Zimbabweans coming home for Christmas

FRANCISTOWN – Thembi Manyanga, from Masvingo, Zimbabwe is one of the illegal immigrants driven into Botswana by the desire for a better life after years of economic destruction by the Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's political juggernaut.

As she prepares to return home next week for Christmas, she has started rounding up people she has been working for to inform them of her impending departure. She specialises in sweeping yards, washing clothes and plaiting hair. She keeps a long list of her ’employers’.

Botswana currency fetches a good rate on Zimbabwe’s thriving black market. Although there are signs of improvement, Zimbabwe is still gripped by economic and political chaos. As an illegal immigrant, Manyanga has been arrested and transported back to her country many times.

"It is currently not easy to survive in Zimbabwe as the atmosphere is not yet offering opportunities. As politicians in the unity government continues to fight, it is us the ordinary people who suffer," says Manyanga, a mother of three. She says the father of her children abandoned them and disappeared without any trace.

Manyanga says she has no choice but to jump the border into Botswana to search for opportunities to feed her three children and her ageing mother. She claims that the Botswana government once hosted many of her relatives who are associated with the MDC after the ruling ZANU-PF militias harassed them after the country’s elections last year.

Manyanga survived a clean up campaign targeting illegal immigrants recently mounted by the Botswana government. Betty Moyo from Matebeleland West in Bulawayo knows many streets in Francistown like the back of her hand. She has been coming and going for 10 years. She says her motive for jumping the border is to survive and not to steal as the majority of Batswana think.

Moyo, just like Manyanga agree that because of its proximity to the Zimbabwe border, Francistown is a popular destination for desperate Zimbabweans. They use many of the footpaths between the border and the city without falling in the traps laid by the law enforcement agencies.

A few years ago, following an outbreak of the contagious Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD), Botswana decided to erect a 500km electric fence along the border with Zimbabwe. The government claimed it wanted to keep Zimbabwean cattle out because they were affected with FMD.

Apparently, Zimbabwe voiced its disquiet over the fence accusing Botswana of seeking to create a Gaza Strip. Botswana authorities were hopeful that the electric fence will keep out border jumpers.

Apparently what started off as a small issue of border jumping affecting individuals metamorphosed into a serious issue with Zimbabwe making accusations of unfair treatment against Botswana. Nevertheless, Botswana’s case remained that the fence was mot a barrier to people, but to stop infected cattle.

Labour and Home Affairs Minister, Peter Siele under whose docket, issues of illegal immigrants fall, acknowledges that Botswana has problems with its neighbours. He says Botswana will continue to get illegal immigrants from Zimbabwe as long as the economic and political situation in the country does not change.

Siele says his ministry was supposed to meet Zimbabwean officials to among others discuss illegal immigration, but due to other pressing issues it has mot been possible.

At the Kutlwano police station, Superintendent Solomon Sedumedi says last year between January and September, the police charged and repatriated about 1,957 Zimbabwean illegal immigrants. During the same period this year, Kutlwano police have arrested and charged about 726 illegals which means the numbers have declined by about 1,231. The breakdown of illegals reflects that last year the police arrested 734 females and 1,223 males whilst this year they netted 208 females and 518 males.

Sedumedi attributes the drop in figures to a possibility that the improvement in the basic needs in Zimbabwe could have reduced their movement into the country.