Tragic Zim exodus
Johannesburg: The massive migration out of Zimbabwe, the largest in the region’s history, was more tragic even than the political violence during recent elections, senior Zimbabwe scholar, Brian Raftopoulos believes. Raftopoulos, Director of Research and Advocacy in the Solidarity Peace Trust, addressed media and civil rights organisations in Johannesburg on Tuesday on migrants and deportations of African asylum seekers.
He praised SADC for remaining constant in its mission to achieve a solution to the never-ending, exhausting political crisis in Zimbabwe.
“The displacement of people as a result of the destruction of livelihoods within Zimbabwe has seen this massive movement of Zimbabweans out of their country into the region and elsewhere in the world.”
He said this migration of nearly 15 percent of Zimbabwe’s population had placed “great pressure” on countries hosting Zimbabweans.
Last week SADC’s Zimbabwe mediation team, led by President Jacob Zuma, resisted pressure from President Robert Mugabe and his Zanu PF party at a summit in Angola to allow elections this year without a new constitution.
Raftopoulos said the new constitution was the “heart” of the multi party Global Political Agreement, or GPA, which ushered in an inclusive government more than three years ago.
Despite many obstacles SADC has remained consistent in its demands that Zimbabwe must have a new constitution ahead of its next elections, Raftopoulos said. "They (Zanu PF) were hoping they could bully SADC. They told a lot of political lies about not needing a new constitution.”
Zanu PF has consistently delayed the tortuous process of drawing up a new constitution and tried to abort the first draft of the new charter weeks before the SADC summit.
“One of the advantages of the GPA (mediated by former president Thabo Mbeki after violent elections won by the Movement for Democratic Change in 2008) was that it forced Mugabe and Zanu PF into a broader accountability structure which included SADC and helped keep Zimbabwe from slipping into the abyss.”
“Zanu PF has had a monopoly of power for so long and that insertion into a broader accountability was a huge step for Zimbabwe.”
Raftopoulos said one of the remaining sticking points still under negotiation for a new constitution was devolution of power which Zanu PF was resisting as the central government, via purchasing and tenders favourable to Zanu PF leaders, helped keep the party powerful despite its loss of popular support.
“Its strength lies within the state...so keeping control of those patronage networks at a central level is absolutely essential to Zanu PF’s future as a party.”
South Africa has deported more than 1.4 million “illegals” at a cost of R1.8 billion between between 2003 and 2008 when xenophobic violence erupted according to Braam Hanekom, South African refugee rights activist. “As of April 2012, the refugee appeals board was backlogged by more than 166 000 asylum applications waiting to be reviewed.”
He said present trends were that more than 90 percent of applications for refugee status had been turned down.
Solidarity Peace Trust and Hanekom’s People against Suffering, Oppression and Poverty, PASSOP, released a joint report on Tuesday, “Perils and pitfalls: Migrants and deportation in South Africa” .
Hanekom said at present many Zimbabwean and other undocumented African asylum seekers were being hunted down by the police and that deportations were not only unaffordable but could spark another round of xenophobic violence.
Raftopoulos warned that the implementation of South Africa’s legal framework for asylum seekers needed urgent reform.
* Independent Foreign Service