South Africa turning away returning Zimbabwean migrant workers

On the 19 December, we reported that Zimbabweans going home for Christmas and New year holidays would not be allowed back into South Africa as part the clean-up by the country’s authorities in preparation for the 2010 World Cup gala.

Hundreds of Zimbabweans and nationals of countries north of the Zambezi River are stranded at Beitbridge Border Post after the South African Home Affairs Department embarked on a blitz on returning regional immigrants using the border post.

South Africa authorities say they are flushing out illegal immigrants and travellers using fraudulently-acquired passports from that country, but we can reveal that the plan is to get rid of foreigners before the World Cup and all SADC countries have agreed to the plan to assist South Africa.

The blitz has left a number of people stateless following the confiscation of their passports by South African officials and this means Zimbabwe has to vet these people first before allowing them into the country.

The clampdown started last Monday morning as some travellers trooped back to South Africa after spending the Christmas holiday in Zimbabwe and other countries to the north.

A top Web and Graphic Designer with The Zimbabwe Mail based in South Africa had his genuine South African passport taken away by border Authorities this morning and his wife, a South African was making frantic efforts to engage lawyers.

Our reporter witnessed a Zimbabwean Doctor and his family who had slept in a car overnight suffer the same fate.

There are reports that border patrols on both sides of the border have been intensified in the last few days and the Zimbabwe National army and the Airforce have been deployed to assist on the Zimbabwean side.

Sources in the Zimbabwean and South African security and intelligence services have told our reporters that the two countries agreed to target the festive period for a major "clear out" with those travelling for shopping being barred from entering into South Africa and those returning after holidays also facing similar treatment.

The plan was devised in November, 2009, in Harare, when Zimbabwe Defence Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa met with his South African counter-part, Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Lindiwe Sisulu who was leading a delegation of Ministers from his country for the fourth session of the Zimbabwe-South Africa Joint Permanent Commission on Defence and Security.

The Permanent Commission evaluated progress made by both countries since the third meeting held in South Africa in November 2007.

The Commission looked at common issues of Defence and Security, among them progress on de-mining the Great Limpopo Transfonteir Park, coordinated patrols along the border, preparation and launch of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Standby Brigade, exchange programmes and cooperation during the 2010 World Cup and efficient border management.

The Commission also looked at counter drug trafficking measures, prevention of stock theft, joint operations to stop armed robberies, management of deportation and Beitbridge border post efficiency.

The South Africa delegation also included the Ministers of Correctional Services Nosiviwe Maphisa Nqakula, Minister of Police Nathi Mthethwa, Minister of State Security Dr Siyabonga Cwele, Deputy Minister of Justice A Nel and Deputy Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Thabang Makwetla.

Emmerson Mnangagwa led the Zimbabwean delegation which included Security Minister Sydney Sekeramayi, Didymus Mutasa and Security forces Generals.

A number of travellers were by yesterday afternoon still being forced to surrender their passports after failing to explain to immigration officials how they acquired the documents.

However, several travellers complained that they were genuine South Africans and urged their government to intervene.

It is understood that a special team from the Home Affairs Department in Pretoria has been dispatched to Beitbridge to specifically screen travellers.

Those caught with fake documents are automatically denied entry into South Africa or are taken to court to face fraud charges.

Co-Home Affairs Minister Kembo Mohadi yesterday said Zimbabweans should stop engaging in practices that would compromise their stay in foreign countries.

"If these people are genuine Zimbabweans, we will ask them to go back to their districts where they will be vetted and have new identity particulars processed. If they are foreigners, we will not accept them, but simply tell them to go to their countries of origin," he said.

One of the victims, David Maluleke, who hails from Giyaniin, Limpopo Province, in South Africa, said he had since engaged a lawyer to fight his case. Maluleke said he had travelled to Bulawayo for the Christmas holiday only to be told he was no longer a South African citizen and that his passport was not valid.

In light of the blitz at Beitbridge Border Post, some travellers are now going via Botswana.

A South African immigration official at the border post said the blitz would continue until mid-January when all migrant workers were expected to be back in that country.

"You will understand that there are a number of people with travel documents fraudulently acquired from our department, hence we need to get rid of that here at the border.

"We are withdrawing all the documents we suspect were fraudulently acquired after rigorously vetting the holders. In some cases, some of the culprits will be charged with fraud and may face blacklisting and imprisonment," said the official who declined to be named.

Efforts to get a comment from the Home Affairs Department yesterday were fruitless, as their phones were not reachable. The development comes a few weeks after scores of Zimbabweans wishing to travel to South Africa for Christmas shopping were left stranded at Beitbridge Border Post as South African immigration officials were turning away everyone using emergency travel documents.