By Sij Ncube
Zimbabwe this week started repatriating some of its citizens caught in frenzy xenophobic attacks in South Africa which have killed several Africans but there are concerns President Robert Mugabe’s broke administration has no financial wherewithal and capacity to successfully integrate the returnees in the community at a time the country is battling a myriad of problems.
A thousand Zimbabwean immigrants are due for repatriation after vetting by officials from the embassy in Pretoria and the consular in Johannesburg as Harare joined other African nations in pulling out their citizens in the wake barbaric attacks on foreigners.
The first batch of 400 returnees crossed the Beitbridge border post early Tuesday. Neighbouring countries such as Mozambique, Malawi and Zambia also began rescuing their citizens from marauding and rampaging South Africans who accuse foreigners from the rest of Africa for allegedly taking their jobs.
Official statistics indicate that about seven people have been killed in the skirmishes said to have been sparked by Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini after he alleged told a gathering of his subjects that all foreigners should be kicked out of South Africa ostensibly to create job opportunities.
The attacks moved from KwaZulu-Natal to Johannesburg culminating in the much-published cold-blooded murder of Mozambican Emmanuel Sithole on Saturday, drawing world-wide condemnation.
Mugabe, who doubles up as the chairperson of the African Union and SADC, has on his part moved with speed to roundly condemn what others prefer to call Afrophobia, the attack of black foreigners by fellow black South Africans.
While dispatching buses to collect those being repatriated showed political will to assist fellow citizens, critics of Mugabe’s administration, however, says the country’s comatose economy has no financial, human and material resources to integrate into the community.
They warn that most were likely to return to South Africa when the situation calms down as was the case after the first major outbreak of xenophobic attacks in South African in April 2008, citing abject poverty in Zimbabwe fuelled by lack of jobs in a country where unemployment hovers over 80% and the generality of the population is surviving with less than $2 a day.
The country is estimated to have more than 3 million people irking out a living in the diaspora, with three quarters of that figure thought to be in South Africa. Most citizens left the country because of what critics say was ZANU PF’s systematic failure to deliver political freedom, economic opportunities and social amenities.
MacDonald Lewanika, the executive director of Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, told Radio VOP that while the repatriations could have saved citizens from harm in South Africa, there is nothing else on offer for the returnees tabled by the government.
“The government has shown time and time again that they do not have the will or capacity to provide relief for Zimbabweans in difficult positions,” said Lewanika, adding that the government should swallow its pride and ask for assistance from international humanitarian organizations like the International Organisation for Migration, United Nations Habitat and others to provide short term relief while the affected citizens reintegrate into communities.
“If the influx is huge there will be an added strain to an already strained economic and social infrastructure which can lead to political discontent. But they are Zimbabwean citizens coming back home and should never be considered or treated as a burden. It is incumbent upon the state to ensure their safe return, and to fashion opportunities that provide livelihoods for them and their integration into the society as well as post trauma counselling.”
Masimba Nyamanhindi, a Zimbabwean human rights activist studying in the United Kingdom, said Harare was technically broke to afford to look after the returnees, primarily because the economic and political situation they fled in the first place has persisted.
“In fact, it has rapidly deteriorated. In any case, Zimbabwe seized to be a welfare state a long time ago, as a result, these people will just have to shake off the dust, and immediately immerse themselves in the hustles and bustles of trying to irk out a living. Vending awaits them,” said Nyamanhindi.
Jacob Mafume, spokesman for the MDC-T Renewal Team, pointed out that Zimbabweans are dying in South Africa because Mugabe’s administration has failed to take care of them into their own country. He accused Mugabe’s administration of “continuing with its action first, think later policy.”
Mafume noted that Zimbabwe is the only country not at war that has more refugees than Somalia and DRC.
“But the government cannot pretend that they are able to take care of the returning people whom it has no plan for and has no money. My bet is that most will flood back into South Africa if Mugabe and ZANU PF remain in power destroying all national institutions. The way forward is that the government of Zimbabwe deal with the Zimbabwean economy fast and beginning to sustain an economic growth path. It must realise other countries will not take care of their citizens. If they are not sent back now they will be sent back in the near future.
“The people must realise that running away is not an option. We need to deal with the removal of Mugabe quickly so that we can start to grow this economy. We cannot have a president who is serving his retirement in office. There is no place like home and the removal of Mugabe must be a top priority lest we perish.”