Zimbabweans flood South Africa as power-sharing deal gets into trouble

JOHANNESBURG – Park station in downtown Johannesburg, South Africa teems with Zimbabweans arriving in the land of plenty in rattled buses that dramatise the escalating economic crisis back home.

The majority of the arrivals have harrowing tales to tell and complain that the decade old economic problems in Zimbabwe are dehumanising them.

Mrs Nancy Hadebe, a primary teacher with 15 years experience says she braved the crocodile infested waters of the Limpopo River because she had no hope of obtaining a Zimbabwean passport.

An ordinary passport can take up to five years to be processed because the government does not have foreign currency to buy materials used in the production of the documents.

“I was deported from South Africa last week after police raided our apartment in the middle of the night,” she said. “We were dumped in Beitbridge but I could not go home because of the desperate situation back there.”

She joined others

So she joined others who were crossing the river that separates Zimbabwe and South Africa and they escaped detection by army patrols.

To get to Johannesburg, they bribed police officers who set up roadblocks on the highway to hunt for Zimbabwean illegal immigrants.

Mrs Hadebe is among the unlucky thousands who get arrested throughout South Africa everyday for entering that country illegally and are immediately returned home.

The International Immigration Organisation (IOM) which has set up a reception centre to receive the deportees says the majority of them quickly find their way back to South Africa through undesignated entry points.

“I make it a point that I carry 100 rands with me where ever I go to pay the police if I am unfortunate to get arrested,” says Mr George Mkhwananzi who has lived as an illegal immigrant in Johannesburg for the past 10 years.

At Beitbridge border post, the busiest entry point in Southern Africa that operates around the clock, queues snake out of the buildings on both the Zimbabwean and South African sides.

Immigration officials complain that the traffic is increasing at an alarming rate and that Zimbabweans are resorting to desperate measures to try and beat the tough South African visa requirements.

The most common is the use of fake pay slips for civil servants as Zimbabwean government employees do not need visas to visit South Africa.

Ordinary Zimbabweans must have 2,000 rand of travellers’ cheques and proof that they will have accommodation in the neighbouring country to obtain a three month visa.

“I know you people from Bulawayo forge pays lips and I am not going to give you a visa,” shouted a South African immigration official as he handed back middle aged Zimbabwean woman her passport.

The woman began crying like a baby telling the disinterested officials that her sick husband in Johannesburg needed her by his side.

Those now used to the operations at the border simply take back their passports to put a 100 rand note inside before handing them back to the same official who would have denied them the visas.

Their passports would be stamped without further questions.

Immigration officials say traffic slowed down for two weeks mid last month only to pick up towards the beginning of this month.

This was after Zimbabwe’s main political parties signed an historic power sharing agreement to end the long running political and economic crisis engulfing their country.

Almost a month

However, almost a month after the deal was signed the country still does not have a government in place as President Robert Mugabe’s ruling Zanu PF and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) continue to haggle over the allocation of ministries.

The euphoria that greeted the agreement is slowly being replaced by despair and anger.

Former South African President Thabo Mbeki who mediated in the crisis talks heads back to Harare on Monday to rescue the deal that was thrown into turmoil by President Mugabe’s unilateral gazetting of Cabinet posts to the coalition partners.

“I was in Hilbrow (a crime infested residential area in central Johannesburg) on Tuesday and what I saw is disheartening,” said Mr Daniel Molokele of the Geneva based Zimbabwe Global Forum.

“If we bring Hilbrow to our country very few people will volunteer to stay there because deportations are the order of the day and rapists roam the streets.

“When the deal was signed these people had begun preparing to come back home but now they are confused.”

However, Mr Molokele insists that most Zimbabweans in the Diaspora were not happy with the deal and were unlikely to return home.

He says instead they want to be allowed to hold dual citizenship so that they could continue working in their adopted countries.

Zimbabwe outlaws dual citizenship.

An estimated five million people have fled the crisis and most of them now work in neighbouring South Africa and Botswana.

The region celebrated the deal hoping that the forced migration will come to an end.

A small section in agreement commits the parties to helping exiled Zimbabweans return home once the unity government is set up.

But analysts say the political developments in the past week threaten the resolution of the crisis.

 

Over the weekend, Mr Mugabe gazetted ministries to the three parties in the proposed coalition government and effectively retained controlled of the contested ministries of Home Affairs, Defence and Local Government.

The MDC said Mr Mugabe’s unilateral move threatened the deal.

He left out the Ministry of Finance pending a meeting with Mr Mbeki, which analysts predict will make or break the unity government.

“The country cannot afford this impasse any more,” said Dr Lawton Hikwa, a lecturer at the National University of Science and Technology (NUST).

“I was surprised to read that Mr Mugabe had gazetted the ministries and this raises a lot of questions about the deal.

“Zimbabweans are hungry, public utilities are paralysed and the social fabric is just falling apart and it’s about time the leaders put the people first.

Last week opposition leader, Mr Morgan Tsvangirai formally declared a deadlock in the talks and said his party had approached the SADC (Southern African Development Community), African Union (AU) and Mbeki for help to break the impasse.

Zanu PF initially rejected calls for Mr Mbeki’s intervention only to back track after Mr Mugabe met Mr Tsvangirai who is the prime minister designate and Professor Arthur Mutambara.

Mr Mbeki is now expected in Zimbabwe early this week.

Zimbabwe’s three biggest political parties entered the deal following parliamentary elections in March won by the MDC while Mr Tsvangirai also defeated Mugabe in a parallel presidential vote.

The opposition leader however failed to achieve an outright victory to avoid a second round run-off vote.Mr Tsvangirai withdrew from a June 27 run-off election in protest against state-sponsored violence against his supporters and leaving Mr Mugabe to win the vote uncontested.

Close to a third

Crisis weary Zimbabweans were banking on the success of the deal to end a decade of economic decline that has forced millions into exile and close to a third of the population in dire need of food aid.

Zanu PF has been accused of being insensitive to the suffering of millions of Zimbabweans by stalling the process.

But Mr Patrick Chinamasa, the Zanu chief negotiator denied this saying: “We have to sort this in the interest of the people.

“We have to put our people first”

Zimbabwe has been without a substantive government since the March elections and this has paralysed service provision in all areas and worsened the economic decline.