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Undocumented migrants bolster indigenous truck owners’ businesses



THE refusal by bigger companies like Botswana Couriers, Sprint Couriers, Skynet Couriers, UPS, TNT Express and FedEx to accept parcels from individuals without identity documents has created an opportunity for indigenous truck owners willing to transport basic necessitates for families and relatives of undocumented migrants back home in Zimbabwe.

“Most undocumented migrants send goods like building materials, food and even medication to families back in Zimbabwe. They prefer us because of the less onerous conditions,” said George Madimu, a truck owner operating along the Western Bypass bordering Gaborone’s new central business district.

He said: “We do not require documentation like passports or IDs from people sending their goods. We only require full details of the receiver so that they can collect parcel from the bus.”

A fleet of six fully loaded 23-tonne trucks leaves for various destinations in Zimbabwe almost every week full of tightly wrapped parcels for undocumented migrant labour. This is because the bigger courier companies refuse to undertake the responsibility because they perceive the exercise to be too risky.

“DHL needs adequate documentation, so undocumented migrants cannot send their parcels. There are many undocumented migrants in Botswana supporting families back in Zimbabwe. It can also be an inconvenience for recipients if documentation is required,” said Madimu.

 “Oxygen bottles are very scarce in Zimbabwe. Most of our clients who are undocumented migrants also have Covid-19 positive relatives and so send them to Zimbabwe to help those at home. These oxygen bottles help Covid-19 patients to breathe.”

Madimu says the trucking companies have to pay a full rebate at the border for clients because they do not get a rebate for undocumented migrants on Zimbabwe side. They only have to pay 30% rebate for those who are legal migrants.

The result of these policies is that many undocumented migrants who have fled Zimbabwe because of the deteriorating economic situation in the country feel like they are being unduly punished.

They are subjected to daily acts of xenophobia and have their hard-earned monies for services provided often under charged to secure jobs to make ends meet as well as being charged despite being vulnerable members of society as the poorest of the poor, in a deeply fragmented society.

Many businesses in Botswana, especially farmworkers, casual labourers and construction workers are able to benefit from cheap labour offered by migrant communities, especially from Zimbabwe.

However, they often have to deal with hostility from the host country and punitive tariffs by their government which is responsible for the deteriorating economic situation in their country of origin.

“Most undocumented migrants are struggling, a situation which is worsened by the coronavirus and now they are being overcharged to send food items back to their families in Zimbabwe,” said Madimu.

“Undocumented migrants have however been able to create a niche business opportunity for smaller transport companies like ourselves. We are forced to be cheaper due to competition and considering economic hardships faced by undocumented migrants. ”

Madimu maintains that somebody may want to send a second-hand bed to Zimbabwe. It would not make sense to charge the same price as a new bed and so their pricing tends to be flexible. The bigger multinational companies only consider space occupied and weight.

“Because of the needs of our clients we are flexible about pricing,” said Madimu.

“Undocumented migrants are routinely abused and often pay bribes to avoid deportation from the country.”

Hyperinflation in Zimbabwe has followed a process of radical transformation of the economy beginning with the forcible expulsion of white farmers and an ambitious land reform process ushering in a period of instability in Zimbabwe that began in February 2007. In March 2020, with inflation above 500% annually, Zimbabweans continue to run to Botswana as economic refugees looking for better opportunities.

This is because until the beginning of the global recession in 2008, Botswana has maintained one of the world’s highest economic growth rates since its independence in 1966.

Although Botswana has grown very modestly until 2017, due to a downturn in the global diamond market, it remains very stable.

“The economy of Zimbabwe is bad and it is only the rich who can afford to put food on the table, especially those aligned to Zanu PF. The bulk of the people live in poverty and a bulk of the young people who come to Botswana do so to look for jobs and earn money. But it is not always possible to get permits because authorities will say there are Batswana who can do those jobs,” said Patrick Chivasa (not his real name), a Zimbabwean carpenter with three children who entered Botswana legally in September 2001 but whose permit is not being renewed.

“You will pay P1 500 for a work permit application and they will reject your application. You will also have to apply for a residence permit and you will pay P1 500 and you are likely to be rejected. With the number of Zimbabwean migrants in Botswana, a lot of money is generated for government coffers.”

Chivasa maintained that when you look for piece jobs you are habitually harassed by the police. If you are an undocumented migrant, anybody employing you is charged P1 000 and if there are more than six such employees, the employer is charged P10 000.

“When you are arrested, you are taken to the cells and you meet people from different places. There will be more than 10 of you in a small cell with no social distancing despite persisting concerns over the coronavirus. You are then transported to Francistown and held in a cell with other people before being taken to the border. People are taken to the border and many return before the government vehicle arrives in Gaborone,” said Chivasa, whose son graduated from the Teacher Training College recently.

Chivasa is a deeply troubled man because his children have spent all their lives in Botswana and have no contacts in Zimbabwe. He believes they will struggle to reintegrate into a new environment..
—The Tswana Times

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