An account of the exodus of a nation’s people Solidarity Peace Trust November 2004


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An account of the exodus of a nation’s people

Solidarity Peace Trust

November 2004
Any democracy is only as strong as its weakest link. Refugees are South Africa’s weakest link and if we collude on impunity of our own officials, and allow corruption, and deny refugees their rights, then South Africa is not a country to be proud of.”
[Abeda Bhamjee, Lawyer, Wits Law Clinic, October 2003]

"The Zimbabwean situation of starvation and malnutrition, wilful political violence and intimidation, and the immoral use of food aid by the Zimbabwean government demands stronger and transparent intervention by African governments through the AU. With more than three million people displaced as a result of the crisis in Zimbabwe, a generation of exiles and refugees has been created. This situation cannot be allowed to continue. The Government of Zimbabwe must care for its own people."
[South African Catholic Bishops Conference, August 2004]

We would be better off with only six million people, with our own people who support the liberation struggle. We don’t want all these extra people”.

[Didymus Mutasa: Zanu-PF Organising Secretary, August 2002]

60% to 70% of Zimbabwean adults who should constitute the productive population are living abroad.”

[Herbert Nkala, Publicity Committee Chairman for Zimbabwe Reserve Bank’s “Homelink”, September 2004]

There is no civil war in Zimbabwe, so there is no reason to apply [for asylum]…”

[Home Affairs official, Johannesburg Refugee Reception Office, July 2004]



Executive summary 7

Recommendations 14

Background 17

Method of compiling the report: data sources 19

PART ONE: Zimbabwe’s biggest export: its people 21
1. The breakdown of law and order: torture with impunity 22

Youth militia 24

The “land revolution” 24

2. The humanitarian crisis 26

Political abuse of food 26

Maize and election 2005 27

3. Collapse of social services and the economy 29

4. Zimbabwe’s biggest export: its people 31

Pre-existing cross border movement 32

Internal loss of professional skills 32

Impact on essential services 33

“Harvesting” the exiles: Homelink 33

Implications of the exodus for democracy 34

Summary 34

PART TWO: Destination: South Africa: Legal, administrative and social issues 35

Involving refugees

1. “Asylum seekers” and “Refugees”: South Africa’s legal obligations 36

“Asylum seekers” 36

Work and Study 37

“Refugees” 37

Refugee status – a future based decision 37

Political denial of food – a threat to physical safety? 38

2. The battle for Zimbabwean refugee rights 39

Victimisation: a repeated experience in Zimbabwe 40

3. Attitude to Zimbabweans within Home Affairs RROs 42

4. Refugee Reception Office, Johannesburg: observation of current authors 43

Identification papers 45

Time taken for processing of asylum seeker claim 47

Lack of capacity in RROs 48

Length of permits: renewal stamps 49

Asylum seekers – a cash cow 49

Home Affairs – impunity in the system 50

Response of Home Affairs on corruption and capacity 50

5. Attitude of UNHCR to Zimbabweans 51

UNHCR and issues of resettlement. 52

6. Quiet diplomacy: at odds with acknowledging political refugees? 54

7. Perceptions of Zimbabweans: “Makwerekwere” 55

Zimbabweans and crime 55

Zimbabweans: victims of crime 57

8. South Africans: a history of exile 57


1. Crossing the border 59

The river – crocodiles and floods 59

Human predators: “maguma guma” and the SANDF 60

2. Life in the big cities: Johannesburg and Durban 61

Johannesburg: political exiles 61

Johannesburg: a community of the blind 62

Cross border traders 63

3. Musina: life in a small border town 64

Farm workers 64

Unaccompanied minors 64

Sex workers 65

4. Access to health services 66

Johannesburg: access based on anecdotal evidence 66

Musina: access based on anecdotal evidence 67

Summary of findings of health questionnaires 68

5. Deportation 70

Asylum seekers 70

Bribes 71

Conditions in Lindela 71

Deaths in Lindela – detaining of the very ill 72

The deportation train 73

Deportation from Musina – holding conditions 73

Police approach to deportees in Musina 75

Deportation of unaccompanied minors 76

Deportation of parents without their children 77

6. Back in Zimbabwe: the deportees on arrival 77

Zimbabwe police 77

The revolving door 78

7. Problems of the repatriated in Beitbridge 78

The ill 78

Deaths 79

Political exiles: risks on deportation 79

8. The Dead: a problem for the future? 80

Orphans in a foreign land 81

Help for the dying and the dead 81

9. Conclusion 82

10 Recommendations 83

Appendix One: Case examples of Zimbabweans in South Africa 86

Appendix Two: Botswana and the Zimbabweans 94

Appendix Three: Surveys 95

Appendix Four: Recommendations: CASE National Baseline Refugee Survey 100

Appendix Five: Bibliography 105



Cover photo: Razor wire on the border between Zimbabwe and South Africa

Photos 2 and 3: Woman and man brutally assaulted by army in Zimbabwe 22

during the mass stay away called by the MDC in March 2003.
Photo 4: Tonderai Machiridza, an MDC activist tortured in the custody 22

of Zimbabwean police. He died of his injuries the day after

this picture was taken, on Independence Day, 18 April 2003.

Nobody has ever been held accountable for his murder.
Photos 5 and 6: Supporters of MDC assaulted with knives, screw drivers and 38

barbed wire on 17 January 2002, ahead of the Presidential election.
Photo 7: Samuel Khumalo, a trade unionist, seeks medical assistance 39

after being tortured in police custody, in November 2003.

This same unionist was arrested again in October 2004.
Photo 8: An estimated 500 Zimbabweans wait outside the Johannesburg 43

refugee reception office on a Tuesday in October 2003, hoping for

asylum seeker papers. Only 5 accessed the office on this Tuesday,

a fairly normal weekly intake of Zimbabweans.
Photo 9: Minutes after the previous picture was taken, Home Affairs 43

guards started an unprovoked attack on the Zimbabweans,

whipping them with sjamboks.

Photo 10: October 2004 - a year later in Rosettenville: the RRO is now 44

accessed down an un-signposted alley. The same long queues of

Zimbabweans are there, still mostly failing to access the office.
Photo 11: Zimbabweans join other vagrants on the streets of Johannesburg 51

in the bitter cold of a winter’s night. Here a woman is roused

for a cup of soup from the Methodist church, July 2004.

Photo 12: A Zimbabwean exile with two children receives food aid from 52

the Methodist church in Johannesburg: July 2004.

Photo 13: A Zimbabwean deportee escapes from the shadow of the 57

deportation train that he has just leapt from: destination

for him is now no longer Beitbridge, but Johannesburg.
Photo 14: Photograph 14: a blind Zimbabwean child feels the face 61

of Archbishop Pius Ncube of Bulawayo

Photo 15: This Zimbabwean was one of four who died after being 71

detained in Lindela in October this year.
Photos 16 and 17: Zimbabwean deportees are herded on to a deportation train in 734 Johannesburg, September 2003.
Back cover: Zimbabweans wait to be deported at Lindela


AI Amnesty International

ANC African National Congress

ASP Asylum Seeker Permit

CASE: Community Agency for Social Enquiry

CIO Central Intelligence Organisation (Zimbabwe)

CPC Centre for Positive Care

GMB Grain Marketing Board

Home Affairs Department of Home Affairs

ICESCR International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

LHR Lawyers for Human Rights, Johannesburg

MDC Movement for Democratic Change

MK MKhontu we sizwe

NGO non governmental organisation

PHR-DK Physicians for Human Rights, Denmark

RI Refugees International

RRO Refugee Reception Office

SADC Southern African Development Community

SANDF South African National Defence Force

UN United Nations

UNHCR United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

WFP World Food Programme

SAWIMA Southern African Women in Migratory Affairs

ZANU PF Zimbabwe African National Union, Patriotic Front

ZAPU Zimbabwe African People’s Union

ZHRNGO Forum Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum

Executive Summary

Zimbabweans are now the second biggest group of foreign Africans in South Africa. Yet there is little formal information available on their situation. Very few are being officially recorded as political refugees. Some Zimbabweans claim that it is hard to access asylum seeker status. It was the intention of the authors to investigate these allegations, as well as to establish other problems and issues of relevance to Zimbabweans in South Africa.

South Africa needs to brace itself for ever-greater numbers of Zimbabweans unless a lasting political solution is found to the current crisis. At both government and NGO level, there is a need to devise policies to deal humanely with the influx, and particularly to provide services on the ground. For this, more information is needed.
Method: data sources
Data for this report was collected between September 2003 and October 2004. Sources of data included: a desk study of media, human rights reports and refugee laws; more than two hundred interviews with Zimbabweans in South Africa; 7 field visits to the Johannesburg RRO; 10 field visits to places of residence; two surveys involving a further 211 Zimbabweans; interviews with key informants; 4 field visits to Musina; 3 field visits to Beitbridge.

PART ONE: Zimbabwe’s biggest export: its people
Part One of the report looks at: the crisis of governance in Zimbabwe; the humanitarian crisis; the economic crisis. It examines numbers of Zimbabweans in the diaspora and the implications of this.
1. The breakdown of law and order: torture with impunity

Human rights organisations estimate that a minimum of 300,000 people have been victims of human rights violations of various kinds over the last four years. Such violations include torture, destruction of homesteads, massive displacement of persons fleeing political persecution or farm invasions, and the denial of food to those perceived to support the opposition. Around 300 have been murdered for political reasons. The cumulative impact on life in Zimbabwe is harrowing. Recording and publicising the problem is close to impossible because of laws restricting freedom of association, expression and movement. Government agents have impunity and very few cases of violation result in charges being laid against perpetrators.

Two hundred and fifty thousand school leavers each year have little or no prospect of formal training or employment; further training and jobs in the civil service now require youth to undergo the politically biased and brutalising national youth service training. Some youths flee Zimbabwe to avoid militia training.
None has doubted the need for land redistribution, including civil society and the political opposition, but the well orchestrated abuse of a much needed programme by the government has resulted in new injustices.
2. The Humanitarian crisis
The land invasions have resulted in a dramatic drop in Zimbabwe’s capacity to feed itself. The government has at times in the last three years, used the food deficit situation to politically manipulate access to food, denying opposition supporters the right to buy it from GMB. AI has documented that Zimbabwe is in contravention of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), which enshrines the right to food, and to which Zimbabwe is signatory. The government has consistently throughout 2004, claimed a bumper harvest, and has informed WFP that they do not need food aid during 2004/5. Yet UN agents predict a 50% food deficit. The GMB reports having purchased from farmers only 288,000 tonnes of maize, a shortfall of 2,000,000 tonnes. Commentators fear the probability of food becoming a political weapon ahead of the 2005 elections is great, in a situation where the ruling party now effectively controls all food in the country.
Some Zimbabweans who have fled the country fear political victimisation resulting in being denied the right to food. There is a need to recognise this group of persons, which may become quite sizeable in the year ahead.

3. Collapse of social services and the economy

Social indicators in Zimbabwe have fallen dramatically over the last four years. There is 70% unemployment, 80% below the poverty datum line, 27% of adults HIV positive. As a result of political decisions, around a million farm workers and their families have been deliberately deprived of their livelihoods, homes and infrastructure. Health, education and delivery of services in municipal areas are collapsing under economic and skills constraints. Economic collapse is the result of poor governance. The government orchestrated farm invasions have led to the collapse of commercial agriculture, which has had a knock on effect for other industries. Key industries have contracted by between 40% and 60% in the last three years. The mining industry has been destabilised by recent plans by government to indigenise 50% of this sector.

4. Zimbabwe’s biggest export: its people

An estimated 25% to 30% of Zimbabwe’s population has left the nation. Government’s own analysts put the number at 3,4 million. Out of a population of 12 million, around half is under the age of 15, and out of the remaining 6 million adults, 1 million is retired. Out of 5 million potentially productive adults, 3,4 million are outside Zimbabwe. This is a staggering 60% to 70% of productive adults.

The current exodus is not part of the long established cross border movement between Matabeleland and South Africa. Around 500,000 are estimated to have regularly migrated to South Africa for work, but there is an estimate of an additional 1,200,000 now in South Africa.

The loss of skills has impacted on health and education in Zimbabwe. Many Zimbabwean have left their professions, either to go into more lucrative careers, for example in the black market in Zimbabwe, or for higher salaries abroad. Many professionals such as teachers, nurses, policemen, artisans, have been driven out by political events and are living like vagrants in South Africa.
The government’s “Homelink” scheme is official acknowledgement that our biggest export is our people. Around US$ 300 million is returned monthly to Zimbabwe from nationals in the diaspora, 98% of this via black market channels. “Homelink” attempts to increase the return of foreign earnings via the Reserve Bank.
With possibly 50% of voting age adults outside Zimbabwe, the implications for democracy are dire. Half the population will be deprived of its vote in next year’s election.

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