariro asi inoita kuti dzimwe mbavha dzimbodyawo! We need a PLAN and identify the real cause inoita kuti zviite sezvazviri kuita!.

  • Hapana anofarira gugara kunyika isiri yake. Asi kana zviri zvazviri izvozvi no choice munhu ngaaite zvaanoda. Kuyambuka border hakurambidzwe munhu, zvinoshamisa kunzwa munhu achiti vanhu vanopiwa R200 pazuva ko povo irikubata marii pazuva, kutangira Mkt Sq, Copacabana, Zimex,Joina , Charge Office, nekumaflyover ese. Handiti ma$7 generally so compared to R200÷R13.50, uchaona kuti R200 is more that $7. Saka munhu ngaazvitsagire zvinomubatsira kwete zvinobatsira povo.

    • Chokwadi nhai passport kuva nayo kana kushaya. Kuva nepermit kana kushaya border riri open 24hrs

  • Kudzokera kumba kunovhota ane passport yacho here munhu wauri kuti adzoke kuzovhota. Ane bus fare yacho here ari kuita R200 a day ane vana nemudzimai kuzim ouya here kuzovhota iye asati apedza kubhadharira vana fees let alone food. Ko rent yake iye then ozodiiii tangai manyaso fungisisa

  • R200 a day baba it’s a lot of money. How many of you back home are earning $15 a day

  • The picture above has nothing to with your story. R200.00 a day will eventually transform into R5000.00 per month. Converted to dollars it’s about US 390.00. THATS NOBLE THAN “DOWNLOADING MUSIC INTO A MEMORY CARD”

    These road side electrician can charge up to US 100/3hr job. Zim Economy and S.A. economy are far too different and for a passerby like you to report, it’s called misinformation

  • How many time did u yourself voted and what was the outcome, how many years will u fight a losing war instead of empowering yourself financially? Migration is happening everywhere no one has the right to judge pple who have not come to your home to ask for your food. Focus on your own problems and leave those who are in diaspora because u not there and u have no idea why it is so

  • R200 a day,that’s a lot of money.@least it is guaranteed that you are going to be paid rather than working on a farm in Zim.time is moving for me to wait till things are back to normal back home.Yes we need to come home and vote but only to make things ok for the upcoming generation not us.i can’t be stuck in a stagnant environment before I can see kuti vamwe varikubudirira.tino vhota todzoka kuzogadzira hupenyu hwe mhiri financially kuno ku diaspora.

  • R200 its a lot of money here in SA,handione kuipa kwazvo ini vanhu vari kutorarama nemhuri dzavo

  • R200 pa day it’s cash iribho iwewe uri Civil Servant but hauibate even salary ino uya half half vakadzi ava vano sort pamba zve kuti wega uno nakirwa

    • Chokwadi pafair chaipo border riri open 24hrs . Vaudzei zviripo R200 a dae yakaipei

  • lts easy to ask people to come n vote but for some of us its tough to go back to a place that treated you like a foreigner so sometimes going away became a blessing disguise l remember so many opportunities that l watched passme by cause l did not fit a certain criteria so those who feel they can go back its ok good luck

  • R200 voshora musataure zvamusingaziva vanambwa imi dxikamisayi hana muite steady .

  • ZANU enjoys this talk of elections being rigged.Whenever there is a story about elections being rigged in the press the ZANU establishment is on cloud 9.The reason is simple ,millions of potential opposition voters would be discouraged from voting.In elections it is not the one with the most surporters who wins but the one with the most surporters who vote.ZANU might be a minority in Zimbabwe but it dosent matter.All their surporters vote even those with stage 4 cancer are carried to the polling.Keep lying to yourselves that elections are rigged.

    • iwe rigging itoriko kungoti you dnt want to face facts.right now voter registration irikuitwa and pple are asked to bring proof of residence in twns kumaruzevha masabhuku are the one conpiling the list evanhu vavo and we all know masabhuku ndeZanu .saka oda rigging yakaita sei kuti uone kuti elections are already decidef

  • I am surviving rather than all of you munopedza week without 1 bond so help your selves Votai but you’re wasting your time because Mugabe already he has an amount certain of votes to win

  • Midway Mews is a shopping centre by the way

  • tee cee

    ma1 zvakaoma

  • Hesi Tafi, long time

  • R200 translate to $15_16per day , it’s pretty cool for someone coming from a country where unemployment rate is so high!

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