Ray Ndlovu, Assistant Bureau Chief
BULAWAYO — The governments of Botswana and South Africa have in recent months escalated the deportation of Zimbabwean immigrants living in their countries without proper documentation.
Figures released by the Home Affairs Ministry indicate that Pretoria deported 23 150 Zimbabweans between January 1 and April 30 this year while Gaborone banished 2 151 Zimbabweans.
During the comparative period last year, South Africa only deported 13 600 Zimbabweans.
Political observers point to the near-doubling of the deportation figures as indicative of South Africa’s failure to halt the influx of illegal immigrants into Africa’s largest economy.
Christopher Ngwenya, the Matabeleland South police spokesperson, revealed that deportations from South Africa through the Beitbridge Border Post averaged between 200 and 300 people per day, while Botswana was deporting about 100 people daily through the Plumtree Border Post.
“Those deported would have either breached immigration laws such as overstaying resulting in the cancellation of their permits or crossing borders without valid travel documents,” he said.
Scores of Zimbabwean nationals left the country at the height of the economic crisis in search for greener pastures.
South Africa alone is home to an estimated three million Zimbabweans.
The South Africa Home Affairs Department was forced to introduce a stringent visa requirement for Zimbabwean travellers in 2008 and to compel all foreign nationals in that country to regularise their stay.
Only 275 000 Zimbabweans applied to regularise their stay in the last documentation exercise.
In March, the Home Affairs Department ruled out the possibility of extending the exercise.
Charles Mangongera, a political analyst, said Zimbabweans have taken advantage of the visa free regime to flout immigration laws, leaving the South African government in a fix as it could not re-introduce the visa requirements without stirring fresh tensions with Zimbabwe.
“The visa requirement has become anachronistic…given the very close economic, social and political ties that have now developed between the two countries,” said Mangongera.
With elections which ZANU-PF wants held at the end of next month, speculation is gaining ground that the deportations from South Africa are set to increase.
“Certainly those numbers will increase and this has been the case in previous elections,” said Mangongera.
The influx of deportees from South Africa and Botswana is likely to worry ZANU-PF, which is suspicious of Zimbabweans who are based in the Diaspora.
Zimbabwe’s electoral laws restrict postal voting to citizens who are on government business and disallows Diaspora-based nationals from participating in elections. As a result, a large number of Zimbabweans living abroad will not be able to vote in the forthcoming polls.
“The South African government has not necessarily pronounced a policy to send Zimbabweans back home to vote, but the police and immigration authorities seem to have had covert operations to deport more Zimbabweans during election periods,” observed Mangongera.