FARAI (not real name) migrated to South Africa in 2007 when he had just finished his printing course at a local technical college in Zimbabwe.
A 35-year-old breadwinner in a family of 11, said he had no option, but to take the bold decision to cross the crocodile-infested Limpopo River in search of “gold” in eGoli, as South Africa’s commercial hub, Johannesburg is known.
Eight years later, returning to Zimbabwe is far from his mind.
“I don’t want to go back home. My papers are not in order, but here, I’m living a better life,” he said.
Living in one of the flats in central Johannesburg, Farai has seen it all and, according to him, South Africa is a jungle where only the fit survive.
“When I came here, it was tough. It took me years to adjust and know most places. I had a friend from the same neighbourhood in Zimbabwe, who had invited me to stay with him for a while as I was looking for employment,” he recalls.
That was after this reporter had lost all his belongings — including R5 300 and a cellphone — at knife-point along Bree Street in the city in full view of people at the nearby Park Station long-distance commuter terminus soon after disembarking a bus from Zimbabwe.
Farai had seen all the drama from a distance and had followed this reporter trying to help, certain that the victim was a compatriot.
Reporting such incidents to the police, Farai said, would not help, as the police may also try to extort money from the victim.
“These guys can kill you any minute. You did right by not fighting back when those thieves pounced on you because they could even stab or shoot you to death,” he said.
“The moment one crosses that border, he or she completely changes. Our sisters are involved in prostitution and drug-peddling here, particularly those who came here without all the necessary papers or education.”
Another Zimbabwean scribe, Tanya, was last month robbed of all his valuables and a cellphone along the same street, Bree.
Colleagues in the City of Gold said fellow Zimbabweans followed Tanya from Newtown thinking he was a Nigerian.
According to Gilbert, a South African, who stays in Soweto, crime is rampant.
He claimed most robbers in Johannesburg, especially those operating close to long-distance bus terminuses, were Zimbabweans fluent in both Shona and Ndebele.
“Don’t hate South Africans,” he said. “Hate your fellow Zimbabweans. South African criminals steal big things like cars and rob banks, not poor travellers from Zimbabwe,” he said.
“Of course, they work in cahoots with local criminals, but they are tipped off by Zimbabweans, since it’s easy to identify you when one is a foreigner.”
Most Zimbabwean robbers in the country know their fellow countrymen carry huge amounts of money, since most of them would be buying items for resale back home.
The two men took this reporter on a tour of the MTN taxi rank and some few places around Park Station and Powerhouse bus terminus, pointing out suspected Zimbabwean criminals — sometimes exchanging greetings in Shona.
Listin, a Zimbabwean who stays in the notorious Hillbrow suburb and operates at the MTN taxi rank, gave a chilling account of how killings were daily servings in Johannesburg.
“You are lucky my friend to be alive. Most Zimbabweans are partnering with South Africans to rob you guys,” he said.
“Most Zimbabweans who came here long back, have adjusted and can even now speak local languages, but most Shona people are easily identifiable because they are not fluent in South African languages.”
According to Gamu, a Zimbabwean engineer who has been in South Africa for 35 years, it was a shame that many of his countrymen had resorted to crime in the foreign land.
“We sacrificed a lot when we came here in order to survive. I won’t encourage anyone to come here, especially when one does not have the proper documents and education,” he said.
Newspapers have been awash with incidents where passengers, who hitch-hike to Johannesburg have been robbed, raped and killed, mostly by Zimbabwean criminals.