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Crossing the Limpopo River

16 Jan 2022 at 08:56hrs | Views
NKANYEZI Dube is a 25-year-old young woman from Lubhangwe in the Matobo District of Matabeleland South. She attended Lubhangwe primary and secondary schools. She did not qualify to proceed to university or any institution of higher learning.

She has a seven-year old daughter who lives in Bulawayo where she attends school.

Nkanyezi, so named after her grandmother of the same name who was born in 1910 when the Halley's Comet appeared. To the Ndebele people the comet was taken to be a star, inkanyezi, which had some tail-like brightness.

Many children born in that year were named Nkanyezi as a way of documenting the cosmic phenomenon.

Life in the rural areas became unbearable for Nkanyezi. She lived with her single mother and during that period, she had a daughter Natanya born. Like many young persons in Matabeleland South, she decided to seek greener pastures in neighbouring South Africa. Before leaving for the greener pastures, she took her daughter to Bulawayo where she lives with her brother's family.

Three years ago, she crossed the Limpopo River with the assistance of a malayitsha (cross-border transporter) who she paid transportation money. For years, she has been doing domestic work in the Midrand area of Johannesburg.

Going to work in South Africa is not a recent economic phenomenon in particular for the people who share common historical and traditional origins with relatives on the southern side of uBengwane, the river others refer to as Limpopo.

Nkanyezi, belongs to the Babirwa ethnic group who are also found in South Africa and Botswana. By going to South Africa to seek employment she has been continuing the now ages-old tradition whose origins are traceable to the times when diamonds were discovered at Kimberley in 1867. That was during the time of the Ndebele State with Lobengula as King.

When gold was discovered in the mid-1880s, many migrant workers from Zimbabwe went to sell their labour in the emerging primary, secondary, tertiary and quaternary industries.

In the post-independence era, there have been increasing numbers of young persons going to seek employment in the Gauteng Province, both in the cities and agricultural enterprises. Many have been engaged as domestic workers.

Nkanyezi is one of these hundreds of people who eke a living out of menial jobs. For her, living within her employer's premises cuts down transport costs if she were to live in Berea and other areas where large concentrations of populations of Zimbabweans are found.

During the recent festive season Nkanyezi, like many other Zimbabwean migrant workers decided to visit her mother and daughter. I caught up with her and was keen just to get some ideas regarding travel across the border at Beitbridge.

Like many thousands who work in South Africa, Nkanyezi is without the requisite work permit that authorises her to stay and work in South Africa. She has a passport and that is not enough.

A malayitsha or cross-border transporter driving a Toyota Quantum vehicle provided with a trailer picks up returnees from their places of residence. They pay fares calculated to facilitate their illegal movement across the border, right up to Bulawayo and beyond.

Nkanyezi bought herself a double bed and a solar lighting system. All these plus some food items were loaded onto the massive trailer. The long haul journey from Midrand began. There were about 20 of them in the car.

Crossing the border for those with no permits is a nocturnal affair. They use passports to get into South Africa but they do not use them to get out. The dark night is a facilitator; it blinds the eyes of security officials. The final stop before crossing the border was the Shell Service Station where umalayitsha made contact with his ompisi, literally the cunning and indomitable hyenas.

These are the critical link in the illegal crossing of the tightly patrolled and secure border. Where man wills, nothing will stop him.

There is already some relationship and prior arrangement between the two that is umalayitsha and his team of ompisi or omagumaguma. Umalayitsha has already phoned up ompisi concerning his estimated time of arrival, be it night or daytime.

Illegal activities are perpetrated during the hours of darkness.

Passengers disembark from umalayitsha's car, but leave behind all their goods including cellphones, money and handbags.

There are muggers along the treacherous route who may pounce on them. Ompisi take over at that point to provide requisite security and facilitation. Ompisi provide that vital link in the chain. They literally have the keys to open the doors along the route. For their vital services, umalayitsha gives them money to be paid later along the journey. The amount that they receive depends on the number of passengers that they received from umalayitsha, their own retention fees and the fees to pay the gatekeepers.

The returnees are led through the bush towards the security fences that have been breached. Holes were made on the fences with razor wire. The holes are kept closed and locked up. The fence was trampled to facilitate exit from South Africa. Ompisi, by having the keys to open the unofficial exits, make sure they control movement through the fences.

Their keys facilitate movement across the fences. Without the services of ompisi, illegal cross-border movement is not possible.

This nocturnal movement is undertaken in total silence. The next part is arduous movement up an incline towards the two bridges across the Limpopo River that forms the boundary between the two countries. One bridge is used by vehicular traffic while the other is reserved for the trains. Next to and slightly below each bridge there is a passageway.

Ompisi are leading the way towards the final hurdle. Movement along the passageway is facilitated by security officials who upon receiving R100 for each returnee allow ompisi to proceed across the passageway towards the northern bank of the Limpopo River.

When the returnees get to the end of the passageway they are instructed to jump down and crawl on their knees. They proceed along the riverbank and avoid getting to the official border post. Ompisi thus never leave the returnees for whom they provide security throughout the hazardous trip.

One hazard comes when one of the returnees panics and falls off the passageway straight into the waters of the Limpopo River. Crocodiles have learnt to linger around to take advantage of falling victims on whom they are more than happy to prey on.

In deafening silence ompisi, lead the returnees to some faint light quite some distance away. The journey must not get them to the official border crossing. As a result, the returnees are led along the riverbank. Far from the official border post, there is some light that flickers. That is their destination. That is where they will be picked up for the next section of the journey. Honda Fit cars ferry them to a garage in Beitbridge.

There, the versatile Honda Fit cars will arrive from Beitbridge to pick them up. The Honda Fits ferry them to some small garage on the Zimbabwean side. Nkanyezi and her group started crossing from South Africa at 20:00hrs and were at the small garage at 03:00hrs. They remained there until midday. There are facilities where to buy food.

Ompisi are still with them. Now they are waiting to link up with umalayitsha who proceeded through the official border. There the goods and passengers re-unite for the final trip to Bulawayo and further destination. Nkanyezi was able to link up with both her daughter and mother and spent memorable a festive season together.

Source - The Sunday News
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