Every year thousands of Zimbabweans based in South Africa make the annual pilgrimage north to spend time with their families and what tales they bring.
Injiva, as Zimbabweans in that country are known, always make the trip to Zimbabwe over holidays and what an impression they leave. In the past Injiva had this aura of invincibility and always left us, those who remained in Zimbabwe, in perpetual shock and awe.
For the Ndebele tribe – I belong to that group – South Africa has always been a destination of choice and like many of my ilk, I had always dreamt of making that trip to the land of gold. I had always wanted to one day come back as an injiva and obtain god like status among my peers.
But with the easing of visa restrictions, my dream excursion to Egoli, (the whole of South Africa and not just Johannesburg is referred to as
Egoli) has all been but put on ice. Everyone and his grandmother can now afford to go to South Africa and that invincibility is all but lost on us.
Being an injiva meant you had to cross the crocodile infested Limpopo, evade arrest and deportation from South Africa. The indomitably of injiva was further cemented by the horror tales they would narrate about their stay in South Africa.
Spotting an injiva is easy, when speaking they intermittently and obnoxiously use the term ‘mara ne’. They are a loud lot, who after spending time across the Limpopo seem to forget their mother tongues and constantly use Zulu, Xhosa and Afrikaans, never mind that half their audience would not have a clue of what they would be saying.
I have a friend who went to South Africa two years ago but was deported a few weeks after arriving in that country. Up to this day, he speaks with a funny South African accent.
Those with relatives Egoli were always seen as better than those who did not. For instance injiva would bring lots of foodstuffs and property for their folks in Zimbabwe and with food shortages being the order of the day, having an injiva relative was a status symbol.
With injiva around, parties are endless and beer flows relentlessly and there is constant reference to chappies and checkers (in reference to a brand of chewing gum and plastic carrier bags from a South African retail shop respectively).
Injiva are also trendy and wear the latest fashion and have their way of doing things, which keeps the locals in awe and perpetual admiration. Injiva women are very light and some have unsightly spots on their faces. This, according to other women, is because they use skin lightening creams they use so they can be distinguished from the locals when they return home.
Evidence of use these creams is easy to see, usually the facial complexion is diametrically opposite to that of the rest of the body.
Surprisingly even locals soon adapt and start speaking the South African street lingo. For about two weeks in December and during other public holidays you will swear the whole of Bulawayo just returned from Egoli.
For two weeks or so Bulawayo turns into a mini South Africa of some sorts, with every other car bearing GP (Gauteng Province) number plates. It is rumoured that most of these cars would have been hired so that injiva can make an impression back home.
For the time they are here, injiva are literally treated as gods, they are given preferential treatment at home, at shops they are served first and even if one were to accidentally step on your toes, you are expected to apologise.
But injivas are a strange lot especially towards the last days of their holidays, when they have to go back to their bases in South Africa. More often than not, they would have spent more than they could afford and would have been reduced to near paupers.
Firstly they begin by begging for money from locals for such small things as cigarettes and then they start pawning off small grocery items in an effort to raise bus fare back to South Africa, after they would have squandered it in the unending parties and reckless spending.
This is a good time for locals as injiva start pawning off their clothes, cellphones and electricals they would have brought for their families in an effort to raise funds for their return.
These goods are often sold at giveaway prices. Some even sell furniture that would still be Egoli, claiming a bus broke down and had to leave its trailer behind. This is when injivas are unmasked for who they really are.
They hardly have enough money for themselves but they should have justification for having left for South Africa in the first place. So they save money for months on end just to blow it in a couple of days.
Most of them crossed into South Africa illegally and are forced into menial jobs. Ironically most of these people who have left for greener pastures are professionals in different fields like teaching and nursing but when they get to the other side they become maids, gardeners and farm hands.
They incur huge debts just to come to Zimbabwe for that week or two, so as to make an impression when they get back home. Others just bring enough food to last them their stay and go back months on end without remitting anything to their families.