BOR­DER­LINE: Send­ing il­le­gal Zim­bab­weans back to Mad Bob is a pipedream

Finweek English Edition - - COLUMN - STEPHEN MULHOLLAND

Zim­bab­weans of­ten ex­press their wish to re­turn home but point to the re­al­ity of per­va­sive poverty and re­pres­sion in a coun­try where,

un­der the gang­ster rule of Robert Mu­gabe, GDP per capita is 5% of

that of SA

WITH an es­ti­mated 1,5m to 2,5m of them among us, it’s ob­vi­ously not dif­fi­cult to meet Zim­bab­weans in South Africa. Those will­ing to talk about the refugee prob­lem – and most ap­pear to be – will tell you our Govern­ment’s plan to ship back to their home­land those here il­le­gally who haven’t taken ad­van­tage of the re­cent reg­u­lar­i­sa­tion of­fer, is a pipedream.

If we con­ser­va­tively as­sume the num­ber here il­le­gally is, say, 750 000, then – af­ter al­low­ing for the 235 000 or so Home Af­fairs says have ap­plied for pa­pers – we’re faced with the im­me­di­ate task of de­port­ing the re­main­ing half mil­lion home to Zim­babwe.

We’re also left with the prob­lem of guard­ing our por­ous 4 000km border with our north­ern neigh­bour against a con­tin­u­ing flow of Zim­bab­weans, Mozam­bi­cans and oth­ers seek­ing a bet­ter life in SA. For ex­am­ple, it’s well known that Govern­ment trucks tak­ing il­le­gals to the border for de­por­ta­tion are fol­lowed by other trucks that then pro­ceed to well-known cross­ings to take the same peo­ple back into SA.

But Min­is­ter of Home Af­fairs Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma says to Bloomberg that her mes­sage to “the border jumpers” is that “once this process has been con­cluded they will be ar­rested, de­ported and not al­lowed back into SA”. Well, one won­ders – given the pres­sures on our se­cu­rity, po­lice and mil­i­tary forces – who is go­ing to ar­rest these hun­dreds of thou­sands, who is go­ing to de­port them and who is go­ing to pre­vent them from re­turn­ing?

Let’s ac­cept the re­cent clam­p­down has been a pos­i­tive move in that hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple who have been liv­ing here in limbo can now be­come le­gal res­i­dents and, if they wish, cit­i­zens. They’ll be in the sys­tem, which is con­struc­tive in many ways, in­clud­ing tax col­lec­tion, ed­u­ca­tion, health ser­vices and crim­i­nal and other prose­cu­tions.

But it seems the heart of the mat­ter lies in the heal­ing of Zim­babwe and its re­cov­ery and re­turn to re­spectabil­ity and ac­cep­tance in world fo­rums. Zim­bab­weans of­ten ex­press their wish to re­turn home but point to the re­al­ity of per­va­sive poverty and re­pres­sion in a coun­try where, un­der the gang­ster rule of Robert Mu­gabe, GDP per capita is 5% of that of SA. Hav­ing clearly lost the last elec­tion, this is what that ma­niac had to say: “We are not go­ing to give up our coun­try for a mere X on a bal­lot. How can a ball­point pen fight with a gun?” He re­minds me of one of his­tory’s great­est mass mur­der­ers, Mao Tse Tung, who fa­mously de­clared that power grows out of the bar­rel of a gun.

Now it would be fool­ish to un­der­es­ti­mate the dif­fi­cul­ties faced by SA’s lead­er­ship in deal­ing with an ir­ra­tional ac­tor such as Mu­gabe. For ex­am­ple, an eco­nomic block­ade of Zim­babwe by its neigh­bours would in­flict im­mense dam­age on that coun­try; but such dam­age would be ini­tially and most painfully felt by its poor masses.

Al­ready the cor­rupt elite around Mu­gabe are feel­ing the heat of in­ter­na­tional ac­tion against them, such as the freez­ing of bank ac­counts and travel re­stric­tions. Per­haps SA, along with Mozam­bique and other neigh­bours, might step up such mea­sures them­selves, thus send­ing Mu­gabe and his gang a stern mes­sage with­out in­flict­ing fur­ther suf­fer­ing on the poor. And, of course, grow­ing ex­clu­sion from in­ter­na­tional fi­nan­cial cir­cles was a se­ri­ous fac­tor in the col­lapse of apartheid, with the old Chase Man­hat­tan lead­ing the way.

It can’t be de­nied that Zim­babwe’s turmoil neg­a­tively af­fects our na­tional in­ter­ests, not only via the flood of im­pe­cu­nious refugees but also by the loss of a po­ten­tially vig­or­ous trad­ing and eco­nomic part­ner. Clearly SA’s Govern­ment wouldn’t be tak­ing steps to force Zim­bab­wean il­le­gal refugees back across our border while pledg­ing to stiffen border con­trols and ar­rest all un­doc­u­mented il­le­gals if it didn’t per­ceive the na­tional in­ter­est to be threat­ened.

Thus if – as ap­pears to be the case – the Zuma ad­min­is­tra­tion per­ceives a threat to the na­tional in­ter­est it must act to pro­tect that in­ter­est, which is its sa­cred duty.


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