Bleak future for returning citizens
ZIMBABWEANS expected to return from South Africa in four months’ time after the expiry of the Zimbabwean Exemption Permits (ZEPs) face a bleak future as the government has failed to put in place social safety nets for them to prosper back home, chairperson of the Zimbabwean community in South Africa, Ngqabutho Mabhena, has said.
The ZEPs expire in June.
South Africa has indicated it will not renew the documents, meaning more than 180 000 Zimbabwean holders of the permits are likely to return home.
The South African government says holders wishing to stay beyond June can apply for waivers and get special permits, but at present only a paltry 6 000 citizens have applied.
In an interview with The NewsHawks on Wednesday, Mabhena said it will be foolhardy for the returning citizens to expect better lives when they troop back.
“The responsibility of any government is to create conditions for its citizens to be able to get employment; to run profitable businesses, whether those citizens are inside the country or outside the country,” Mabhena said.
“In this case, our economy collapsed, it is not able to sustain Zimbabweans that are in Zimbabwe, hence the exodus of the young people to neighbouring countries and overseas. So, with the high unemployment in Zimbabwe, it means that even those that are returning from South Africa, who are holders of the Zimbabwean exemption permit, the government of Zimbabwe will not be able to take care of them.”
Mabhena said the fact that more Zimbabweans are crossing the border to South Africa seeking greener pastures, despite permit holders being asked to return home, is an indication of the dire situation in Zimbabwe.
“While we are trying to assist those that are holders of the Zimbabwe exemption permit to go back, that is if they do not qualify to move to other visas, we are seeing many young people crossing Limpopo to South Africa,” he said.
“So, the first step would be to create conditions so that those that are inside Zimbabwe do not move out of Zimbabwe. If you have more people leaving Zimbabwe, government cannot then claim that it would be able to cater for those that are coming from South Africa. The government has to create the conditions to keep those that in Zimbabwe so that those that are returning will find it easy to be part of the Zimbabwean economy.
“So we cannot judge the Zimbabwean government on how it is going to assist those that are returning because its responsibility is to take care or to create conditions for people to work in Zimbabwe; for people to run businesses; for people to have a good life, which over two decades now has been missing.”
“Our call is that such conditions must be created to build a national democratic economy; we create jobs, people are able to run businesses.”
Last week, the government announced it was assisting returning citizens with travel arrangments but Mabhena said the gesture was not enough.
“You do not need Zimbabweans in the diaspora to be forced by foreign governments to return back because those governments cannot renew their permits. The responsibility of the Zimbabwean government is to create conditions which will attract those that are inside not to leave because they would be busy inside Zimbabwe,” he said.
In August last year, simmering tension between the governments of Zimbabwe and South Africa escalated through an outburst by a top health official in the neighbouring country who took aim directly at President Emmerson Mnangagwa over his governance failures which have pushed Zimbabweans into the neighbouring country.
Limpopo provincial head of health Phophi Ramathuba, who was on a tour of the province’s hospital meeting patients, came across a Zimbabwean woman admitted to Bela-Bela health centre in Limpopo.
The Zimbabwean had been involved in an accident in Harare and crossed the border for a medical operation.
Upon learning that she was a Shona-speaking Zimbabwean, Ramathuba immediately seethed with anger and accused her of being one of the Zimbabweans that are burdening the healthcare system of South Africa because of Mnangagwa’s governance failures.
While expectations were high that Ramathuba would be condemned by South Africa’s
government for what seemed like Afrophobia, many government officials instead took her side, further exposing the escalation of tension between Pretoria and Harare.
The country’s Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco) spokesperson Clayson Monyela said Ramathuba’s outburst was not “a diplomatic incident”.
In the past, senior South African leaders like Gauteng Premier David Makhura, Lindiwe Zulu and Home Affairs minister Dr Pakishe Aaron Motsoaledi also spoke complaining about Zimbabweans in South Africa even though they took aim at those staying in the country undocumented.
Diplomatic sources in the past told The NewsHawks that the build-up of frosty relations between Harare and Pretoria which has resulted in the current dilemma of Zimbabweans being forced out started in 2020 when Mnangagwa’s administration frustrated two delegations sent into the country by South African President Cyril Ramaposa with a mission to salvage Zimbabwe’s economic and political problems.
The first delegation comprised of former National Assembly speaker Baleka Mbete and former Safety and Security minister Sydney Mufamadi.
Their mission was to engage the government of Zimbabwe and relevant stakeholders to identify possible ways in which South Africa could assist Zimbabwe.
Dr Sydney Mufamadi is the former minister of Provincial and Local Government (1999 to 2008).
In 1994, after South Africa’s first democratic elections, he was appointed minister of Safety and Security in the Government of National Unity — a position he held until 1999.
The delegation left Zimbabwe frustrated after it was barred from meeting other stakeholders like the then opposition MDC-Aliance led by Nelson Chamisa.
Ramaphosa’s second delegation was led by the ANC’s then secretary-general Ace Magashule and it comprised of other senior party officials in the form of ANC chairperson and Energy and Mineral Resources minister Gwede Mantashe, Defence minister and ANC national executive committee (NEC) member Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, NEC and National Working Committee member Tony Yengeni, Social Development minister and chairperson of the NEC on international relations Lindiwe Zulu and chairperson of the NEC on economic transformation Enoch Godongwana.
The delegation which had an eight-hour meeting with Zanu PF leaders, left the country frustrated after it was told that there was no crisis in Zimbabwe at a time South Africa really wanted to assist its northern neighbour find solutions to political and economic problems.
The diplomatic sources said frustrations of the two delegations appointed by
Ramaphosa marked a point where relations with Harare began going downhill, leading to escalation of the current tension.