SOUTH Africa’s efforts to control the influx of Zimbabweans through deportations instead of addressing the root cause of the crisis has badly “misfi
red”, says the Zimbabwe Exiles Forum (ZEF), an organisation dealing with the rights of exiled Zimbabweans in South Africa.
ZEF accuses President Thabo Mbeki’s government of acting “in complicity” with President Robert Mugabe in the face of a spiralling economic and political crisis in Zimbabwe.
Gabriel Shumba, the Zimbabwean executive director of ZEF, said South Africa was failing to cope with the number of illegal immigrants because it had chosen to ignore the root cause of the problem.
He was reacting to recent media reports in South Africa that Pretoria had deported at least 51 000 “illegal Zimbabwean immigrants” between January and June this year.
“Whilst we sympathise with the South African government over its escalating immigration control costs, we observe that its efforts to control the tide through deportations instead of stemming the root of the Zimbabwean crisis have misfired,” said Shumba in a statement.
“It is dismaying that Pretoria folds its arms and sometimes seems to abet the unrelenting political, social and economic decay in Zimbabwe on one hand and cry foul about the overwhelming refuge crisis it is facing,” he said.
ZEF accused Mbeki of failing to deal more decisively with Mugabe over his disastrous policies, preferring instead his much-maligned “quiet diplomacy” while an economic meltdown continues in Zimbabwe.
A South African newspaper, the Sunday Times, reported recently that the Home Affairs department had deported 51000 illegal Zimbabwean immigrants from January to June. This represented an average of 265 people each day, it said.
ZEF said it was concerned that the deportees included women and children who had nowhere to go and were often abused on both sides of the Limpopo River.
“This is especially worrying in circumstances where scores of children being dumped at Beitbridge have become defenseless victims of this catastrophe.”
ZEF said the immediate return of the women and children to Zimbabwe where social security structures and psychological trauma counselling facilities had collapsed, constituted a “grave and potentially serious threat to the human rights of the deportees and regional peace and security”.
Zimbabwe’s socio-economic and political climate has deteriorated over the past six years since government embarked on the land reform programme that has ruined the country’s commercial agriculture and spawned mass poverty.
Most of the country’s economic refugees have run away to South Africa where they take up menial jobs on the farms.
Most of them enter the country illegal and are often reported to the authorities once they demand pay for their labour.
The country has experienced acute foreign currency shortages, a high inflation rate, and shortages of medicines, fuel and other basic commodities. Employment has remained high at over 75% despite government’s purported empowerment initiatives. This has forced thousands of people to illegally cross the border into South Africa and Botswana each week where they are rounded up and detained in transit camps before deportation.
Many people, including civil servants, have resorted to cross-border trading to supplement their salaries.
In 2004 at least 72 112 illegal Zimbabweans immigrants were deported from South Africa, with the figure rising to 97 433 in 2005. Efforts to get comments from the South African embassy were fruitless this week.
Meanwhile the Minister of Safety and Security in South Africa, Charles Nqakula, last week said the biggest population of foreign nationals involved in crime was from Zimbabwe and Botswana.
Two weeks ago four Zimbabweans were shot dead in Botswana after they allegedly attempted to intercept a van transporting over 35 000 pula to a bank in Gaborone.