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South African Security Forces Clamp Down on Illegal Migration

File: photo of Zimbabwe Passport (undated)
File: photo of Zimbabwe Passport (undated)

In recent days, over 1000 undocumented Zimbabweans have been arrested at Beitbridge Border crossing, which spans the Limpopo River near the town of Musina, by security forces for attempting to illegally enter South Africa. For VOA, Darren Taylor reports

Zimbabweans have been fleeing to South Africa, Africa’s second largest economy, by the thousands since 2000 as they attempted to escape political violence and economic meltdown.

Aaron Motsoaledi, South Africa’s Home Affairs Minister says his government is determined on stopping illegal migration by undocumented Zimbabweans, a move some migrant advocacy groups are challenging.

“A lot of Zimbabweans, undocumented, are coming into South Africa; they’re attempting to. They go down the bridge with a ladder. When they go this way, they find the army waiting for them. That’s when they get nabbed and sent back.”

Motsoaledi says his forces know the ruse. “We are aware that there are those who come by transport, the driver has a passport, but the passengers don’t have, they are undocumented. They drop them over the side of the border, the driver crosses legally, and then meets with the people inside South Africa.”

But the Minister says “That’s not going to be the end; they are going to use helicopters, even drones" to get people inside his nation.

A few months ago, the South African government announced it would no longer be issuing the Zimbabwe Exemption Permits or ZEPs, which effectively granted asylum to over 200,000 Zimbabweans. In December, the South African government announced a 12-month grace period for all ZEP holders to change their residency status.

However, according to the chairperson of the African Diaspora Forum, Vusumuzi Sibanda, South African security forces are not recognizing the ZEP permits which has led to the arrest of many Zimbabweans.

Vusumuzi Sibanda, the Chairman of Africa Diaspora Forum
Vusumuzi Sibanda, the Chairman of Africa Diaspora Forum

Sibanda argues that it is inhumane to expel Zimbabweans, some whose children are South African citizens, motivating his organization to take the South African government to court over revoking the permit. He says the present scheme constitutes harassment.

“People ordinarily are arrested, even when they are with ZEP permits or any other visa," he says, "taken to a police station and sometimes kept in custody for seven days whilst a verification process is being done.”