Zimbabweans, smugglers anxious, monitor South Africa’s election

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By Creative Media News

  • Zimbabwean cross-border drivers supply essential goods to South Africa
  • Concerns arise over the impact of South Africa’s elections
  • Immigration policies affect millions of Zimbabweans residing in South Africa

A Toyota Hilux with South African license plates stops and honks its horn along the roadside in Nkwana hamlet, Matabeleland South province, Zimbabwe. As she approaches the vehicle, the driver hands an older woman a parcel containing groceries, a blanket, and a small envelope containing an unspecified amount of cash.

“Malaika” is the Ndebele term for the cross-border drivers transporting goods from Zimbabwe to South Africa. Thulani Ncube, 42, is the driver, whose real name we withholds to safeguard his privacy. He delivers supplies to villagers in the frontier region every two weeks, most of which are smuggled.

Ncube stated, “Some goods we declare, while others we smuggle in and out.” “Because most of our clients are employed in low-paying occupations in South Africa and rural Zimbabwe, we do not wish to include additional fees in the declaration of goods; therefore, bribery is prevalent at border controls.”

Decades have passed since Zimbabweans began migrating to South Africa via the frontier, primarily due to political instability, severe economic circumstances, and persistent underdevelopment within their nation.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and Zimbabwean census data indicate that the number of Zimbabweans residing in South Africa exceeds one million. The IOM further observes that many individuals entered the country without adequate documentation.

Due to the circumstances, Malaicha has been presented with business opportunities; she smuggles goods and individuals seeking to enter South Africa illegally.

Ncube, who has served as oMalaicha for eleven years, stated that he charges “one beast” per person he transports across, equivalent to one cattle or $300-$400.

Ncube is now concerned about the potential ramifications of the May 29 general election in South Africa, which is anticipated to be the most competitive since the end of apartheid thirty years ago, on business.

He stated that he would continue his clandestine endeavors regardless of whether the incoming government of South Africa tightens immigration policy.

Linked across national boundaries

Village chief Courage Moyo, 64, resides in Gohole village, 161 kilometers (100 miles) from the frontier with South Africa at Beitbridge. On television, he is a die-hard viewer of election debates and developments in the neighboring country.

Despite instances of violent assaults targeting foreign nationals and xenophobia in South Africa, Zimbabweans continue to migrate there in search of a better life for themselves and their families back home.

Moyo stated, “I have lost seven cattle while paying Malaicha to transport my children to South Africa.” “Because they lacked identification and I could not provide passports, they were compelled to cross the border unlawfully.”

From South Africa, I receive monthly money and groceries to support my family.” “Daily, I offer them my prayers,” he stated.

Presently, he is apprehensive that the millions of Zimbabweans who rely on them for remittances and support at home will be impacted negatively by any uncertainty surrounding South Africa’s immigration policy.

Moyo is conversing in a neighborhood WhatsApp group with other South African parents and neighbors with children. The 310 members analyze the elections via the platform, which includes relatives from across the frontier.

If a new political party comes to power in South Africa, some members are contemplating reevaluating their immigration strategies, with some even considering relocating to Botswana.

However, many in Matabeleland South have the most substantial ties to South Africa. The border province prefers the South African rand over the domestic currency or the US dollar, which is more widely used in other regions of Zimbabwe.

Moyo remarked, “Our families are citizens of that nation,” illustrating the interdependence of individuals. Currently, elections are the most pressing issue in South Africa.

The matter of immigration

Moyo caught excerpts of a televised town hall panel discussion on immigration in April. The discussion, facilitated by Elections 360, featured representatives from five prominent political parties in South Africa. Amid the vast immigrant population residing in South Africa, Zimbabweans emerged as a prominent subject of analysis.

South Africa’s Minister of Home Affairs, Aaron Motsoaledi, stated on the panel that the ruling African National Congress (ANC) would “revise the entire immigration system” to address the issue of irregular and illicit migration.

The ANC has proposed repealing legislation to implement a unified law regarding citizens, refugees, and migration.

Additionally, the government published a Final White Paper on Refugee Protection, Immigration, and Citizenship last month. The proposal includes a review of certain international treaties, such as the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1967 Protocol, which obligated South Africa to accommodate migrants and refugees with minimal restrictions and the possibility of withdrawal.

When the treaties were ratified in the 1990s, Motsoaledi stated that the government had yet to establish a comprehensive policy on migration, including refugee protection.

The minister added that South Africa “presently lacks the resources” to fulfill every stipulation of the 1951 Convention.

Motsoaledi stated on the Elections 360 panel that reforming the immigration system would assist in the influx of skilled labor into the country and end employment disputes among the local population attributed to Zimbabweans and other nationals.

Adrian Roos, a member of the Democratic Alliance (DA), the official opposition, stated that the issue was not the laws themselves but their ineffective implementation.

Gayton Mackenzie, a representative of the Patriotic Alliance (PA), an organization leaning to the right, attributed the employment of 60 percent of youthful South Africans to Zimbabweans.

Identifying a South African employee at a restaurant is an exceedingly difficult task. Locating a South African within the security industry is an extraordinarily challenging task. “Illegal foreigners are employed in every household,” he declared, calling for the “mass deportation” of individuals.

Funzi Ngobeni, a representative of the right-leaning political party ActionSA, identified the underlying cause of the refugee crisis as the ANC government’s “propping up” of the ZANU-PF government in Zimbabwe. According to Ngobeni, this was the precise reason people were escaping across the border.

A government led by the left-leaning Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), according to Mzwanele Manyi, would view Africa as a whole, beyond “the Berlin Conference borders of the imperialists”; all Africans would be welcomed under their governance.

Moyo stated regarding what he had heard, “I am pleased that there are a variety of opinions on this subject; that gives us a little optimism and hope that the parties with welcoming immigration policies will prevail.

ZEP authorizations

While present in South Africa, not every Zimbabwean is undocumented.

South Africa extended special dispensation to Zimbabweans impacted by the crisis in neighboring countries in 2009. This eventually transformed into the Zimbabwe Exemption Permit (ZEP), which is currently in effect.

The Department of Home Affairs determined to terminate the special dispensation in 2021. However, Minister Motsoaledi has been confronted with numerous legal challenges from civil society organizations contesting the decision to reinstate the dispensation by 2023. In response to escalating pressure and court orders, the ministry extended the permits through November 2025.

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ZEP holders are authorized to engage in business, pursue employment, and work. However, permanent residency applications are not accepted, and the newly issued permits are not renewable. In addition to being unable to alter their national status, permit holders must register any children born or remaining in South Africa.

The outcome of this election holds significance for the roughly 178,000 ZEP holders beyond the realm of litigation.

A year after crossing the frontier into South Africa illegitimately in 2012, 36-year-old Delight Mpala was deported. After three years at home, she successfully obtained a passport and returned. During her time in South Africa, she received a ZEP. However, she continues to harbor great apprehensions.

“Under the administration of the ANC, we have remained in the country.” However, this is a struggle, not the governing party’s gesture. Their support from South African voters would benefit our nation. “However, should the situation reverse, our family and I will be doomed and forced to return home,” Mpala stated.

A recent GroundUp survey on immigration gathered perspectives on the ZEP from various political parties. Members of Moyo’s community WhatsApp group in Gohole village also deliberated on this topic.

The opposition DA stated that it would permit current ZEP holders to apply for alternative visas, including permanent residency for some, but the provisions would not immediately include the right to work. The ANC declined to respond to the survey’s queries.

The Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), which leans right, supported Motsoaledi’s decision to terminate the ZEP. Regarding the prospects for Zimbabweans residing in South Africa, the document states, “They should return to their country of origin unless they can secure alternative visa categories that grant them permission to remain.”

ActionSA voiced apprehension regarding the extension of the ZEP, stating that it was “a mockery of our constitutional democracy” and was essentially opposed to the permit.

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