Celebrating migrants’ contributions to SA

As a stranger in a foreign country, without resources, Mudiaya did something that very few in her situation would attempt and that was starting up a project that would rescue women living in Gauteng from poverty.

In a country where the role of immigrants is often misunderstood, her biggest obstacle was to win the trust of the people. And despite obstacles that threatened to stand in her way, Mudiaya decided to make South Africa her home and started an organization called Kwesu. Its role was to support and empower African women to live a life of dignity and to heal social isolation by building a sense of community between women. She opened up a factory to teach women how to sew, a skill that has not only provided them with income but helped integrate people from different countries and communities.

Today, the organisation is one of few non-governmental organisations credited for assisting women, particularly migrants, to integrate into South African society. Mudiaya is one of many migrants who have chosen to involve themselves in positive initiatives around South Africa and contribute to the betterment of the country they now call home.  Their efforts didn’t go unnoticed.

Mudiaya, and five other individuals and organisations were honoured for their role in uplifting the South African society when they were named as winners at the inaugural Mkhaya Migrants Awards held in Johannesburg recently.

The awards ceremony, organised by the Department of Home Affairs, honoured migrants who contribute to South Africa in the areas of business, community development, most integrated community, sports and arts and culture among others.

The event at Gallagher Convention Centre in Midrand was filled with glamour and entertainment and the recent attacks on foreign nationals in South Africa were forgotten. People danced and cheered to the music of South African jazz legend Vusi Mahlasela and Zimbabwe’s popular export Oliver Mtukuzi. One thing that united them was their citizenship of the continent called Africa. Zimbabweans called Mozambicans mkhaya (countryman) so did Nigerians to South Africans and Congolese to Ethiopians, everybody was a mkhaya.  

Winners on the night were awarded R100 000 to continue to make a positive contribution in society using their expertise and resources.       

But for Mudiaya, the award and money was not something she had in mind when she started the Kwesu project.

 All she wanted to do was to improve the quality of life for the people of South Africa in different communities and ensure that migrants and locals coexist in peaceful environments.  

“It is always a great honour to be recognised but this particular award is the best thing of all that I have achieved in my work in South African communities. 

We have been through a lot together and being recognised and getting an award is something great,” she says.

A teacher by profession, Mudiaya said the struggles of women are a societal challenge that need to be tackled by both the government and civil society organisations.

“Together we talk about these problems and we find solutions ourselves. We know what are the challenges and it only us who can solve them if we are willing and that is the belief I have.

“As a woman, I am working hard to ensure that I reach as many South African women as possible because South Africa made me who I am,” she says.  

Given the precarious position and the extent of gender-based violence and discrimination in communities, grassroots activist Mudiaya and her organisation provide support to some of the most vulnerable people living in South Africa. 

She is a shining example of how people, irrespective of their citizenship, can make a difference with a vision and drive for positive change.  As revealed at the Mkhaya Migrants Awards, there are many people like Mudiaya who are working every day to make South Africa a better place to live in.  

Take the community of Makana in the Eastern Cape for example. The Grahamstown community has found a way to integrate migrant entrepreneurs and local shopkeepers into a business forum. 

Agreements are made collectively, without violence, and all parties are compliant with regulations and by-laws. The forum was instrumental in ensuring that police action was taken in communities affected by the adverse treatment of migrant-owned small businesses. For its role in demonstrating that Africans working together as a united front can benefit whole communities, the community was commended and walked away with the R100 000 prize.

The name William Okpara has been known to almost every household in the township since the early 1990s.  This Orlando Pirates former goal-keeper and legend arrived in South Africa in 1989 from Nigeria. Since then, the man nicknamed “The Godfather” has given sterling service to the Sea Robbers.  He played for more than a decade for the Bucaneers, winning two league titles. Most importantly, Okpara played a pivotal role in Orlando Pirates annexing the Confederation of African Football Champions League in 1995. When he retired from playing, he graduated to the position of goalkeeper coach. For his role in sport, this Nigerian born footballer, walked away with R100 000.

“The role of sport in uniting the people can never be under estimated. 

We have seen this during the rugby and the soccer world cup tournaments held in this country. So as someone who has been part of sport in South Africa all these years, I have seen how important sports is in this country and I have always tried to use my position to do good,” Okpara says.

He bemoans the recent attacks on foreign nationals in few communities in Gauteng and Kwazulu-Natal saying they are not a true a reflection of the South Africa he knows.

“I have been in this country for many years and I have made it my home, what we saw is not how South Africans are. 

For me this is a good country and no amount of criminal elements can change that,” he says.

The Home Affairs Department says the Mkhaya Migrant awards will be held annually to raise awareness about the role migrants play in South Africa. – SANews.gov.za

June 2015
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