HARARE - As Zimbabwe prepares to host the 34th Sadc Summit of Heads of State and Government in Victoria Falls in a week’s time, it has emerged that the regional power, South Africa, is once again “very anxious” about developments in the country, particularly Harare’s fast deteriorating economic climate.
A highly-placed source in Pretoria told the Daily News on Sunday yesterday that there were “growing fears” in South Africa that Zimbabwe’s worsening economic situation would not just result in heightened floods of illegal Zimbabwean migrants seeking economic opportunities across the Limpopo River, but could also trigger social and political strife in the country.
“Many senior people here both in government and the ANC (ruling African National Congress) are very anxious about the situation in Zimbabwe and its history of cyclical political and socio-economic problems.
“It is not a secret that Zimbabwe is currently economically stressed and that things may get significantly worse soon.
“The growing fear is that this economic crisis will trigger ever larger volumes of economic refugees to look for opportunities and relief illegally in South Africa, in a climate where we are also beginning to experience tensions as a result of high unemployment among our own people, some of whom have become a little bit unfriendly towards such illegal migrants.
“But looking beyond Zimbabwe’s economic challenges, and basing our fears on previous experience, there are also growing worries that this may in turn also trigger political strife in the country, particularly when one considers the fact that there is serious infighting within both (President Robert) Mugabe’s and (opposition leader Morgan) Tsvangirai’s parties (Zanu PF and MDC),” the source said.
As a result, the source said, authorities in Pretoria were putting together a task team of Cabinet ministers with a “watching brief” on Zimbabwe.
Another source said the current delay in reaching a conclusive decision on renewing the papers of about 250 000 illegal Zimbabwean migrants who were given temporary residency documents four years ago, under a special dispensation to get them documented, was because of the fear that with the worsening economic crisis in Zimbabwe, more Zimbabweans would “flood” to South Africa if there was a perception that they would be “warmly welcomed”.
“It is a difficult situation for us really. On the one hand we feel for Zimbabweans as our brothers and sisters and in fact will always endeavour to assist them. On the other, there is a real problem because the expectation we had that the situation in Zimbabwe would get better and normalise is just not happening.
“The reality is that more and more Zimbabweans are coming to South Africa and staying here illegally, and fighting for the scarce opportunities available in the job market with our own people. So, while we want to assist Zimbabweans, we also don’t want to appear oblivious to the pain and struggles of our own people. It is a difficult conundrum,” the official said.
In the meantime, Pretoria is miffed by last week’s arrest and detention by Zimbabwean authorities at Beitbridge of five South African police officers who allegedly strayed into Zimbabwe.
According to reports, the South African policemen — all of them women — were picked up by alert local police who were on patrol at the border post, as they relaxed and jovially took pictures of themselves on the Zimbabwean side.
It is believed that authorities in South Africa are not happy with this latest “provocative action” in light of the fact that millions of Zimbabweans make a living, legally and otherwise in South Africa, as well as the fact this is not the first time Zimbabwean officials have acted in an “unreasonable and high-handed” manner with South African nationals.
“Zimbabweans must not take us for granted. If they chose to act maliciously we will do the same and let’s see who suffers in the end.
Crossing borders without going through strict official channels is something that happens routinely on both sides of the border because of the relatively good relations between our two countries.
“We are surprised that our brothers on the other side make mountains out of ant hills from time to time. This is dangerous,” a South African Home Affairs official said.