Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Zimbabweans take to the streets for piece jobs

While scores of unemployed Batswana are resting their laurels at home hoping a job will miraculously leap onto their laps, their Zimbabwean counterparts living in Gaborone are taking the bull by the horns.

They stand on the side-lines of Phase 2 streets and other areas around the city, entreating motorists to stop and offer them a piece job. To an oblivious passer-by they may look like they want to hail a taxi into town.

“I come here every morning to look for piece jobs,” says Tatenda, who took some convincing to agree to speak.

“The police harass us all the time,” she says, adding with a tinge of suspicion: “For all I know you might be an undercover policeman.”

She says without the police harassment she could stand there all day until about 3pm. That, of course, is subject to her landing a piece job.

Tatenda says she has resorted to seeking piece jobs on the streets because she has run out of alternatives. She tells the Sunday Standard the situation back home is much more unbearable than what she has to put up with here in Botswana.

Independent sources have estimated the unemployment rate in Zimbabwe to be over 80 percent, meaning that chances of getting a job in Zimbabwe are very slim to none. The figure is however contrary to the government’s 10 percent. There is a huge disparity between the two versions.

But whatever the case, here in Botswana, despite an official unemployment rate of just over 17 percent, the real situation immensely contradicts the official figures. As good as it was to see dozens of students graduate from Limkokwing University recently it was equally saddening to know they would only be adding to the escalating numbers of the unemployed.

Every graduation inflates the rate of unemployment. The lack of opportunities to enter the world of formal employment in both countries has condemned people like Tatenda to a life of economic hardship and despair.

She keeps darting off onto a passage between the two yards right next to the street every time she sees a suspicious looking car. Like other Zimbabweans who share her plight, she is ever on the lookout for police cars.

“When we find them on the streets we check to see if they have proper documents that allow them to be here in Botswana,” says Gaborone West Station Commander, Agreement Mapeu.

He says should they discover the Zimbabweans are living in the country illegally they take the necessary steps to ensure they are eventually deported.

Prisca is also Zimbabwean. She has been living here in Botswana for just a year. She is relatively new given the thousands of Zimbabweans who have been resident here since the early 2000s owing to the political and economic unrest back home.

Like Tatenda she also hits the streets of Phase 2 every morning hoping to land a piece job or two ÔÇô or as many as she can take in a day.

“Sometimes it’s tough because one can stand here all day without any luck,” she says. She tells Sunday Standard that the jobs she takes range from doing laundry, and cleaning the house to weeding the yard.

Her short term employers, she says, come from all around the city ÔÇô from Kgale to Phakalane, Tlokweng to Mogoditshane. She stays in Mogoditshane in a location she calls “maipaahela” which is Setswana for an illegal settlement. “I dunno why they call it that,” she says. She starts her day at 8 am and knocks off at 4 pm.

“When the police come we run off and hide in the bush until they pass,” she says. She says in the unfortunate instances that they get caught the officers usually charge them P50 for loitering.

“I think they use the money to buy lunch because we never receive any form of paperwork for the charges.”

Station Commander Mapeu however denies any knowledge of his officers charging the Zimbabweans on the streets.

He says on occasions when they do make arrests the Zimbabweans are brought to the station and charged for idling and being disorderly.

“That is if they cannot reasonably account for being there,” he says.

Prisca, who looks well over 40 years old, says on a good day she makes P200. On a really bad day she goes back home empty handed. She says as much as they are there to seek legitimate piece jobs some of the younger women get more than they bargained for. “They are taken by men promising them piece jobs but when they arrive at the man’s house they are offered money for sex instead.”

Prisca says some of the women do take the offer. But those who refuse the offer are usually just chased out of the house and have to find their way back to the street where they were fetched, Prisca says.

She says there have not been any reports of rape cases from her colleagues. The Station Commander says they have not received any reports suggesting acts of prostitution between the Zimbabweans and locals.

“Unless they admit it themselves it is difficult to prove such transactions.”

He says chasing the Zimbabweans off the streets is also meant to protect them because they do get attacked and assaulted while going about their business on the streets. These attacks, Mapeu says, usually take place at night.

Ronald, who is in his late 20s, has been living in Botswana for four years.

“I do all kinds of jobs,” he says, “building, plastering, cleaning the yard, and any job you can think of.”

Like Prisca, on a good day he makes around P200 a day. He says some of his male friends have also gotten sexual offers from potential female employers. He however refused to disclose if he has ever been offered money for sex himself.

“Sometimes you wonder if it is a set-up because it’s not common for women to pay men for sex,” he says.

For Pamela, also Zimbabwean, it was only on her second day on the street. She had been working as a maid. “The money was too little,” she said. She had landed only a single piece job cleaning a yard with a friend the previous day. They got P60 each.

The Station Commander says people who are caught employing the Zimbabweans without proper working permits are slapped with a fine of no less than P200 or no more than P1000.
“That is only on admission of guilt,” Mapeu says. It seems until the situation in both Botswana and Zimbabwe improves, it will continue to be business as usual for Tatenda and her compatriots.

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