“As soon as Mugabe is gone, I will go home. After five years I will go back to my brother and three sisters,” John (24), told the Mail & Guardian Online on Thursday.
John, who preferred not to mention his surname, is one of the estimated three to five million refugees who have fled to South Africa in recent years, where they are anxiously waiting the results of their home country’s presidential poll.
Though voting took place last Saturday already, by Thursday afternoon the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission had not yet announced the official results.
The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has already tasted victory in the parliamentary poll and insists its leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, also won the presidential election.
Most of the Zimbabwean refugees said they would leave South Africa as soon as Mugabe stepped down. On Wednesday night, some of them held a perhaps premature celebration inside the Central Methodist church in downtown Johannesburg, a known haven for refugees.
At midday on Thursday, a group of refugees and South African activists gathered at the corner of Plein and Klein streets to inform the public about the latest election results. A radio blared the song Asambeni Ekhaya (Let’s Go Home).
Leo (27), from Harare, has been staying in the church since November last year.
“As soon as the election results are published I will be gone,” he said. “I will buy enough stuff for my family and go home. My mother and younger brother are still in Zimbabwe. My mother is crying a lot on the phone. I call my mother every day now, asking for the election results.”
Leo is convinced that Tsvangirai will win. “Mugabe will be gone. Tsvangirai must be in power. Because of the split in Zanu-PF, things are different now. This is the chance for the MDC.”
Would he also return if Mugabe stayed in power and the MDC had the majority in Parliament? “No, if Mugabe is still there, I am not going.”
He added: “I miss the food of my mother, and I miss my bed. I sleep on the ground here. If I come home, I will have a party with my family. Being together with them, not talking on the phone … Here I am not free. I am afraid of the cops asking for your papers.”
‘He has to go’
John (24), also from Harare, has been living in the church for five years. Nowadays, he spends his time listening to the radio on his cellphone for the latest Zimbabwean news.
“As soon as Mugabe is gone, I will go home. You have to go back, starting something, helping your country. Things will not change automatically. But if Tsvangirai will be in power, there will be change … this time Mugabe definitely will go. He has to go; nobody wants him any more,” he said.
“If I go back to Zimbabwe, I go back to my brother and my three sisters. I am here for five years, but I’ve got my home there. In South Africa, life is tough. You don’t belong here. People don’t like you and don’t understand the situation behind [you].
“If the MDC only has the majority in Parliament and Mugabe stays in power, I will not go home. Nobody goes back if Mugabe stays in power.”
Patrick (30), from Chitumgwiza, arrived in South Africa only two weeks ago. He is very sceptical and doesn’t believe Mugabe will give up power. “Tsvangirai is not going to win. Mugabe will never let that happen. No matter how many seats the MDC will have in Parliament, Mugabe will have the last say. Who is going to sign the Bills, the laws? Robert.
“Mugabe will not give up power. He is too afraid for the people he killed in Matabeleland … and so many other people died. The only chance that there will be change in Zimbabwe is if Mugabe is dead. The only time I will go back to Zimbabwe is if Mugabe is dead. If he is still alive, there is no change.
“I have hoped for change, I stayed a long time in Zimbabwe, but I realised Mugabe’s regime is too strong, there is no change. That’s why I came here. I voted for Tsvangirai, but I don’t believe he will be the next president.”
Life in South Africa
Fredrick (24), his wife, Tracey (20), and their child, Malcolm (4), also hail from Harare. Fredrick left Zimbabwe in July last year and Tracey came to South Africa six months later.
“I will not go back to Zimbabwe,” Fredrick said. “I don’t think we will go back if Tsvangirai wins the elections. There is no future there now. I think it will take four to five years to change. I think I am going to stay here and fight for a better life in South Africa, a better life for my son.”
Producing a printout from his pocket that read “MDC claims victory”, he added: “I always go to the internet shop for the latest news. And I read the papers.
“In Zimbabwe I used to live with my parents. They live in the rural areas with no phone, so I didn’t speak to them since I left Zimbabwe. I only called my brother. Home for me is my family. That’s where I grew up; that’s where I belong. If I dream about home, I dream about my family, being together.
“I support Tsvangirai. With him, white farmers will come back, we need them for investment. The current government … they don’t know how to run a country. We need investment.”
And what would he remember from South Africa? “The police. They check for your papers on the street, they came in here [the Central Methodist church], wanted people to go out.”
At the end of January this year, the South African Police Service raided the church apparently in search of guns, drugs and illegal immigrants. In the raid, police allegedly assaulted a number of immigrants.
Fredrick would also remember his “sleeping place”, a corner near a venue that served food for the homeless. “I sleep here with my phone in my pocket, money in my shoes. And I will remember it because my child is going to the church crÃ¨che now and he starts to speak Zulu now.”
MDC activist Artwell (19), from Masvingo, said he was trying to persuading people to return to their country.
“Yesterday [Wednesday] we celebrated the results. I really think there will be change now. We suffered a lot, but now it’s time to go home. We must help our country, because things will be different; there will be change.
“I want to go home next week, together with my brother. I want to make sure Mugabe will be gone. People should go home now. Home is the best. I am going to meet my friends and my brother at home.”