Following the Covid-19 outbreak and its socio-economic impact on various countries, a significant number of Zimbabweans domiciled in various countries throughout the world were forced to return home.
Most countries implemented various strategies, including hard lockdowns, to curb the spread of the pandemic which has infected over 22 million people world over.
Such restrictions shut down economies with most people forced out of work.
To lessen the burden, some of the countries deported, en masse, migrants back to their countries.
Although most of these migrants were surviving on menial jobs in their host countries, they were able to support themselves and their families back home.
However, some were forced out of work as the pandemic wreaked havoc.
Before joining their families back home, returnees are required to quarantine for a period of up to 21 days to test for coronavirus to prevent its spread to others.
But due to challenges in testing, returnees end up overstaying at the run-down government-owned facilities where the meals and sanitation are reportedly poor.
Overcrowding and neglect is the first experience most returnees have to endure.
When the returnees are finally released to their families, they encounter more challenges at home such as sharing the few resources with relatives who themselves are poverty-stricken and are struggling to survive.
“This is a reality that I had to confront, going back to my parents, who themselves were struggling to make ends meet,” said 25-year-old Mthandazo Sibindi* in an interview with CITE.
“Since I was deported from Botswana, I came back with nothing. I only had the clothes I was wearing. I wasn’t carrying any groceries for my mother and that made me feel as if I had made no progress in my life.”
Sibindi said Botswana police deported a group of 17 men and left them at the Plumtree border post.
“This is where we were first tested for coronavirus,” he said. “A day later, we were moved to Bulawayo where we settled at Standard Hotel.”
Standard Hotel is one of the quarantine centres in Bulawayo that accommodates male returnees.
Sibindi spent a total of 28 days there until he was released on August 5, 2020.
Now that he is back home, penniless, Sibindi is stranded with no prospects of getting a job to fend for his immediate and extended family.
He said due to economic circumstances in Zimbabwe, he jumped the border to Botswana four years ago and settled in Gaborone.
Since he had no proper documentation, Sibindi did several menial jobs in Gaborone and was able to buy groceries for himself, parents and pay his rent.
Unfortunately for Sibindi, he was suspected to have been part of a robbery in July 2020 and was arrested leading to his deportation.
He left behind his partner and a three-month-old child.
His partner, having just delivered, begged the police to be deported alongside him, but Batswana authorities refused claiming that it is unlawful for a child less than six months to be deported.
This forced his young family to remain behind in Gaborone and he would need use the illegal route to be reunited with his family.
“I have to pay 1 500 pula and I don’t have any money now,” he said.
“The lockdown here is tough as the law is strict on informal vendors, worse with the curfew in place. I could start selling something until I raise funds but I can’t find a solid job and I am starting to be depressed. I am worried about my family back in Gaborone.
“My partner cannot work as she has to look after our baby. She already had to sell a fridge to pay last month’s rent and this month when we communicated, she was telling me she would sell our television set.”
Like other migrants forced back home, Sibindi now has to change his plans in response to circumstances brought about by Covid-19.
His hope now is relying on extended family members to assist him to pick up the pieces until he is in a position to go back to Gaborone.
“This has to be soon because I am worried about my child,” he said. “I am hopeful that the family will assist me. I plan to apply for a passport first then go back to Gaborone. I cannot wait for the passport to be processed but will return later for it.”
Despite the risks, in the context of the coronavirus, Sibindi is determined to cross the border illegally.
*Not real name