President Robert Mugabe has called on Zimbabweans in South Africa to return home rather than continue to risk their lives to xenophobic attackers.
Responding to questions from journalists after presenting the Southern African Development Community extra-ordinary summit final communiqué in Harare on Wednesday, Mugabe admitted his government and others in the regions were at their wits ends regarding the influx of immigrants into South Africa.
“Our people must get back to their countries because those at home are very angry with the pictures coming out of South Africa. Our people should not have the instinct of just rushing into South Africa,” a visibly exasperated Mugabe said.
“So far 800 people have agreed to come home and we have assisted them with transport. After being interviewed the women said they will not go back but the men want to go back. What can you do in that situation? The majority of the people there say they would not want to come back even when transport is provided. Some are committing crimes like the Kalangas are notorious for petty crimes because they are not educated,” he said.
Mugabe was at pains to try and find reason why his compatriots have trooped in their millions into Africa’s second biggest economy, characterising South Africa as a dangerous place.
“They are maybe attracted to the big shops but what does that mean when you are always in danger and looking over your shoulder that thieves will get at you once you are in a secluded place. We must all help South Africa to deal with this situation, they have put in place a plan to teach their people to be tolerant and accept other given the contributions that Africans made to their independence,” he added.
Since the turn of the century the influx of Zimbabweans into South Africa has swelled with estimates putting the figure at no less than three million domiciled in that country as economic refugees fleeing the meltdown at home.
Mugabe apologized but seemed to indicate that there were disagreements amongst regional leaders over the current xenophobic upheaval that has so far claimed the lives of seven people.
He hit back at critics who have blamed his government of misrule that has led to hundreds fleeing into the Diaspora.
“We are sorry to South Africa but the people who are rushing into South Africa are not pushed by governments. They are people who voluntarily go to South Africa. They think South Africa is heaven, they think it is our heaven in southern Africa but the lives they are living mmm …it is the whites who are enjoying, if you look at the Africans in Soweto their lives are elementary and the people who go their make the lives of the Africans worse,” the Zimbabwean leader said.
“Even after the incident of people being burnt, South Africans are arguing that those pictures are of incidents that happened in the 90s, we thought it is part of the recent outbreak and we are convinced that they are recent.”