At the age of 19, Margret Ackim is nursing her third born child.
She got married six years ago when she was in standard seven at one of the primary schools in Mangochi.
The marriage was arranged by her uncle following the death of her mother the previous year.
“My uncle told me that there was a man in Jubeki [as Republic of South African is fondly known in the district], who was interested in marrying me.
“He explained the particulars of the man. Although by that time I did not have any idea about this man in mind, I agreed to marry him,” she recalls.
The following day, the uncle called the man on the phone so that Margret and he could talk for the first time. The marriage was sealed.
“My husband bought me a cellphone so that we could be talking anytime we wished. I was later introduced to his parents where I was ordered to be staying so that they could monitor my movements. I did not have a problem with the arrangement because I knew that I had found somebody to take care of me,” she says, while pulling her six-month old baby closer for breastfeeding.
The man came after six months to apparently consummate the marriage. He brought all kinds of luxuries for his wife and father-in-law. Margret was spoiled by nice things.
Since then, Margret’s husband has been travelling between Malawi and RSA.
Whether by design or by chance, the husband always leaves Malawi when Margret is pregnant and he comes back every two years to see his family and then he leaves again when she is pregnant.
Despite a promise of good married life, today Margret who could have been through with her secondary school education is staying with her three children in a grass-thatched house situated within her husband’s parental compound.
“I see my husband once every two years. At least he remembers that he has a wife at home because he usually sends money and other things when the need arises,” she says.
In some instances, Margret says, she misses school and wished she could not have been married.
She says at the moment she is negotiating with her husband to process a passport so that she can also go to South Africa to stay with her husband.
But this suggestion, she says, is not being entertained by the husband and his relations in Malawi.
The trend about men going to South Africa to work dates back to 1967 when Malawi and RSA signed an agreement relating to the employment and documentation of Malawians who were working in that country that time.
This labour agreement was initiated by South Africa after being alarmed by the increasing numbers of Malawian nationals who were trekking to the rainbow nation in search of greener pastures especially in gold mines, some of which were operated by Mines Labour Organisations (Wenela) Ltd.
Close to 50 years after this agreement was signed, thousands of Malawian men mainly from Mangochi, Machinga and Mzimba continue to migrate to South Africa in search of employment.
This is despite the 1967 agreement clearly stipulating that Malawian nationals are welcome to work in RSA only when the country has no enough labour to work in its mines.
Of late the migration of men to South Africa has however been a mixed bag to many.
Apart from the economic gains, which the migrants claim to realise after returning from RSA, the practice has left women and children’s lives destitute.
In addition, the practice is also blamed for being behind an increase in early marriages, human trafficking, school drop outs, crime as well as an increase in cases of drug-resistant Tuberculosis and in Antiretroviral Treatment (ART) default rate.
“Personally, I am not pleased with the way Malawian young men are migrating to South Africa these days. Most of them are leaving behind women and children whom they are failing to take care of,” says Traditional Authority Bwananyambi.
She says there are reports also that once the men are in ‘Jubeki’, they marry in order to get residence permits –a thing which she says prevents most of them from fully supporting their families back home.
“The other thing is that most of the girls here prefer to marry men who travel to South Africa. In most instances, the boys call from South Africa and ask to marry a girl and they start talking through the phone. So in essence most women here are married through cellphones,” she says.
The practice of migrating to South African is also exacting a knock on education in the district. School enrollment and retention rate in Mangochi has not been spared by the Jubeki hysteria in such that only 16 per cent of pupils complete primary school, according to the District Education Manager, Sam Kalanda.
In most cases, he says, young boys drop out of school after being lured by materials which their friends bring from South Africa.
“Girls are not spared either. They cannot resist marriage advances from boys who have been to South Africa or those who are planning to go,” he says.
Kalanda points out that the increase in men migrating to RSA has also pushed up the number of children who are put on education bursary by the government and other stakeholders.
“This is so because some men do not support their families once they are in RSA. As such some children are forced to drop out of school due to lack of school fees and other needs.
“When we see that the child has the potential we have no choice but to recommend him or her for bursary, thereby increasing resources which government spends on bursaries,” he says.
He however commends some men who when they are in RSA still support their children or relations back home. In some instances, he says, school authorities in the district have been receiving schools fees for some pupils direct from their relations in RSA.
“But by and large, we have seen a lot of pupils dropping out of school such that the district has recommended to enact by-laws which can limit or regulate age and reason for people who are applying for passport just to make sure that children are remaining in schools instead of migrating to RSA,” he says.
According to Mangochi District Commissioner Jack Nguluwe, the district processes a minimum of 150 passport applications every month. Those applying are within the age range of 15 to 40.
However the district, according to Nguluwe, has of late seen an economic transformation which in part is attributed to an increasing numbers of people who ply their trade in RSA.
He reveals that previously, Malawian migrants to RSA were obsessed with buying cars and other luxury materials which could not add value to the social and economic status of the district.
“But now the practice has changed because we sat down with them and told them to invest in real estate which has the potential to develop the district as well as create employment.
“Today we have seen an increase in numbers of local people owning lodges, motels and other business structures within Mangochi Township,” says the DC.
Nguluwe however agrees that there is need to limit or regulate the migration of people to RSA because the country is losing a lot of young men who should otherwise have been in school.
“Within the African continent there is an employment challenge. As such, Malawians who are migrating to South Africa are seen as a threat to locals there. That is why we have seen cases of xenophobia attacks. We need to keep our own men here,” adds Nguluwe.
Mangochi’s health and security sectors are also bearing the brunt of Jubeki allure.
Dignitas International, one of the civil society organisations working in the health sector in the district, bemoans an increase of people defaulting ART.
The organisation’s district coordinator, Christopher Kandionamaso, says currently 16 per cent of people who are on ART default the treatment.
“The district has also been registering cases of Tuberculosis which is difficult to cure. The TB is common among people who are coming from South Africa because most of them stop taking their drug when they are in another country, thereby creating a drug resistant type of the disease,” says Kandionamaso.
On the other hand, Mangochi police spokesperson Roderick Maida explains that currently the district is struggling to contain a rise in crime rate which he attributes to an increase in number of people returning from RSA.
“We have seen an increase in crime rate of late. This is due to people who returned from South Africa after the xenophobia attacks. What is worrisome is that these people are coming with new tactics and that is proving to be a challenge on our side,” says Maida.
He says the rate of serious crimes in the district has increased by 17 percent as compared to the situation two years ago.
But he expresses the hope that the district will work towards reducing the rate by engaging the communities.
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