Zim at sixes and sevens over xenophobia

Albert Chavunduka

 Governments of Zimbabwe and South Africa were left at sixes and sevens recently when there was a flare-up of xenophobic agitation in South Africa that threatened fresh waves of savage attacks on African migrants.

Gangs of vigilantes, going under the banner, “Operation Dudula” (Drive back) combed through some pockets of the capital Johannesburg known to have significant immigrant populations, especially Zimbabweans and South Africa and demanded the deportation of “illegal” foreigners and closure of their businesses or those that employ them.

It was something that had been long feared, with authorities in South Africa, including the Zimbabwean consulate, aware of the build up.

 However, after the violence hit, no statement came from both sides, amid concerns of the heightened politicization of the “immigration crisis that now has implications on both sides of Limpopo.

Fears are that, with the sensitivity of the so-called immigration crisis whereby Zimbabweans are now seen as a burden on South Africa, the Zimbabwe said has been indecisive at best, or clueless at worst.

However, Zimbabwe’s Ambassador to South Africa, David Hamadziripi exclusively told Review & Mail this weekend that there were some behind-the-scenes maneuverings.

 “The fact that we have not made any public statements on that very concerning situation does not mean that we have been mum about it.

We regularly engage the South African government on the many issues that relate to our bilateral cooperation and that includes issues pertaining to the safety and general welfare of Zimbabwean nationals in South Africa,” said Ambassador Hamadziripi.

Ambassador Hamadziripi said ZImbabwe was in the process of adopting various strategies to deal with the situation in South Africa.

 “This matter of particular urgency and concern to us and that is why we have already raised it with the authorities here so that they can take the necessary measures to ensure the safety of our nationals in the affected areas.

 “We have now seen the police enforcing the regulations where these Dudula protests have been taking place. Do you think a public statement would have had that effect?” he said.

“We deeply care about the safety of our nationals here and we will adopt the strategy that we consider to be the most appropriate in achieving our desired objectives. I have no further comment on this issue,” Hamadziripi said.

Analysts and political commentators interviewed by this publication were dissatisfied with how Zimbabwe has handled the matter.

Vince Musewe said there was need for Government to make efforts to protect the rights of Zimbabweans in South Africa.

 He said: “The issue of foreigners and Zimbabweans in South Africa is a very sore point.

We have a lot of people who went to South Africa because there were no jobs and they had no choice.

“The Diaspora has actually supported this economy very significantly I mean we are collecting about US$1.4 billion per annum coming from these people who are outside the country.

 “So they (Government) are benefiting and one would expect the Government to protect the rights of every citizen regardless of where they are entitled to protection by the government,” said Musewe.

Prominent commentator Ibbo Mandaza said both Zimbabwe and South Africa must be held responsible for the situation in the neighbouring country, opining that Zimbabwe was taking a softer stance towards South Africa.

“As a culpable factor, if not the main reason for this exodus of Zimbabweans, the Zimbabwean Government is not only constrained from uttering a word in this context but also too embarrassed to do so,” said Mandaza.

 He explained: “But this problem is simultaneously a regional and South African one. The South African leadership has the obligation to tackle these xenophobic tendencies through an informed policy that both explodes the myth that ‘foreigners’ are the cause of unemployment and inspires pan Africanism,”

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