In 2004, 17-year-old Yamikani Musowa of Traditional Authority (T/A) Nchilamwera in Thyolo set off for Blantyre City with a friend. Having nowhere to stay, they spent nights at Wenela Bus Depot and did pieceworks during the day.
This was a sacrifice for a mission. In three weeks, Musowa says they raised K20 000 each and the next destination was the Immigration Department offices in Blantyre to obtain travel documents.
“Luckily, we met someone who helped us have our passports processed in time, but that was after we gave him something as a token,” he says.
After six weeks, the passports were ready and they had managed to raise K80 000, which was more than enough for transport to South Africa.
Musowa recalls that they would work as call boys at Wenela Bus Depot and earn K2 000 per bus. In a day, they could earn between K4 000 and K6 000.
“In our village, there are many people who went to South Africa and returned with expensive property. We wanted to achieve the same,” says Musowa, who runs a hardware business in Blantyre.
The two, who had no specific destination in the so-called rainbow nation, ended up at Motorcoach Terminal Station in Durban where they were lucky to meet a man looking for employees.
This was the beginning of a life in Durban. Musowa says they were taken to work at an animal farm called DV Limited in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal Province. There, they were exploited as their employer gave them non-negotiable offers. A worker living outside the farm was offered R1000 (about K40 000 at the current exchange rate) while one living on the farm was paid R500 (about K20 000) per month.
“We lived at the farm for a month and felt we were losing out. We asked to operate from outside the farm. Had we known? It was hell, the cheapest houses available were one-room slums built using iron sheets and cost R250. When it’s hot, it is hell. Food too is expensive and our wages turned to nothing. The next option was to quit and move closer to Durban city, but it was again a miscalculation.
“Pieceworks are scarce in the city, but better paying. In a fortnight, we could make R1000, but still, it was insufficient to help us live a good life and so we remained in the slums. Life also became unbearable because any walk is risky as security officers are everywhere to capture illegal immigrants and employees,” says Musowa who was deported in 2010.
Lindirani Semu, another Malawian working as a house help in Johannesburg, says she earns R500 per fortnight. This translates to R1000 (K40 000) a month. This is almost double what some domestic workers get in Malawi.
“If you are lucky to find a job in Malawi, you get low perks,” says Julio Banda, who works at a farm in Gauteng, Johannesburg.
This is substantiated by a recent Financial Inclusion survey by the Johannesburg based Finmark Trust which reveals that two out of five people in Malawi’s informal sector earns less than the minimum basic wage pegged at K15 000.
Unemployment rate remains high in Malawi. In 2012, Botswana Tertiary Education Council executive secretary Dr Patrick Molutsi told a gathering in Mangochi when presenting his paper titled ‘The Crisis of Transformation: Human Resource Development Strategy for Low Growth Economies’ that 80 percent of secondary school graduates in Malawi fail to secure jobs.
Minister of Labour and Manpower Development Henry Mussa told The Nation of January 13, 2015 that 1.9 million youths in Malawi are jobless. No wonder the youths flock to SA in search for jobs.
A Malawian who has lived in SA for many years reveals that most Malawians work as domestic labourers in gardens, homes and farms and earn peanuts compared to the work they do.
“Many Malawians in SA are unemployed or “under-employed” meaning they live off menial “piece jobs” such as cleaning. Most live in very low income locations such as the Cape Flats of the Western Cape as well as Hillbrow, Johannesburg, but if you compare their wages and what it can buy, it is nothing. The problem [is that] they compare the money to what they could be earning in Malawi forgetting they are spending it in SA,” says the source, who preferred anonymity.
South Africa is a popular destination for people from many African countries both within and outside the Southern Africa DEevelopment Community (Sadc) Region because of its good economy. Since the country ratified Sadc protocol on Transport, Communication and Meteorology of 1996 which under Chapter VIII, promotes regional integration by allowing easy travel between borders for people in the region. Currently, there are efforts to remove border barriers within the Sadc Region.
However, for such people to get a formal job, they need to obtain work permits, which most Malawians cannot acquire because they go for unskilled, informal jobs. In fact, most Malawians are deported for working without permits.
In 2013, The Institute for Social Law and Policy at the Northwestern University in South Africa released a report titled ‘Social Protection and Migrant Workers from Malawi’ which said workers from Malawi and other Sadc countries in South Africa find themselves in precarious positions, especially when it comes to social security, because of legal restrictions such as work permits.
Currently, it is reported that over 4.5 million foreigners are in that country.
Reports indicate that the recent anti-immigrant attacks in Durban have left at least one dead and thousands other foreigners homeless. Over 400 Malawians are affected and waiting to be repatriated by government. Sadly, according to Information Minister Kondwani Nankhumwa, the 400 xenophobia victims lost everything to the attackers.
Government admits high unemployment rate is contributing to the problem, that is why the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in its manifesto promised to create jobs and develop youths.
Nankhumwa says government is focusing on providing facilities through which the youth can obtain skills and capital to start their own businesses. He says they are also working towards growing and expanding the economy to create jobs.
“The way to go is to effectively harness the potential of the youth and to equip them with knowledge and skills necessary for their full participation in the social, cultural, economic and political development of the country. Government is focusing on skills training for self-employment through community and technical colleges,” says Nankhumwa.
He adds that the Malawi Development Bank that is being established will have a window where small and medium enterprises (SMEs) can access start-up capital to establish themselves because “nowhere in the world can the formal sector absorb all job-seekers”.