Friday, January 14, 2011

Zimbabweans Still Entering Illegally Despite Government Efforts To Document Them

Zimbabweans brave heavy rains on long queues as they try to
get their stay in South Africa legalised.
The South African government made sure that December would not be a dull month for those who read newspapers or watch the news on television as an unusual news story was taking place in South Africa with illegal Zimbabwean immigrants being asked to register before 31 December 2010. The government said illegal immigrants would not be turned away, but would be allowed to stay and work legitimately in South Africa. The process that started on 20 September 2010 is to document an estimated eight million Zimbabweans who currently live in South Africa as a result of economic and political instability back home.

As often, like in any major news story involving the Department of Home Affairs, there were allegations of corruption. I remember seeing a woman on the news who said an official from the Department of Home Affairs in Johannesburg had taken money from her and told her she would be able to jump to the front of the queue but the official never returned to do what had been promised.

Some Zimbabweans said they would stand on the queue for weeks before being attended to and that is the reason many pay the bribes for their papers to be processed quickly. The website, In-depth Africa found on interviewed Charles Mtetwa, a Pretoria-based Zimbabwean, who said he had been standing on queues for two weeks. “At the present, I am still waiting for my form there … I must get my form first. From there I go into this queue to surrender the form there,” Mtetwa told the website.

Many Zimbabweans said their problem is that they didn’t have the right documents and had to apply for passports first before they could be registered. One would think Zimbabweans would start entering the country legally as a result of the new government rules.

During the holidays I travelled to Zimbabwe and decided to catch a bus back, forfeiting the plane ticket I had already booked. As we approached the border the bus stopped at a certain village and picked up three adult passengers with two children. They didn’t have the right papers and one of the bus drivers who alternate on the long journey asked other passengers to close the curtains as the bus moved closer to the border.

All passengers complied with the request and seemed as if they were familiar with this. The man next to me then pointed at passengers being escorted to the back of the bus by the driver. I asked him why he was pointing at them and he said they were being moved to the back because they didn’t have passports and were crossing the border illegally with the assistance of the bus company staff.

At the back we heard the driver asking some passengers to squeeze in together with the new people. They had no problem with that. We travelled through the Zimbabwean side of the border with no hiccups.

When we arrived on the South African side of the Beitbridge border post a policeman, escorted by a visibly nervous bus staff member, entered the bus requesting all passengers to take out their passports. He got tired halfway through and didn’t even check them inside to see if they were legitimate or not. He did not even check mine to see whether the details and photograph were correct.

Those who had legal passports got them stamped and those who didn’t stayed inside the bus as no policeman or any other border official entered the stationary bus to look for anyone who might’ve stayed behind.

A few minutes after crossing the border the bus was stopped again. Again no passenger seemed to mind. A policeman came in and asked for a list of passengers on board. He counted the names and asked why there were more passengers on the bus than the names on the list. All four staff members jumped off and walked for about 500 meters to where the police were parked, they negotiated for an hour and a half and then we were allowed to continue with the journey - again the passengers with no documents on the bus proceeding with us.

The man sitting next to me said he travelled for four years between South Africa and Zimbabwe without proper documentation. He said at some point he was taken to the Lindela Repatriation Camp near Krugersdorp where he stayed for a number of days before he was put on a train deporting him back to Zimbabwe. He said he easily paid a bribe on the train and jumped off in Johannesburg.

I believe that while the government is trying its best to document all Zimbabweans in the country, their efforts will largely not bear fruit as there is still rife corruption in certain structures that should be dealing with the problem.

No comments:

Post a Comment