More than 1,5 million Zimbabweans living illegally in neighbouring South Africa face deportation at the end of this month when the moratorium for illegal immigrants expires.
The South African Home Affairs department introduced the moratorium, through the Zimbabwe Documentation Process (ZDP) in April 2009, to allow undocumented Zimba-bweans living in the country a chance to formalise their stay by applying for, and being issued with residence and work permits. However, only 250 000 out of an estimated two million Zimbabweans living in South Africa applied for the permits, with about 20 000 believed to have been turned down.
A total of 25 827 illegal immigrants have been deported since South Africa resumed deportations in October last year. Two weeks ago, 587 people were bussed back home through Beitbridge Border Post.
According to border officials, this latest batch of deportees was brought in aboard seven buses from Johannesburg from Lindela Detention Centre.
Assistant regional immigration officer, Francis Mabika told The Financial Gazette that the border post was prepared for any volume of deportees that passed through it.
"South Africa has not yet communicated with us on that issue, but if there are going to be mass deportations then there will have preparatory meetings between the two governments so that we work out the logistics," said Mabika.
"In any case, we will never fail to accept our people coming back home at any day or hour. If large volumes are deported, arrangements would be made so as not to disrupt traffic at the border post," said Mabika. A representative of the Welshman Ncube-led Movement for Democratic Change in South Africa, Jabulani Mkhwananzi, said officials at the South African Home Affairs department had indicated that they would finish processing permits by the end of this month, after which mass deportations would resume.
"The response when we were preaching the gospel of applying for permits to Zimbabweans was electrifying but unfortunately this did not translate into action. Now of course it is too late as the South African government has made it clear there will be no more extensions of the deadline," said Mkhwananzi.
Mkhwananzi said most people were only just realising the benefits of having proper documentation.
Co- Minister of Home Affairs, Theresa Makone this week said her ministry would engage its South African counterpart for a possible extension of the ZDP as a lot of Zimbabweans had failed to regularise their stay. For Zimbabweans living in the neighbouring country, deportation means leaving their jobs and coming back to their country, whose economy is still underperforming. Unemployment in Zimbabwe is now reportedly the highest in southern Africa.
The majority would much rather turn right back as soon as they have reached Beitbridge Border post than come back home.
A study by the Solidarity Peace Trust and People Against Suffering, Oppression and Poverty revealed that 200 out of 227 respondents would return to South Africa if deported.
According to a recent report by the two civic organisations, the detention stage in the deportation process at Lindela detention camp was littered with abuse, neglect and failure to respect the rule of law.
"Detainees held in Lindela reported not going through any medical screening before detention.
"Data shows an almost complete lack of access to medical services, including anti-retrovirals.
"The length of detention is also of serious concern. It was common practice for detainees from countries further North of Zimbabwe to be held in Lindela for longer than 120 days, but even Zimbabweans have on occasion been detained for more than the 120 days," reads part of the report.