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Research exposes marginalisation of San people

BY LIZWE SEBATHA

South Africa is Liberty Moyo’s* dream: a place where he could find work and send money back home to his wife and children in Mgodimasili, Tsholotsho, Matabeleland North province.

But raising transport fare is a challenge as Moyo is unemployed, and survives mainly on poorly paying casual work in neighbouring communities.

“I was paid $5 for constructing a stall to store grain,” Moyo said.

“Now, count how many stalls I have to construct to raise the transport fares required by oMalayitsha.”

With borders closed, cross-border transport operators commonly referred to as oMalayitsha charge anything in the upwards of 2000 rand  to facilitate illegal cross border travel.

“I cannot even think of looking for a formal job as I have never been to school,” Moyo said.

The majority of the San in Tsholotsho, numbering about 3000, do not know how to read and write.

A recent survey titled: Access to Covid-19 information amongst the San community in Zimbabwe for the Tsoro-o-Tso San development Trust with support from the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (Osisa) reveals that 50% of the San in Tsholotsho have never been to school.

“The bulk of respondents (50%) has never been to school and is illiterate. 20% of the respondents attended primary school while 10% acquired secondary education,” the study revealed.

The study was carried out by Cowen Dziva and Linet Sithole-Muswera with the two researchers revealing that they used extant literature and empirical field results from 10 key informant interviews, and 50 members of the San community.

The researchers wanted to understand sources of Covid-19 information for the San,  their challenges in accessing accurate information and gauge their understanding of Covid-19 with the view of addressing the inequality that exists between societal groups in pandemic situations.

“The frequencies for sources of information are as follows: hearsay and teachings by local leaders (21), smartphones and social media (4), print media (2) and broadcasting (3),” the researchers said.

The few San community members with access to broadcasting, print and social media platforms were also affected by language barriers to understanding pandemic communications.”

The San community suffers deep structural and systematic marginalisation, the government acknowledged recently as it announced several intervention measures to assist them.

This followed a report presented in Cabinet after a visit to the San community in Tsholotsho by a government delegation led by Local Government minister, July Moyo.

Government intervention measures include, among others, building clinics, primary and secondary schools, waiving entry requirements for learners, facilitating the issuance of birth and identity documents and appointing headmen and chiefs to “enhance the participation of the San/Tjwao in governance.”

Section 56 of the constitution states that: “every person has the right not to be treated in an unfairly discriminatory manner on such grounds as their ethnic or social origin.”

Davy Ndlovu, the coordinator of the Tsoro-o-Tso San Development Trust said schools in the area use isiNdebele as a language of instruction and examination.

This is why also there is a poor pass rate among the few San learners.

“Last year, Ngomeni primary school recorded a zero pass rate in the 2020 Grade 7 final examinations,” Ndlovu said.

As a result, the Khoisan language, popularly referred to as Tjwao, has become rare and is becoming increasingly endangered.

Poverty is rife among the San who survive mostly on casual work in neighbouring Ndebele and Kalanga communities, a situation researchers blame for the failure of the community to climb the social ladder compared to their neighbouring Ndebele and Kalanga communities.

Another recent study argues poverty among the San is also to blame for the failure of the community to climb the social ladder compared to their neighbouring Ndebele and Kalanga communities.

The study titled Marginal communities and livelihoods: San communities failed to transition to a modern economy in Tsholotsho, Zimbabwe released in July 2021 argues Ndebele and Kalanga communities who employ the San for casual work deliberately perpetuate slavery practices against them.

“The study also established that the systematic manipulation of the communal economy by local Bantu neighbours leads to a continued subjugation of San communities as they are structurally subdued to provide cheap labour,” the researchers added.

“We argue that there is a need to look into social-cultural factors and an emerging perception about deliberate slavery practices perpetuated by neighbouring Bantu communities.”

However, Moyo says he has not given up on his plans of one day travelling to South Africa in search of a better life despite a lack of formal education and his poor background.

 *This article was originally published by The Citizen Bulletin, a nonprofit news organization that produces hard-hitting, hyperlocal reporting and analysis for the southwestern region of Matabeleland. 

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