SADC must take common stance on Zimbabwe – Botswana MP

FRANCISTOWN: Gaborone Central Member of Parliament (MP) and Botswana National Front (BNF) president Dumelang Selashando says closing borders to keep out refugees is not financially prudent.

He was commenting on the plight of Zimbabwean ‘refugees’ and/or illegal immigrants against the backdrop of the turmoil in North African countries like Libya where citizens are being forced to flee into neighbouring states. "With a situation like Zimbabwe, where democracy is on fire, there is need for the Southern African Development Community (SADC), as a group, to adopt a common stance regarding illegal immigrants.

This then can be adopted into local immigration statutes so that uniformity we can provide a broader solution that prevails across the region," said Saleshando in an interview.

For Botswana, the Gaborone Central MP stated that as things stand some companies are using Zimbabweans outside the law and as such the government does not gain anything in terms of taxes. "There is a need to identify skills that we need that can develop our economy. We have maids who have been to tertiary institutions and have skills we so need. Take the construction industry, for instance, the manpower mostly comes from Zimbabweans. Clearly there is a way in which we can assist whilst we enrich our economy." 

He also said there is need to look into the immigration policy and see how best the situation can be handled. "It will be much easier to capitalise on the available pool of human resources that can assist us attain our economic goals whilst providing some relief to the affected people," he said.

This comes against a background of Zimbabweans being scattered all over the SADC region in search of better job opportunities. Rumours of elections, according to some political analysts from Zimbabwe, will spark a fresh exodus despite a recovering economy under the Global Partnership Agreement signed between ZANU-PF and Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).  Botswana has over the years launched operations that target illegal immigrants that are then deported at the Ramakgwebana/Plumtree border. This is costing the Botswana government millions because most deportees find their way back into the country.

Unlike Botswana, South Africa last year scrapped visas for Zimbabweans, extended its immigration hours to speed up work and residence permit applications, and welcomed a new idea of providing a sizeable number with work and residence permits, a move that most economists say will bolster government coffers through taxes. An estimated 3 million Zimbabweans reside in South Africa and mostly illegally.

Though a majority of expatriates are from Zimbabwe, the Botswana government is yet to look into its immigration policy regarding the influx of Zimbabweans.  Many agree that the current strategy is not viable. The ‘Gumbagumbas’ as the trucks that carry illegal immigrants are called in Zimbabwean circles, often carry jovial Zimbabweans who are more than ready to get a free ride home.  They are often heard cheering and singing as they hit the Francistown road.

"What the Botswana authorities do not know is that there is a sophisticated gang along the Plumtree/Ramakgwebana border which specialises in providing access.  They have acquired a bit of wealth through their much-needed services. They carry detailed maps of the area stretching many kilometres into what they call ‘unwatched’ territory far from the watchful eye of the soldiers," says a border tout in Plumtree who calls himself Professor Nyandu.

He says illegal immigrants have to jump the border and walk dozens of kilometres. Through local villages such as Mathangwane, Letsema and Ramakgwebana they earn their freedom. At times deals are made between the immigration officers themselves and bus drivers. The money is shared amongst interested parties.  "As long as the Zimbabwean situation remains what it is, the Botswana operations are nothing but a waste of taxpayer’s money which could be wisely invested in money markets to earn valuable returns.

As media splashes headlines about hundreds of Zimbabweans deported no one is bothered to find out how many are back the following morning," says Ndumiso Hlatshwayo, a Zimbabwean, who has ¼work and residence permits.