Protest march to deliver Zimbabwe Human Rights Petition to President Mbeki
By Tererai Karimakwenda
01 August, 2007
A coalition of groups in South Africa has organised a protest March in Johannesburg on Thursday, to demand better human rights for Zimbabwean refugees who have fled the crisis next door. The South Africa Women’s Institute for Migration Affairs (SAWIMA), the Methodist Church and the Congress of South African Non-Governmental Organisations have drafted a petition with several demands that will be handed over to the Premier of Gauteng Province, for final delivery to President Thabo Mbeki.
The protest march begins with a brief service for Zimbabwe at the Central Methodist Church next to the High Court in Johannesburg Thursday morning. One of the speakers at the office of the Premier of Gauteng will be Bishop Paul Verryn, who has been sheltering Zimbabwean refugees at his church for years now and assisting them with asylum applications and other legal matters. The Bishop said he does not believe Zimbabweans are being treated fairly in South Africa. And he explained that the demands they are bringing to President Mbeki are fundamentally human rights that should be extended to everyone, not just Zimbabweans.
The demands are:
- Stop the arrests of Zimbabwean asylum seekers immediately
- Police accept temporary permits from refugees awaiting asylum decisions
- Free health for the refugees, even for those without permits
- Political and economic asylum seekers be treated as one
- The relaxation of visa requirements for both South Africans and Zimbabweans
- South African government quicken the issuing of asylum and other travelling documents for exiles.
- South African government to put pressure on Zanu PF and MDC to speed up talks and keep the public informed about the progress.
Explaining further, Bishop Verryn said: “Clearly something is wrong in Zimbabwe. No right-thinking individual would leave a decent life, abandon normalcy and choose to come here where they have nothing and are treated so badly.” The Bishop added that many of the refugees he speaks to are highly qualified, highly skilled people that can contribute greatly to any society. He described the petition as a moment of great privilege and an opportunity.
Asked what he would say to President Thabo Mbeki, Bishop Verryn said:
“I would ask him to tell us what we can do better to help the refugees and show who we really are. I would urge him to keep reminding South Africans not to close the door.”