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Rejected home, abhorred abroad

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Home is supposed to be a sweet smelling place loved by all. However, according to RICHARD CHIROMBO’s findings in this Friday Shaker, fading employment opportunities locally and perceptions that the grass is economically greener in South Africa and other countries fuels the spirit of migration, which is not always a welcome experience as monsters such as xenophobia loom in the background.

It is ironical that, while Malawi’s democracy is touted as the spectacle of socio-economic development in full flower, Ali Issa still decided to make the long, tedious bus trip to South Africa in 2013.

 “I just want to have a better life, especially because I did not have the opportunity to go to secondary school, after dropping out of Standard Seven at Mpiripiri Primary School in Makanjira, Mangochi District.

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“As a result, jobs were hard to come by and I had to go to South Africa, after being made to believe that job opportunities were plentiful,” said the father of three from Mpiripiri, Traditional Authority Makanjira, in Mangochi District.

While he loved home, sweet home, unemployment forced him to turn his back on Malawi on February 18 2013 to try his luck in the Rainbow Nation.

Malawi Congress of Trade Unions former president, Kenwilliams Mhango, said unemployment is one of the factors that drive youths out of the country.

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“We have a lot of people who are not employed, including the youth, who are at the most productive stage in their lives and can contribute greatly to national development.

“This is what fuels migration of Malawian youths to countries such as South Africa. We need to seriously address the problem; otherwise, our youths will continue to expose themselves to injury, even death, in foreign countries,” he said.

According to the World Bank (WB)’s World Development Indicators, youth unemployment rate for Malawi was at 10.5 percent in 1992, a situation that remained stable until 2006, when the rate dropped to 10.0 percent. From 2013 to 2016, the rate remained at 7.6 percent.

WB defines youth unemployment as “the share of the labour force ages 15-24 without work but available for and seeking employment”.

The National Statistical Office, in its first ever labour force survey report for Malawi released in 2014, put the formal unemployment rate at 21 percent

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) indicates, in its October 2015 Global Employment Trends for Youth report, that job creation for the world’s youth remains an uphill struggle as two out of five economically active youths in most countries, including Malawi, are still unemployed.

It says, in many countries, the youth population continues to suffer the effects of economic crises and austerity measures.

“In these countries, finding work, let alone full-time employment as a youth with no experience, continues to be an uphill struggle,” the ILO report reads.

In its findings, ILO says in most low income countries such as Malawi, at least three in four young workers fall in the category of irregular employment, while nine in 10 young workers remain in informal employment.

“Unfortunately, far too few youth are able to match their aspirations with reality,” it says.

However, ILO indicates that the youths’ share in total unemployment rate has been decreasing, with youth accounting for 36.7 percent of the global unemployment rate, as opposed to 2004, when the share was 41.5 percent.

Communication Workers Union of Malawi General Secretary, Hamilton Deleza, said there is need to create employment opportunities while creating a conducive environment for those who are employed.

“Unemployment is real. Those who work face many challenges, including a pitiable minimum wage, but those who are not employed suffer the most,” he said.

Recently, Malawi Union for the Informal Sector General Secretary, Mwanda Chiwambala, bemoaned ill-treatment which youths who find solace in vending and other informal sector activities are subjected to— which means even those who take the path of self-employment find no recourse but to trek down south, a terminology Issa uses to refer to South Africa.

However, life in South Africa is not always rosy.

In 2013, for instance, when Issa trekked to South Africa, foreign nationals from Malawi, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, among other countries, were being chased.

“Still, I prefer South Africa to Malawi because there is a difference between poverty levels in Malawi and South Africa.

“In South Africa, at least a poor person is able to find food to eat. I am talking of a variety of foods. What one eats at lunch does not appear on the menu at dinner. In Malawi, our poverty starts with lack of food,” he said.

Whatever the case, some South Africans seem to be tired of Malawians and other foreign nationals. This has forced some Malawians to take the long trip back home.

For instance, during the evening of April 8 this year, 19 out of the 105 Malawians who volunteered to return home after falling victim to xenophobia attacks in South Africa arrived in the country through Kamuzu International Airport.

This is the third time that some South Africans have, on a massive scale, spilled the liquid-of-frustrations on foreigners.

Otherwise, reports indicate that xenophobia takes place at a small scale all the time. This is according to South African History Online: Towards People’s History, an online platform which details some of the cases.

In an article, titled ‘Xenophobic Violence in Democractic South Africa’, it indicates:

  • In December 1994 and January 1995, armed youth gangs in Alexandra Township outside of Johannesburg, Gauteng Province, destroyed the homes and property of suspected undocumented migrants
  • In September 1998, two Senegalese and a Mozambican were thrown from a moving train in Johannesburg by a group of individuals returning from a rally
  • In 2000, seven xenophobic killings were reported in the Cape Flats district of Cape Town. Kenyan Kingori Siguri Joseph died in Tambo Close after being attacked and shot. Two Nigerians were shot dead in NY 99 in Gugulethu. Prince Anya, 36, who owned a restaurant in Sea Point, was hijacked with his wife Tjidi and their toddler in Adam Tas Road, Bothasig. In Mdolomda Street in Langa, two Angolan brothers were trapped inside their house and burnt to death. Nguiji Chicola, 23, and Mario Gomez Inacio, 25, were in their house when it was set alight by several men who then ran away. The brothers burnt to death
  • On May 11 2008, there was an outburst of xenophobic violence in Alexandra Township. The victims were predominantly Zimbabwean and Mozambican. As a result many houses were burnt, 342 shops were looted and 213 burnt down. Hundreds of people were injured, thousands chased away and the death toll after the attacks stood at 56. Mozambican Ernesto Alfabeto Nhamuave, who was 35 years old, was beaten, stabbed and set alight on the East Rand. In all, 62 people were killed
  • On May 24 2008, Spaza shops owned by Pakistan, Somalis, and Ethiopians were attacked, their stocks were looted and the doors ripped down
  • From November 14 to 17 2009, 3,000 Zimbabwean citizens living in the Western Cape were displaced as a result of xenophobic violence
  • On November 17 2009, the second wave of violence displaced approximately 3,000 Zimbabweans
  • On February 27 2013, eight South African police officers tied 27-year-old Mozambican man, Mido Macia, to the back of a police van and dragged him down the road. The man died in a police cell from head injuries
  • On May 26 2013, two Zimbabwean men were killed by a South African mob in xenophobic violence in Diepsloot
  • In January 2015, an estimated 120 Spaza shops owned by Somalis and Bangladeshis across Snake Park, Zola, Meadowlands, Slovoville, Kagiso, Zondi and Emdeni in Sowetowere were looted
  • On March 5 2015, xenophobic attacks occurred in Limpopo Province
  • In March 2015, Noel Beya Dinshistia from Congo was doused in a flammable substance before being set alight
  • On April 10 2015, two Ethiopian brothers were critically injured when their shop was set on fire while they were trapped inside. One of the men died while in hospital
  • On April 12 2015, in KwaZulu-Natal, shops outside Durban were torched. In V Section, a shop owned by a foreign national was set on fire by a mob of suspects. Almost 2,000 foreign nationals from Malawi, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Burundi were displaced as a result of the violence, with five killed
  • On April 14 2015, about 300 local people looted foreign-owned shops, among others

And, in a paper published on December 17 2013 titled ‘Xenophobic Attacks of 2008’, Zachary King confirms that xenophobic attacks have become entrenched in South Africa, citing injuries and deaths that irate South Africans inflicted on foreign nationals in 2008.

“The 2008 South African xenophobic attacks marked the peak of violence against foreign nationals since the end of apartheid. While migrant labour has long been an integral part of the South African economy, xenophobia materialised in 1994 due to false perceptions of foreign nationals and dysfunctional immigration policies. Since 2008, xenophobia continues to resonate in South Africa.

“South Africa continues to attract migrants from neighbouring countries. For migrants who come from surrounding poverty-stricken nations, South Africa offers the potential for economic advancement and access to social provisions like education, infrastructure, and healthcare,” it says.

It defines xenophobia as the fear or hatred of something perceived as abnormal or strange, adding that is commonly used to describe the fear of a group of people who, as a result of xenophobic thoughts, have become alienated within a societal setting.

It, however, says, despite the attacks, foreign workers have been trekking to South Africa since the late 19th Century.

“Even as late as the 1960s, foreign labourers made up 80 percent of the mineworkers, who arrived mainly from Mozambique, Botswana, Lesotho, and Swaziland, but also from Zimbabwe and Malawi,” it says.

NEVER ENDING—Unemployed citizens queue for job interview

In the latest episode of violence, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs indicates that 300 Malawians were displaced while two were injured.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson, Rejoice Shumba, Thursday said efforts to repatriate Malawians affected by xenophobia were being spearheaded by the international community.

“It is the International Organisation on Migration that is repatriating the xenophobia victims through their Action on Voluntary Return and Sustainable Community Based Reintegration Project,” she said.

She added that those affected were being given a monetary package.

“They will be given an equivalent of 100 euros [about K83,700 at the current foreign exchange rate] as a starter park,” she said.

Shumba said the difference between the 2013 attacks and those that have affected Malawians this year is that, in 2013, the attacks were severe in Johannesburg “and more Malawians that were repatriated were residing there”.

Recently, Commander-in-Chief of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), Julius Malema, condemned the attacks, saying Africa belongs to all Africans.

Speaking when he launched EFF’s manifesto, Malema said Africans were already suffering across the world and it was heartbreaking that they were subjects of racial hatred even on their own continent.

Meanwhile, one of the youths who have returned from South Africa has said there is need for more incentives, in terms of the availability of well-paying jobs back home.

“If things do not change, I may go back,” he said, revealing that he also came back home in 2008, when xenophobia reared its ugly face in South Africa.

That is how lack of employment opportunities forces people to adjust the pace-of-their-attitude to, somehow, accommodate and accept the menace that is xenophobia so that they can walk sinuously on the streets of Johannesburg or Durban.

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