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The day South Africa closes the border

27 Aug 2022 at 01:20hrs | Views
THE past two decades have seen over 1,5 million Zimbabweans migrate to South Africa as economic refugees. Most of the refugees are unskilled and, therefore, directly compete with locals for menial jobs and social services, creating potential social conflict in communities.

In the same two decades, South  Africa has experienced two waves of Afrophobia — an attack on African migrants by local vigilante groups in poor communities. The attacks were so severe that thousands were displaced, dozens killed and hundreds maimed, creating a humanitarian crisis.

South Africa out of deep respect for the help it received before its independence in 1994, developed a special permits system for undocumented Zimbabweans. A record 180 000 migrants were issued with the Zimbabwe Exemption Permit that was renewable annually. The permit allowed them to seek employment, enrol in schools, open bank accounts and in general do anything that a documented migrant could do.

However, the majority of Zimbabweans remained underground and undocumented. They continued being under the radar, thus making it difficult for the South African government to distribute the national cake, hence the economic quagmire they find themselves in today.

It would, however, be disingenuous not to speak of the decade Jacob Zuma was at the helm and all the attendant maladministration and corruption that went on. The combination of a failing economy, and uncontrolled immigration is a sure recipe for populism that we now find endemic in South Africa.

We have recently seen Operation Dudula, a vigilante group that was driving out undocumented immigrants with the State security haplessly looking on. This was, however, interpreted as a fringe group without the blessing of the State.

For the first time, this week, Limpopo Health MEC Phophi Ramathuba became the first official voice to speak out about undocumented citizens as creaming off South African resources. She emphasised South Africa was not a welfare society for the region.

In a video that has gone viral, Ramathuba said: "How do you find yourself in Bela-Bela when you are supposed to be with Mnangagwa (Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa) there? You know he doesn't give me money to operate you guys and I'm operating you with my limited budget…"

She added: "When you guys are sick, I'm hearing these days you just say, ‘let's cross Limpopo river, there is an MEC there who is running a charity department. It's not."

The video caused revulsion among many people, but there are also others who rationalised it and said Zimbabwe should take responsibility for the mess.

Among them was Norton MP Temba Mliswa who tweeted: "I respect this lady. She simply gave a very clear message about the status of their health system and how we are weighing it down. Nothing wrong, just that we don't want the truth. Now they are angry over other people's resources. There is no xenophobia there."

The feisty independent parliamentarian added: "The resources are for their people, that's a fact. Let's deal with our own issues and provide our people with the same facilities. Hating her for stating the truth is disingenuous."

This is hard. This is unpalatable, but it remains the truth and has to be faced. Zimbabwe should brace itself for the dry summer season.

South Africa is applying the pressure and applying it hard, with their sights squarely fixed on the 2024 general elections which many political pundits are saying the ANC for the first time will get less than 50% of the national vote.

To further compound matters, there are new populist parties like Herman Mashaba's One South Africa that captured a significant vote in the 2021 local government elections on the platform of fighting illegal migration.

The ANC government has taken the bull by its horns. It is withdrawing Zimbabwean exemption permits at the end of this year, leaving 180 000 documented Zimbabweans in a quandary. The undocumented are at the mercy of the vigilante groups and you realise the shit has hit the fan.

Characteristic of President Emmerson Mnangagwa's administration, there is stone silence on such an important issue. They have reverted to their mode, keep silent and hope to ride the wave. However, this is one wave that will wash them to the shore if they don't adjust the sailings.
It is interesting to see how Vice-President and Health minister Constantino Chiwenga will respond to Harare East MP Tendai Biti's call for a ministerial statement on the state of health in Zimbabwe and his roadmap to solve the problems identified.

Still at that, Zimbabwe has its own general elections in less than 12 months from now. It is a fact that two things will happen — political violence and wild spending by the government — leaving the citizens to pick up the can after the polls. A significant number will probably migrate and those in the diaspora will not come back.

Perhaps Zimbabwe needed this shock to address its ailing health system and the economy. Diplomacy has failed since the former South Africa President Thabo Mbeki's days and now this may lead South Africans into action.

Zimbabwe can stem migration and stop being the black sheep of the region by improving its health systems, having decent education for its citizens, better salaries and remuneration for workers and government taming corruption with a heavy hand. Failure to do that, Limpopo would remain Zimbabwe's Mediterranean Sea and its people will be subjected to indignity and abuse in foreign lands.

Beyond the social media furore of illegal migrants and their abuse in foreign countries, the Zanu-PF regime must take responsibility and clean up the mess in the country. They simply have to show leadership or ship out, simple.

Paidamoyo Muzulu is a journalist based in Harare. He writes here in his personal capacity.

Source - NewsDay Zimbabwe
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