Africa — A continent filled with 54 independent countries, rich in different cultures, traditions, and values.
Although each country is different in its own way, they are still similar in that each can identify with their African roots. So why are Zimbabweans in South Africa the target of violence by South Africans? Why are they being forced out of the safe haven that they have built for themselves in South Africa? Why are Africans targeting other Africans? This situation in South Africa goes all the way back to the escalating situation in Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe, a country well endowed with natural resources, is currently tormented by poverty and hunger, and its people face persecution in every corner. Governmental price controls and land confiscation, the growing HIV/AIDS epidemic, and droughts have had crippling effects on the country’s financial system. Life expectancy has significantly declined from 60 to 42 since 1990, and remains among the lowest in the world, while the infant mortality rate has dramatically climbed.
Unemployment in Zimbabwe is a shocking 80 percent, and is still rising. The economic meltdown and repressive political measures in Zimbabwe have led to a flood of refugees into neighboring countries. An estimated 3.4 million Zimbabweans, a quarter of it’s population, had fled abroad for safety reasons by mid 2007.
Many Zimbabweans fled their homeland due to violent crackdowns on supporters of the opposition party Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). President Robert Mugabe, who has ruled the country since independence in 1980, and his Zanu-PF party supporters, targeted opposition activists during the internationally condemned 2008 elections. MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai pulled out of a run-off vote citing violence against his supporters. Tsvangirai and Mugabe have since entered into a power-sharing government in which Tsvangirai becomes prime minister and Mugabe remains president of the nation. The arrangement has led to many improvements in the country but violence against MDC supporters and civil society members still remains.
Some 3 million Zimbabweans have found themselves seeking refuge in South Africa and for a time have been able to live comfortably. However, growing negative sentiments by South African natives towards Zimbabweans are threatening to force them out. Some South Africans view the Zimbabweans as competitors for jobs and housing, sparking resentment especially among South Africa’s poor. This resentment has risen to new levels as xenophobic mobs rampage through townships populated by Zimbabweans, burning and destroying everything in their paths. Large numbers of Zimbabweans working illegally and a possible increase in crime as people fight to survive all threaten to adversely affect the extremely volatile relationship that already exist between the South African and Zimbabwean populations.
The South African government has also implemented a new legislation, which could compound problems for the Zimbabwean immigrants. Deportation of undocumented Zimbabwean immigrants will be begin, leaving nearly half a million people in danger of being sent home to a country that is still politically, socially, and economically unstable.
The legislation would require Zimbabweans entering South Africa to apply for documentation within five days of entering the country as opposed to the current 14; however, the rejection rate for those seeking asylum is already high and speeding up the process could cause it to potentially skyrocket. Those who do follow the legislation and apply for documentation are often unable to pick up their work permit because of the inability to acquire passports from the Zimbabwean consulates.
Evidently, it seems as if every force is working against every Zimbabwean who seeks to create a better life for themselves and their family. Deporting them in large quantities will only further damage the already delicate situation as Zimbabweans will be only given two options for their futures, go back to their impoverished country or go into hiding in South Africa. Neither option projects a bright future for the Zimbabweans. Sending them out of the country will also cast a negative light on South Africa, as they could now be seen as refusing to help their African “brothers”. Rather, an alternative solution that protects and aids the Zimbabweans while quelling the violence should be sought in order to create a more harmonious South Africa for South Africans and Zimbabweans alike.
Zimbabwe is a country in quick sand, a chilling reminder that democracy, if not constantly checked, is quite fragile. Failing to carefully balance the government is a huge price to pay for a whole nation and it will its people that are forced to pay the price.
Photos via Doctors Without Borders & Google Images