Zimbabwe: ‘They Must Not Come Back, They’ll Take Our Jobs’

Nkosana Dlamini

20 October 2011

Harare — Grace Ndlovu sits meditatively inside a holding camp on the Zimbabwe-South Africa border post. She is among hundreds of Zimbabwe refugees currently being bundled onto trucks and offloaded on the Zimbabwean side, some 500km north Johannesburg.

With her face buried in her hands, the 40-year-old widow cuts a dejected figure as she ponders her future away from the glitz and glamour of Johannesburg, South Africa’s commercial capital, where she could at least make ends meet. Back home, her prospects are almost bleak.

Over 2 million of her compatriots are still believed to be enclaved in various parts of Africa’s commercial hub. And yet a paltry 300,000 have since obtained residency permits to conform with the South African government’s directive to do so before 31 July, 2011.

Most Zimbabwean migrants fled to South Africa following President Robert Mugabe’s ruinous economic policies.

Less skilled Zimbabweans would usually live at the mercy of South African employers who would threaten to hand them over to the police if they grumbled about their low wages. Others have resorted to crime and prostitution instead. Some have been caught in xenophobic attacks by militant locals.

Mass deportation

Although the deportation of illegal immigrants is not new, the current mass deportation of Zimbabweans under the Jacob Zuma led government is unprecedented.

Authorities say are looking to pave the way for a broader accounting and planning mechanism for South Africa.

Zimbabwean observers feel South Africa, the broker of their country’s unity deal in 2008, wants Zimbabweans, who have been disenfranchised by their continued stay abroad, to return home and participate in the country’s looming polls.

Economy booming

Because of her proximity to Zimbabwe and her booming economy, South Africa is worst affected by her neighbour’s recurrent crisis.

Christopher Mugaga, an economic analyst, feels Zimbabwe’s overburdened economy will take a further knock if the deportations persist.

Finance Minister Tendai Biti says nearly three quarters of the national purse is gobbled by public wages leaving the rest to cater for social needs of the estimated 14 million.

‘They must not come back’

Zimbabweans, who have braved hunger and disease back home, think differently about the forced return of their compatriots.

“They must not come back. They will take our jobs,” says Claudine Marime, a receptionist at an insurance company.

Zimbabwe’s unemployment rate hovers at an alarming 90 percent.

Mugabe unperturbed

But Timothy Rusere, a supporter of the Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s co-governing MDC, is hopeful the return of Zimbabweans based abroad would finally see the demise of the 31-year-old Mugabe regime.

Mugabe has kept himself in power through scoring narrow majorities against bitter rival Tsvangirai.

“They must come back so that we complete the struggle together. These are real cowards who left us the burden,” he says.

Mugabe’s party says it is unperturbed by the expected surge in protest votes against it.

“There is nothing to fear,” says party spokesperson Rugare Gumbo, “These are Zimbabweans who will come home and exercise their choices with open minds.”

Fighting a losing battle

But Political analyst, Trevor Maisiri feels Pretoria could be fighting a losing battle. “It’s going to be very difficult to deport as many Zimbabweans as they want,” says Maisiri, “Zimbabweans would easily use the same channels to go back to South Africa.”

Some corrupt South African police and immigrations officials do not hesitate to take bribes from border jumpers, some as little as 20 South Africa Rands (US$2.50).

But while Grace could still be in thought over her next move, the feeling is different with Kudakwashe, her fellow deportee who vows to use the transport fare he has just been given by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) stationed at the post, to bribe his way back.

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  • Ireally salute the South African Home Affairs Dept for giving all illegal Zims to regularies their stay in the country free of charge. Those who did not utilise that opportunity, they must not find anybody to blame but themselves.

    Nhlanhla Jhb

  • Iwe unoti vasadzoke asi wakapinda basa nemukoto? Mdofunga hauna kufunda nokuti hakuzi kutaura kwemunhu akadzidza who can reason. Chitoenda unoita degree kuchiri pado!

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