Omalayisha, An Industry And Livelihood Channel In Need of
An Operating Framework
Presented by:
Vusilizwe Thebe
Department of Development
National University of
Article focuses on cross-border goods courier industry and
movement of remittances from RSA to Zim.
Remittances and their movement are key issues in worker-peasant
or migrant labor communities
• Relocation of urban-based livelihoods fro Byo to Jhb
• Cross-border movement of remittances grew into big business & industry.
• Industry dominated by South African based Ndebele migrants (omalayisha).
• Omalayisha had taken over the role of the rural bus service.
They were central role players in rural economy.
Intro. Cont.
The rapid ‘same day or overnight’ service bridged the
geographical gap between Johannesburg and even remote
areas of Matabeleland, and by moving people, goods and
cash remittances, it provided an apparently sustainable and
seamless exchange between labour and its earnings.
Omalayisha were a permanent feature on South African roads
and despite visible police presence and evidence of
harassment by traffic and law enforcement agencies, they
continued to persevere.
Intro. Cont.
Certain developments after year 2009 in
both Zimbabwe and South Africa:
• Dolarisation in Zimbabwe after GNU.
• South Africa’s policy of good neighborliness (ZDP).
• Threatened the core of industry business.
• Many cynics saw the end of the industry.
Intr. Cont.
I set out to understand the future of the
industry in the context of new developments.
To do this I needed to understand:
• The industry & its background
• Operations & challenges
• Where they seat among the Ndebele migrant community
Intro. Cont.
Paper offers a unique perspective on cross-border
Rather than criminalizing their activities it views them as:
• A necessary and indispensable industry and channel of
remittances for worker-peasantries.
• Its existence is tied to the changed character of urban-based
livelihoods in Zimbabwe in in general and Mat. in particular.
• It needs a framework that will legitimize and guide operations but
maintain the informality.
Selected reading of literature and reviews of studies on
Zimbabwe migration
Extended study of omalayisha & clients between 2007 and
Study divided into two:
• 2007 – 2009 – Study detailed origins & significance of omalayisha.
• 2010 – 2013 – follow-up study.
• Extended studies also drew accounts from 147 migrant clients.
Origins of the industry
A Johannesburg/rural Matabeleland South Service:
Provided service to migrants community, from the Johannesburg inner-city to
Soweto, and expanded to Pretoria and surrounding areas like Diepslot.
Started as informal, part-time activity by migrants who
owned cars.
Omalayisha transformed to full-time and business activity
with increased migration into South African cities in late
1990s .
Community orientation: served migrants from same
communities (friends, neighbors, kin)
Origins cont.
With the extension of service to Bulawayo, the industry lost
its community orientation.
• More migrant entrepreneurs entered the industry
Post-2000, it spread to most parts of Zimbabwe.
Omalayisha were transporting anything & everything across
borders at a price.
People smuggling became core and lucrative business.
• Both transporters and migrants saw nothing wrong with such
activities (omalayisha offered a service to a client base and the client
needed the service and were willing to pay for the service).
How the industry operates?
Too informal with easy of entry and
• No umbrella body/association
• No operation permits
• Anyone with car, can hire trailer & find
clients to serve
• Convenient door-to-door/home-to-home
• Cash, prepaid or cash on delivery terms
• Use of bribes (strive by operating on the
Effects of new developments
• Return of goods on shop shelves led to decline on outbound trips.
• New immigration policy closed the lucrative people smuggling
• Fewer outbound trips:
Average one in two months
Transportation of funeral parties
Made up for loss of business during holidays
Effects cont.
Demand for service to rural south-western Mat.
remained stable:
• Rural migrants remitted food and other items that were
available locally monthly due to convenience
• Use omalayisha as convenient mode of transport on
journeys home on holidays, vacations, emergencies
Urban operators gained access to rural communities
by employing drivers from such communities.
New demands
Facilitating movement of children under 17:
• Assisting migrant parents with movement of children during
school holidays
• Became a core function after immigration changes on
children under 17
Assisting mothers with infants:
• Migrant mothers enlist services of transporters to take young
children to parents
Deeply embedded
• Like the rural bus service, the industry
has become a permanent feature in
semi-proletarian Mat. society.
• Immigration policy strengthened semiproletarianisation.
• Deepened the
• Parallels between historical movement
of remittances to rural areas and the
contemporary malayisha system
Problem areas
Operate on the margins of law
• Use of dilapidated, unroadworthy
• Lack of an operating framework.
• Issues of legitimacy (from officials)
• Breakdowns and a challenge to
other road users.
Promote corruption by bribing
traffic and border officials for
access routes/cold drink fee
Operating framework
Omalayisha now operate modern and roadworthy fleets
But industry needs a regulatory framework:
• To guide operations
• To protect transporters from harassment by traffic & law
enforcement agencies
• For the industry to contribute to South African economy
But maintain the informal nature of the industry, which
makes the industry unique and convenient for migrants