BY MIRIAM MANGWAYA
PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa has acknowledged that the ongoing violent protests in neighbouring South Africa could trigger regional instability, and called for a peaceful resolution to the impasse.
Mnangagwa’s fears came at a time when local economic experts have warned that the ongoing disturbances down south could cost Zimbabwe’s economy a whopping US$25 million if they continue for another week.
More than 72 people have died while over 1 200 have been arrested as violence and looting continues in South Africa.
The riots were initially in response to the jailing of ex-President Jacob Zuma last week for his failure to appear before a corruption inquiry, but swiftly degenerated into looting and destruction of property, especially in KwaZulu Natal and Gauteng provinces, driven by widespread anger over the economic hardships and racial inequalities the African National Congress-led government has failed to address in three decades.
“On behalf of all Zimbabweans, both at home and abroad, we wish that the current challenges plaguing our South African brothers and sisters are resolved peacefully,” Mnangagwa said.
“Only when there is peace in South Africa, is there peace in our region.”
South Africa, the most sophisticated economy on the continent, receives thousands of migrants annually who seek jobs at farms and factories.
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It is estimated that about three million Zimbabweans are resident in South Africa.
Some Zimbabweans returned from South Africa and Botswana after the introduction of COVID-19 lockdowns last year and yesterday, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) revealed that over 3 000 returnees arrived home every week due to COVID-19-induced job losses and deportations.
The unrest in South Africa is believed to have contributed to the return of citizens from that country amid fears of job losses and xenophobic attacks.
Police have claimed that the number of armed robberies have surged since the onset of the lockdowns, raising fears that returnees were perpetrating the crimes.
“Between July 6 and 12, 3 690 entries were received through the four key points of entry (PoEs) namely Beitbridge, Chirundu, Forbes and Plumtree,” IOM spokesperson Fadzai Nyamande-Pangeti said yesterday.
On Wednesday, while addressing Zanu PF politburo members, Mnangagwa also said there was need to ensure that peace and stability prevailed in South Africa.
The ruling Zanu PF party has said Zimbabwe would not intervene in the neighbouring country’s violent protests, in compliance with the principles of Sadc liberation movements, which encourage member States to respect the sovereignty of other nations.
Due to the persistent violence in the country, South Africa’s largest crude oil refinery company, SAPREF, announced that it was suspending operations, a development that could impact Zimbabwe negatively.
“Due to the civil unrest in the country and disruption of supply routes in and out of KwaZulu Natal, suppliers of material critical to SAPREF operations communicated the suspension of deliveries to the refinery due to safety concerns for their staff and damages to their vehicles on the roads,” SAPREF contract and procurements manager Pensilla Billat said in a statement on Tuesday.
“Without the said critical materials and with no clarity as to how long the unrest will last and normal supply resumes SAPREF is unable to sustain refinery operations. Consequently, SAPREF has been obliged to make the difficult decision to shut down the refinery.”
Mnangagwa’s spokesperson George Charamba said the development would affect the country.
“Take note Zimbabweans, fortunately, much of our fuel comes by pipeline. Still, we will feel the jolt!” Charamba tweeted on Wednesday in response to the SAPREF announcement.
Economists have also warned that attacks on businesses in South Africa will negatively impact the country’s economy, which would affect thousands of Zimbabweans in the neighbouring country.
Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce president Takunda Mugaga said the Zimbabwean economy would lose up to US$25 million if the riots in South Africa continue for another week.
In an interview with the South African national broadcaster SABC in Harare, Mugaga said disruption of routes into Zimbabwe had affected the movement of goods between the two countries, adding that it would lead to job losses for migrant workers from Zimbabwe.Follow Miriam on Twitter @FloMangwaya