SOUTH Africa’s decision to deport Zimbabweans who fail to regularise their stay in that country before the end of the year will hit the poor hardest, analysts and exiles say.
The South African Home Affairs department said legal documents would be given to those who could show that they have been in that country before May 31, 2010 and can prove that they are gainfully employed, are bona fide students or are in a legitimate business for which they are registered to pay tax.
Over three million Zimbabweans, a quarter of the population, fled economic and political turmoil since 2000 and have settled in neighbouring nations and overseas countries such as the United Kingdom.
Groups such as the Solidarity Peace Trust estimate that half of these people are in South Africa, most of them unskilled and likely to become victims of South Africa’s new measures.
Analysts say economic considerations could be behind South Africa’s decision to flush out Zimbabweans. Unemployment worries have heightened as jobs created before the soccer World Cup vanish.
South Africa created over 130 000 temporary jobs in the run-up to the 2010 Fifa World Cup which ended in July. Zimbabwe’s economy, on the other hand, has failed to grow and would be unable to accommodate a sudden flood on unskilled labour, analysts say.
A special dispensation allowing Zimbabweans to live and work in South Africa without documentation introduced in April last year ends in December and immigrants have until then to regularise their stay.
Thousands of Zimbabweans doing menial jobs such as farm workers are unlikely to meet this deadline because of ignorance and the nature of their work, groups working with immigrants in South Africa say.
The South African government this week sought to downplay the impact of its new policy on Zimbabwean immigrants by saying no mass deportations would take place because Zimbabweans living in that country without documentation would be allowed to regularise their stay by December 31. Those who fail to do so during this period will however be deported from January next year.
Civic organisations have tried to convince South Africa’s Home Affairs department that the planned deportations are ill-timed as there is slow economic growth and lack of broad political reforms in Zimbabwe.
Pretoria-based Zimbabwe Exiles Forum (ZEF) met Home Affairs’ deputy director (immigration) Jackie Mackay and chief director in the ministry, Mudiri Mathews, this week where the officials confirmed that deportations will start after the December 31 deadline.
Gabriel Shumba, ZEF executive director, told the Zimbabwe Independent after the meeting: “We expressed concern over a number of issues, including the fact that the insinuation given is that the situation in Zimbabwe has stabilised. We were also concerned that there is very little time, that is three months, given to Zimbabweans to ensure that they obtain a Zimbabwean passport and all the other relevant documents before they can legalise their stay.”
He criticised the South African government for setting a deadline before putting in place the infrastructure to ensure Illegal Zimbabweans regularise their stay within the set timeframe.
“We are concerned that this decision appears to pander to political constituencies regardless of the xenophobia that it can trigger,” said Shumba. “There is therefore need to carry out an extensive education campaign for Zimbabweans, employers and the South African public in general,” said Shumba, whose organisation is lobbying the South African government to reconsider the decision and consult more widely.
He described the South African cabinet decision as “callous and arbitrary”.
The deportations, analysts say, will give a wrong impression about the economic conditions in Zimbabwe where the situation is still unstable despite the formation of the coalition government in February last year.
Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition (South Africa office) regional coordinator Dewa Mavhinga argued that even if there was sincerity in the regularisation procedure, the process could largely depend on the whims of unscrupulous employers.
“We fear that a resumption of deportations may fuel xenophobic sentiments and lead to renewed attacks,” he said.
“The fact that today under a coalition government Zimbabweans continue to flock to South Africa in their thousands daily is evidence enough that the appearance of change is but a mirage. We ask that whatever new policy measures are tried should be tried in the context of a moratorium on deportations of Zimbabweans, at least until Zimbabwe holds a credible, free and fair election whose outcome is acceptable to the people of Zimbabwe and to the international community.”
Movement for Democratic Change SA (MDC SA) chairperson Austin Moyo told reporters in Johannesburg this week that the ANC-led government should be compassionate and considerate.
Central Methodist Church Bishop Paul Verryn, who has accommodated thousands of Zimbabwean migrants at his church in central Johannesburg, said Zimbabwe could not take care of its migrants.
“But for the vulnerable in the country the situation is still desperate,” he said.
Verryn warned there could be fresh xenophobic attacks as a result of the special dispensation’s cancellation.
Zimbabweans in South Africa have faced persistent threats of violence and in 2008 over 60 people died and 150 000 were displaced in a wave of xenophobic attacks that swept across South Africa.
Following the formation of the coalition government between Zanu PF’s President Robert Mugabe and MDC-T’s Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, the economy has slowly recovered by 4,7% while capacity utilisation jumped from 10% to 32% last year, according to the Business Council of Zimbabwe.
Economist Witness Chinyama said the job market was poor and could not absorb hundreds of thousands of vulnerable Zimbabweans from South Africa.
The unskilled Zimbabweans, he said, could be absorbed in the informal market and help rebuild the economy.
“Manufacturing capacity utilisation is still low and the job market is not good. It will be difficult for the economy to absorb the huge numbers of those based in South Africa and elsewhere,” said Chinyama.