Zimbabwe Exiles call for assistance for refugees in S.A.
By Tererai Karimakwenda
20 July, 2007
Exactly what should South Africa do with the thousands of Zimbabwean refugees flooding into that country? This has suddenly become an urgent issue for the South African authorities who have been accused of doing nothing to accommodate them. But the recent price reductions forced on businesses in Zimbabwe by government have worsened shortages and closed shops, causing a dramatic increase in the numbers crossing over illegally into South Africa. A policy of arresting and deporting those who are caught is all that has existed so far. Within days many of those deported try their luck again, all at a huge cost to the government of South Africa.
The Zimbabwe Exiles Forum in South Africa agree with the Home Affairs ministry that integrating refugees into South African communities is the right thing to do by South Africa’s laws but they have voiced deep concerns about the idea of building camps for the refugees, as suggested by the main opposition party the Democratic Alliance. ZEF director Gabriel Shumba said camps would stigmatise Zimbabweans through segregation and restrict their right to freedom of movement. He explained that camps would also create opportunities for human rights abuses as they would turn into glorified detention centres. Shumba added that he feared camps would pose many risks, including the outbreak of epidemics.
In accordance with the South African Constitution, Shumba said the Bill of Rights is supposed to be applied to everyone in the Republic of South Africa. This includes Zimbabwean refugees. Shumba believes the South African community would benefit from the skills possessed by Zimbabweans, through integration. He pointed to the fact that during the apartheid era exiled ANC members were given the opportunity to integrate into the Zimbabwean community and had access to education and health care systems. The ZEF called for the establishment of humanitarian support centres in S.A. to assist refugees with food, shelter, health care and education.
The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) announced this week they were planning to mobilise their alliance partners and civil society to put together a humanitarian package for suffering people and workers in Zimbabwe and in South Africa. COSATU spokesperson Patrick Craven said the campaign was similar to one last year when they combined resources with a british trade union and sent sanitary pads to Zimbabwean women. He explained that the idea is to help those facing starvation and trying to put food on the table, while a long-term political solution was being sought after.
Craven said COSATU would work with the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) and had held broad discussions with them already. A statement by COSATU quotes Lucia Matibenga, the deputy general secretary of the ZCTU, as saying: "We appeal to the general South African public to understand the situation that Zimbabweans find themselves in. We appeal for African solidarity. We appeal for African brotherhood and sisterhood,”