The snaking queue outside the Home Affairs department in Marabastad, Pretoria, is the most dreadful part of my day. I have been coming here for at least two days a week for the past month, since fleeing from my home country, Zimbabwe in 2015. I had to flee because, after forming a civic organisation for youth engagement on issues of national welfare, I started receiving threats on Facebook. They started off mild, like, “Shut up!”, and escalated to us being harassed by the police every time we had meetings. The police said my work undermined the government’s efforts, and that this could result in my detention.
Having learnt from activists who once got such warnings, I felt it was better to leave my country. And even as Zimbabwe celebrated 36 years of independence , I could not be there to witness it.
Leaving my life behind wasn’t easy
My last night at home was emotional. My uncle, who took care of me after my parents passed away, gathered my immediate family for prayer. He said I needed the Lord’s blessings for the journey ahead. He sternly warned me not to tell anyone where I was going.
I woke up early the next morning, took my bags and lunch tin of pap and beef, said my goodbyes, then left. My memories of home faded with each kilometre the bus consumed. I didn’t get into South Africa illegally, because I had a passport. But my visa allowed me to stay in South Africa for only 60 days. My 60 days expired in February, and I’ve been going to the Department of Home Affairs since then, like thousands of other asylum seekers, hoping to get refugee status in the long run.
Waking up at 4am doesn’t help either
The bright Gauteng lights guide me as I leave my sister’s house in Jo’burg to head to Marabastad in Pretoria. My routine entails a 4am rise, and I catch a R20 taxi between the two cities. But no matter how early I think I am, I’m still at the back of the queue. This is because others have already booked their spots by sleeping in the queue. On a normal day, the offices host at least 1000 foreigners.
I’m often surrounded by exhausted bodies of men, women and children alike, rubbing against each other in this train to redemption. I feel sorry for the children. Some, even six months of age, are sandwiched on their mothers’ backs. There’s no order to how the queue moves. Getting to the front of the queue has nothing to do with arriving early. Sometimes staff at the department pick people randomly out of the queue. So you never know when your lucky day will be. Until then, you just have to queue in the baking Pretoria sun.
Amidst all of this, some with long hands dig in for wallets and phones in people’s pockets. The police rarely arrest these tycoons. This is why I put my phone and wallet in a jean short underneath my baggy black sweatpants.
I don’t even know if I’ll ever get asylum
After waiting for the whole day you can be told to come back the following week, but Zimbabweans and Congolese people are only served on Monday and Tuesday. I got lucky at the end of March and was finally able to submit my application. I’m still waiting for feedback, which means going to check on the status of my application every week.
Although, I am undocumented, at the moment, I’m encouraged by the fact that a few companies have promised to offer me employment once my asylum seeker’s permit is out. Imagining myself at work makes me smile a lot.
As South Africa celebrates 22 years of freedom, I’m still on a journey to clinch mine. Although I’m aware that this may take a while and some applications get rejected, I’m still hopeful.
*As told to Kudzai Vanyoro