A swanky Jaguar sedan pulls onto a road sidewalk. It switches off its side lamps. A bevy of women jump from a street mast, and stampede onto its door knobs. They say they are visa-violating immigrants from Zimbabwe, a few from Mozambique; soliciting for kitchen or laundry work in Cape Town´s ocean-front mansions. They are ending up tied in episodes of sex, some under coercion.
“There is a skill to this, one does not merely run to the car at random,” Margaret (not her real name), 35, the leader of the group begins. “One must position themselves to the driver’s arm. This the negotiation point.”
Jostling reaches a frenzy when the male driver of the sedan lowers his glasses.
He is an employer. “We, the immigrant women are his to choose,” whispers Margaret. Her eyes rotate in case other cars pull by too.
“Don’t scratch my car´s mirror with fingernails,” mouths off the driver.
The eight women sigh and crane back their necks, but still make frantic efforts to endear themselves to the driver.
“I need a woman who can bake scones, Rooibos tea, make French pasta. Do you hear me?” asks the driver.
“Me!” a cluster of voices goes off at once. The women are shouting themselves into brutal competition.
Margaret knows she can’t really make French pasta. “I don’t know what pasta is. I was a hairdresser in Zimbabwe. I am just lying to get the job, who knows…I left my husband and epileptic son back home in Zimbabwe. I am an immigrant, I promised them an income when I return.”
But today, Sandra, (not real name) 29, Margaret´s friend, is the “winner.” She avails herself to cook “the French pasta and other tasks for R70 ($US5) a day.”
Sandra bids Margaret farewell and hops into the stranger´s Jaguar car. They drive off into the unknown.
“Every day, every morning is like this,” confirms Margaret when the car has paled beyond view.
“The Point” for female immigrants,
Margaret, is an immigrant who has overstayed her visitor’s visa in South Africa. She came to Cape Town, South Africa´s holiday capital on February 3 from Harare, the capital of neighbouring Zimbabwe.
South Africa passport officers stamped just 72 hours as her visit allowance. “What can I do in 72 hours? I have a jobless husband back home in Zimbabwe and seven year old epileptic son. I was a hairdresser until punitive taxes shut down my hair dressing shop.”
She is referring to derided new plans by Zimbabwe´s government to exact a monthly $US100 tax for every chair in a hair dressing salon for every chair in a hair dressing salon.
“I´m overstaying my visa, seeking kitchen jobs here in Cape Town. This sets me up to cheat on my husband.”
Immigrant female painters, maids, baby minders, gardeners all hog traffic lights at this self-created space called “The Point” in Cape Town. This city is a magnet; it attracts over 1 million tourists yearly. This is a yawning contrast to where they come from Zimbabwe. There, 85% of workers are out jobs according to Gideon Shoko, the secretary general of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions.
Therefore, “The Point” is a fierce place for job hunting among immigrant women who must earn enough to eat and courier the remainder across the border to husbands.
Some local South African employers dangle casual jobs to these immigrant women because they prefer not to pay the mandated minimum South African wage of R12 ($1) per hour says Jack de Wit, 35, an architect, and a resident of Cape Town. “For that purpose I choose a new woman four times a week to clean my apartment and sort out dirty clothes,” he says.
Kitchen jobs evolve into transactional sex,
“Here at The Point, these jobs have evolved,” whispers Margaret, while scanning out for cars.
She reveals, “Me and my group no longer just do “cleaning and cooking.” Some wealthy employers when they drive you to their homes, they lure you with R200 ($15) per day rate for a job that should cost R90 a day. They even propose to reduce working hours in return for coercing you into sex.”
“At first we thought this is a betrayal of our marriage vows but if you turn down your employer sex advances, he cuts off the job and dumps you in the road. You can’t plead to police when you have an expired visa.”
Sandra, her friend nods and agrees, “My husband too in Zimbabwe is jobless. I up my kitchen jobs with transactional sex to boost my income. I now come to South Africa every four months specifically for this.”
Margaret continues, “The indecent sex proposal from my employer began as a one-off thing. I no longer feel guilty. My husband must never know please.”
She is worried though. “The Point” she says, has been “flooded”. Some female students from Zimbabwe, who when out of tuition finances, are encroaching onto the turf of regular women like Margaret and Sandra.
Scores of female foreign students from Zimbabwe sometimes fall on hard times in South African universities when their government delays or fails to pay their upkeep, says Takunda Dongo, national coordinator of the Zimbabwe Students in South Africa Civic Forum.
“We have spotted a niche too. I join these women like Margaret only on weekend when my studies stop,” says one student who chose to hide her name as Idah. She says she is 24, from Bulawayo, Zimbabwe´s second largest city. She says she is a history student at Cape Peninsula University of Technology.
“The Zimbabwe government has not paid a cent towards my scholarship costs in 2017. I can quickly make R600 ($45) on a good weekend in private homes. The job has turned into pleasing men,” Idah says. Calls to the Zimbabwe embassy in South Africa for a response were fruitless.
The safety in these informal job pick-up points puts into sharp focus the dangers of sexual hostages.
“When women willy-nilly jump into cars without verifying the credibility of their employers, rapes, kidnappings and trafficking can occur,” says Gabriel Shumba chairperson of the Zimbabwe Exiles Forum, the largest pressure group that represents immigrants from Zimbabwe in South Africa.
But employers like Jack de Wit pans out the reason he prefers to hire these immigrant women just for a day. “There is crime here in Cape Town. I hire immigrant women just for a day to reduce familiarity…Look I have suffered house burglaries.”
(Photo explanation: Women huddle at “The Point” job spot in Cape Town)
(Photo credit: Rutendo Sagwidza)
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