The long trip home to Zim for Easter

Long-distance buses do a roaring trade as thousands of Zimbabweans who work in South Africa head home for the Easter break. (Troy Enekvist, M&G)

Long-distance buses do a roaring trade as thousands of Zimbabweans who work in South Africa head home for the Easter break. (Troy Enekvist, M&G)

To bus home to Zimbabwe this Easter weekend, you must pass through a large, red steel sliding door on the corner of Wolmarans and Simmonds streets in downtown Johannesburg.

Clement Ngwenya, a security guard, mans the door, sliding it open and closed for the many vehicles making their way inside.

“It is always busy here at this time of the year,” he says. Ngwenya, who hails from Zimbabwe, will not be going home for Easter – he prefers to go when it is less busy and the trip is much cheaper.
“Maybe I will go home in June or July. I will see how life is treating me then.”

Once inside the red door, you will find yourself at the Powerhouse Bus Station, reserved for people travelling from Johannesburg to Zimbabwe. You may be able to get on a bus, or you may have to settle for sending goods back home in lieu of a bus ticket for yourself.

Just outside the entrance, a young man is standing in the back of a truck, meticulously wrapping boxes of curtain rails with masking tape. Two friends are unloading the rest of the luggage he will be sending home.

People scurry around with their belongings – from a lounge suite and pots to clothes. Going home for Easter is an opportunity for them to show their families the fruits of their labour here in South Africa.

A group of men are struggling to carry a Toyota V8 engine from the back of a van to the trailer behind a bus, and another swiftly rushes between the moving buses with cans of cooldrink stacked on his trolley.

Simelenkosi Dube stands next to a bus that is preparing to depart – she will soon have to enter into tough negotiations with the bus marshals about how much they will charge her for the parcels she is sending home.

Dube has been living in South Africa for eight years and barely misses home. “I tried to make life work when I was in Zimbabwe, but it just did not happen. South Africa has become home – here, I can work and make money.” She is a seamstress in Fourways and says business is brisk.

Getting inside the station does not guarantee one a trip home, however. Anna Zingwena comes through the red doors every day and later exits, never getting closer to Zimbabwe. She is a hawker at the bus station, selling sweets, chocolates and hats.

“I wish I could go home for the Easter break; I miss my children. But there is no money – I can’t go home with nothing.”

The station is a place of pain for her, but also one of respite. Zingwena finds protection within the terminus’s four high-rise walls. In here, she is not harassed by police trying to make a quick buck off her. “They [the police] wait around the bus station to ask us for our papers. If you don’t have any papers, they threaten you with arrest or demand money. But they don’t come in here, so I sell from inside.”

Step outside the red doors and walk three streets south and you’ll find the Wanderers taxi rank. Here, long-distance travellers board taxis to destinations such as Maputo in Mozambique and Manzini in Swaziland.

Tucked away in the corner of the taxi rank is the line for people travelling to Chiredzi, a small town in southeast Zimbabwe. Chilo and Tom Matanga are bound for Chiredzi, having spent the previous night travelling from Cape Town to Johannesburg.

They have not been home in over a year and their 15-month-old daughter, Tarisai, has not seen their families since she was six months old. “Tarisai will not remember my family, but it is good that they get to see her more grown up now,” says Chilo, as she bounces their daughter in her arms as they wait in the queue. “But travelling so many hours with a baby is not easy – she gets tired and she also tires me out as well.”

An unapologetic supporter of President Jacob Zuma, Tom wishes he did not live in the Western Cape, even though he loves the beach. “The [Democratic Alliance] rules Cape Town, but Msholozi rules the country. If I could, I would vote for him: in his presidency he has made life much easier for us Zimbabweans. This place feels like home now.”

As passengers wait for the taxi that will take them home, Howard Twala patrols to see how the line is going. Twala has been driving the Johannesburg to Harare route for more than a decade and claims to know it like the back of his hand. A Zimbabwe native, Twala says driving there by taxi is much better than by bus. “Taxis are just faster and we don’t spend as much time at the border and customs like the buses do. It usually takes 10 hours to get everything passed through customs because the officials make it so hard for us.”

Having cleared the red door or the taxi line, the Beit Bridge border will be the last hurdle for those yearning to be reunited with their loved ones over the Easter weekend, before they have to make the trek back again.

Pontsho Pilane

Pontsho Pilane

Pontsho Pilane is a health journalist at Bhekisisa, the Mail & Guardian's health journalism centre. She debuted as a journalist at The Daily Vox, where she wrote primarily about gender, race and how they intersect. She was previously a general news reporter at the M&G. Pilane holds two degrees in media studies from Wits University. Read more from Pontsho Pilane

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