A total of 28 individuals were screened for the study with 23 being eligible and 5 being ineligible. Three individuals were unable to attend on the date of the scheduled group. Thus, the final sample consisted of 20 Zimbabwean refugees (10 women and 10 men). The mean age was 26.5 years (SD = 6.85) with the range being 18 to 44 years. The majority of participants had a secondary education level (85%) with 10% and 5% reporting a primary and tertiary education level, respectively. The mean length of stay after arriving in South Africa was 3.3 months. Marital status while living in Zimbabwe, as well as post arrival in South Africa, was assessed. While living in Zimbabwe, 60% reported being married and 40% reported being single. However, while living in South Africa, only 25% reported being married and 75% reported being single. Reasons for the change in marital status included the stress of leaving Zimbabwe for South Africa, and economic and political challenges that strained the relationship and family unit.
The brief survey also asked participants to select reasons for leaving Zimbabwe from a given list. Primary reasons were reported as financial hardship (65%), health problems (10%), and political problems / instability (5%). All of these reasons were reported by 20%. After arriving in South Africa, 65% remained unemployed and 50% reported having health challenges. This information was further explored in the qualitative focus groups.
Three temporal themes, consistent with the broad constructs of the semi-structured interview, were identified and included reasons for leaving and challenges encountered while living in Zimbabwe, and challenges and traumatic experiences while immigrating to and post-arrival to South Africa. While there were some experiential differences, Zimbabwean men and women shared similar traumatic commonalities. In addition to the themes, three subthemes contributing to reasons for leaving Zimbabwe, two subthemes of negative and traumatic experiences incurred while travelling, and two subthemes of challenges upon arriving in South Africa were identified.
Reasons for Leaving Zimbabwe (Pre-Migration)
Challenges encountered in Zimbabwe were similar for both women and men in regards to the availability of resources. However, the two groups differed in reporting political and civil unrest as being a motivator for immigrating to South Africa. Three subthemes were identified and included the following:
1. Lack of Basic Resources and Employment.Resources such as food, water, and shelter were identified as encountered challenges that made it extremely difficult to remain in Zimbabwe. As well, the lack of employment made it difficult to purchase what resources were available.
Water is so much a problem. We have to fetch water almost three, four, five kilometers from where we stay…At Zimbabwe there’s just no job, we got no money. [FG-Female A]
I came here because I was running away from hunger and my husband was not employed there. The company was closed and he came here and looked for work. I followed my husband. [FG-Female B]
It’s like when we left that side…if only you could go to work and they pay you, and you go to the shop, but there is nothing you can buy because what is there, is too expensive. No jobs. [FG-Male A]
2. Lack of Health Care and Medication.Heath care was reported to be a significant challenge due to the cost. Further, if individuals could afford to see a health care provider, there was the additional challenge of being able to afford the medication for treatment. Participants largely believed that health care, including the availability of medication, would be easily accessible in South Africa.
It’s [health care] not easy. Even now it’s not easy. So health-wise in Zimbabwe…you heard about it? There is cholera, no water, no electricity. There is nothing you can do. [FG-Female B]
It’s [heath care] too expensive and there’s also the problem of my medication. Medication is very expensive. So here in South Africa I’m treated for free. [FG-Female C]
3. Political and Civil Unrest and Violence. Unlike the women, several men reported political reasons and violence as a motivator to leave Zimbabwe.
Those guys from that side, they are going to force you to do something that you do not like…if you say you are not a politician, they are going to force you to join a party…So when you are in that situation, you are going to force yourself to run away or be a refugee. So most of the guys do not have papers, some of them they have got papers, but we differ… Some go to South Africa and have their passports…they just say they want to go to that side (South Africa) for a better life. [FG-Male B]
I’m someone elderly. I worked for the Zimbabwean government for twenty years as a civil servant, a senior civil servant for that matter. Unfortunately, the political situation was rising to an extent where we could not stand and I was fired because of that. When I was fired, I worked for private companies, even non-governmental organizations. But unfortunately, they were following me to the extent that I saw that my life was in danger. So I forced myself into this country without the relevant papers. My passport was stolen when I was going to Botswana sometime before but I had to force myself to come here because the situation was bad. My town, my whole area, even my kids were beaten because of me. [FG-Male C]
Challenges and Experiences En-route to South Africa (Mid-Migration)
The discussion of challenges encountered while travelling to South Africa yielded one subtheme experienced by both women and men and one subtheme that was uniquely reported by women. Regardless of gender, Zimbabwean refugees reported witnessing and experiencing threatening and/or physical violence. The subtheme, engaging in survival sex for resources such as food and water and the exchange of being guided through “the bush,” was reported by women.
1. Witnessing and Experiencing Threatening and/or Physical Violence. Many participants reported witnessing other Zimbabweans being assaulted, raped, and killed. Feelings of helplessness were commonly reported with many stating that their only goal was “to keep moving and to survive.” Additionally, many shared personal experiences of trauma.
We were crossing like twenty-seven…we were twenty-seven and there were some guys helping us to cross. We gave them money so that they [would] help us cross through Limpopo bush to Beitbridge to Messina. We found some lady lying. We don’t know whether she was dead or what. But the guy said, “No! Don’t move near! Let’s just go where we are going because this place is dangerous.”… You don’t know what is going to happen. After they check around, they’ll tell you, “let’s go, let’s go, move.” Moving very fast. My experience was sad. It was so sad. [FG-Female D]
Yeah, most people died and you know sometimes, these guys took the money from the ladies they find on the way. They take away your money…You are robbed on the road. They take your clothes and leave you naked…Yes. Even phones and nice clothes, they take it. You’d find somebody crying…saying “I’ve been raped, I don’t have money”. [FG-Female E]
We didn’t use the border side. We used the forest, the guys staying in the bush, and they robbed them - their money, cell phones and women are raped; others are killed. The people there harass people in the forest. They just shoot you. They take you as if they want to assist you to cross the border. But when you are on the way they just turn their hearts and they take your money…everything you have and they’ll just leave you in the forest and you won’t know where you are going. [FG-Male D]
2. Engaging in Survival Sex. In addition to being sexually assaulted and raped, female participants reported that it was common for women to find themselves in situations where survival required exchanging sex for resources and services.
I remember last week it was on the newspaper, on the front page, it was saying “Zimbabwean girls having sex for 2 rands, yeah”…Because sometimes you will be so desperate…you can’t tell a Zimbabwean to give you anything…everyone don’t have. There’s a situation whereby you don’t have anything and…they sleep with those guys for a plate of rice. [FG-Female E]
Challenges Since Arrival in South Africa (Post-Migration)
Consistent among both women and men were feelings of disappointment and little difference existing between Zimbabwe and South Africa in regard to economic opportunities. The two subthemes that were identified included minimal opportunities to obtain resources and employment and experiences of exploitation and coercion.
1. Minimal Opportunities to Obtain Resources. Regardless of gender, while in South Africa, participants reported similar challenges in obtaining the same basic necessities such as food, water, and housing that were unavailable to them while living in Zimbabwe.
The other problem we face right now in South Africa is accommodation…the treatment we are facing with the people we are staying with, belittling us… I don’t know how to explain it. I don’t know how they look at us…We pay 10 rands per day where we stay…well that’s the way they charge you. And you don’t use their water. You fetch your own water. And if you don’t have [10 rands] you go and sleep outside, and you don’t feel safe…You find Zimbabweans sleeping outside there by big bite. [FG-Female F]
We only pray that we find a job so we can look for a house. Now if you don’t work like now, you go everyday and they tell you, “no job.” Almost two weeks you don’t find a job because we are so many and you see what happens whenever you stop your car there? Everyone asks for a job. So it’s hard to find a job… okay… like every Tuesday and Wednesday we go to the Anglican Church on Devenish Street. They give us bread and soup. Half bread or a loaf. If we are many, they give you one only…And sometimes if you are lucky, some people have found some jobs. [FG-Female G]
Things are tough here. We came here expecting that we would get better opportunities in life. But the situation here is almost like the situation back home. There’s no employment here. When you don’t have employment then you have a situation whereby you got difficulties; whereby there’s no accommodation, food and basic things…everything will be troubling you because there’s no employment. And here you don’t even know when we are getting jobs, you see? So that’s the difficulties we are facing in South Africa. [FG-Male E]
The problem we are facing here in South Africa is accommodation. Jobs as well. Food as well. We expected greener pastures here, but it’s not the way we were expecting. At other times you think of back home but you keep on fighting and maybe things will be alright as time goes on. But life is hard here. [FG-Male F]
2. Experiences of Exploitation and Coercion. Many participants shared how vulnerable they were due to their immigration status. That is, if they were fortunate enough to get employment, there were no guarantees that they would receive appropriate wages or get compensated at all despite having worked. Also, many participants shared situations of being exploited and/or coerced.
Some kilometers away, we went to a farm, we worked for almost two or three hours on the farm and we agreed that he is going to give us sixty rands. So as we were almost a little bit finishing, he started being curious… and he chased us, he chased us with his dogs. We were almost bitten by the dogs. It was four of us… And he didn’t give us our money…We didn’t even have money for transport. We had to run and wait by the roadside there. [FG-Female H]
Then on the river, there were problems because helicopters were moving up and down. There were South African soldiers on the other side [South Africa] and we had to pay a little royalties to them so that they released us…There is always someone you have to pay…But even if you are crossing the border, you are supposed to pay them even if you’ve got your passport with you… If you don’t have anything, they say go back. So even if you’ve got the papers, it’s going to be a problem. [FG-Male G]