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Zim’s Migrant Workers, a forgotten lot

At the foot of the horseshoe shaped mountain lay a muted town where life seems to be on halt. This is Mutorashanga situated about 100 kilometres north of Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare.

On the sides of the mountain, bottomless ditches and huge highlands of chrome rubbles are a clear confirmation of mining operations that used to take place at the mine.

Mutorashanga is now a shanty and ghosty town clearly disconnected from its once vibrant past.

Wretched and depressed faces wonder up and down the small, dilapidated, red bricked and corrugated iron sheeted houses which form the majority of houses occupied by former mine workers, probably second- or third-generation of immigrants to reside in these houses.

Most of the houses do not have doors and roof tops have plastic wedges inserted to prevent rains from flowing into the houses

The town which was once the epicenter of activities is home to scores of migrant workers who cannot take the risk of going back to their ‘mother’ countries.

The deterioration of mining activities in this town saw locals going back to their rural homes but migrant workers have a different story to tell. Theirs is a heart rendering and tear drawing story.

These desperate migrant workers mostly from Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia have been merely reduced to slaves with the young girls being lured into prostitution.

Migrants in Mutorashanga are susceptible to forced labour .They also represent an easy target for human trafficking networks.

Allan Tewo, a 64 year old who is originally from Malawi narrated his ordeal to this reporter.

“This country was the jewel of Africa,” said Allan Tewo as he referred to Zimbabwe, a country formerly known as the ‘breadbasket’ of Africa.

“I started working at this mine in 1967 and by then the company was controlled by African Chrome miners, then Union Carbide took over and later Zimasco and Sinosteel respectively.

“In the preliminary years of post-independence, all was well in this land and we enjoyed the benefits that every other citizens enjoyed. However, in the year 2000, the political and economic landscape in Zimbabwe darkened and this is when we begin to feel the brunts of being migrant workers.

He added that, “The closure of the mine saw migrants being stranded with nowhere to go. Our young boys and girls are now forced to work as domestic workers being confined to herding cattle and in the kitchen.

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Lovemore Chikuyo, whose parents were former Zimasco workers said migrants are treated as second class citizens.

“I do not have proper job and I rely on hand to mouth, seeking part time jobs from one household to another, life is so difficult but there is nothing we can do since we are not recognized as citizens of Zimbabwe.

“My parents came from Mozambique but unfortunately they are both dead .Up to now I do not have a birth certificate. I came to Zimbabwe when I was 9 years old and now I’m 38 years old,” narrated Chikuyo.

He said he worked for Zimasco for several years without a national identity card. “I worked for Zimasco for a long time without a national identity card and I was being told that National Social Security Assurance (NSSA) was deducting my monthly contributions only to realize after the closer of the company that I was not even a member.”

Out of desperation the migrant workers in Mutorashanga always fell prey to opportunists who take advantage of their existence and enroll them in unbearable working environments.

As a result of flawed Zimbabwean labour laws migrant workers continue being ill-treated.

Easter Phiri narrated how her husband was made to believe that he had secured a formal job at a Chinese owned mine in Bindura. It is now 6 months and she is not aware of his whereabouts.

“My husband, Shadreck Ntono and three other young boys were picked up by a group of unidentified men who promised them employment. The drove off in a truck which was believed to be heading to Bindura and up to now he is not yet back,” she said.

The Mutorashanaga based migrant workers are also forced into involuntary domestic servitude, a situation in which private residences create unique vulnerabilities for the migrant workers. In so doing they are not free to leave their work places, they are abused and underpaid.

Alice Mulaudzi, a victim of domestic servitude said she was once taken to Chegutu where she served as a house maid for 2 years, receiving a monthly salary of $30.

She said she was not able to complain, if she does she was threatened and several times she had her bags thrown out of the house.

“They knew I had nowhere to go as someone who does not have not have identity documents. She said she could not finish school as she did not have even a birth certificate.

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“We are not aware of our rights. We work but we do not get paid. People do not care about us. We are foreigners and they do not care about us, we are a group of second class citizens,” she said.

As a result of extreme poverty, Mutorashanga is now the latest hub of moral decadence with unprotected sex being the order of the day. Young girls including the migrant workers’ children are forced into the oldest mode of employment, prostitution.

However the Migrant workers have pinned their hopes on the proposed amendment of the Labour Act.

Public Service, Labour and Social Services Minister Prisca Mupfumira was recently quoted in the Herald saying Government had  resolved to amend the Labour Act expeditiously to stem inconsistencies in the labour market which have seen companies sacking employees willy-nilly and almost empty-handed on the basis of a recent Supreme Court judgment.

Migrant advocacy groups believe the country’s policies are inhumane and racist because they isolate and target visible minorities.

Camilius Machingura Program Manager Zimbabwe Community Development Association, a non-governmental organization that seeks to promote the rights of migrant workers as well as trace victims of human trafficking in Zimbabwe said the constitution turns a blind eye on migrant workers.

“Our Constitution of 1983 acknowledged migrant population by allowing citizenship to flow from birth on the territory to children whose parents were citizens, ordinary residents or became permanent residents after their birth but this has changed as this group is no longer recognized he, “said.

Munyaradzi  Gwisayi a prominent labour lawyer said, “As a result of migrant workers’ long period of residence in the country, and their being born on the territory, migrant wokers’ descendants are entitled to Zimbabwean nationality under the country’s Constitution and the Citizenship of Zimbabwe Act.

He added that, “challenges in attaining national documents arose from the darkening of the political and economic climate in Zimbabwe.  The migrant population was a threat to the status quo and ZANU-PF turned on the population it perceived as the key opponent to its regime.”

Though migrant workers are legally entitled to workers’ compensation, there are obstacles to them receiving compensation settlements as government of Zimbabwe does not fully comply with the minimum standards that seeks to protect migrant workers.

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Journalist based in Harare

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