BY SILAS NKALA ZIMBABWEAN immigrants living in South Africa are reportedly desperate to come back home, but most of them fear that life may be hard because of lack of jobs and a harsh economic climate in the country.
Time is running out for an estimated 180 000 Zimbabwe Exemption Permit (ZEP) holders after South Africa said it would not renew the permits when they expire in December this year.
As the deadline nears, Zimbabwean immigrants and other foreign nationals in that country have been a target of raids and other xenophobic attacks from locals, who accuse them of stealing their jobs.
Migrants Workers Association-SA chairperson Butholezwe Nyathi said his organisation had been inundated with calls from fellow citizens desperate to return home.
“Many Zimbabweans, some who were holders of the permits and some who have resided irregularly in South Africa, are beginning to accept the reality that their time to reside in South Africa is limited, hence they have started to make plans to relocate back home,” Nyathi said.
“We have now also opened an office in Bulawayo to receive those who will be repatriated or deported.
“A project has been designed by the African Development Consortium, a registered not-for-profit company to run services that include a paralegal clinic, voluntary repatriation, sustainable projects as well as psycho-social services.”
South Africa-based human rights activist Nobuhle Ajiti, who has been assisting struggling fellow citizens living on the streets in the neighbouring country, said fears of mass deportations were taking a toll on Zimbabwean immigrants.
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“Most of them had built their lives in South Africa and the thought of going back to Zimbabwe to start afresh traumatises them,” Ajiti said.
“We have had people coming to our offices for psychosocial support. People need counselling. It’s not only them who will be affected, even their children that are going to school are in trouble.”
Ajiti said adding to their frustrations were reports that some companies were no longer renewing contracts for ZEP permit holders.
Foreign Affairs ministry spokesperson Livit Mugijo said government was ready to assist returning Zimbabweans.
“The government has always assisted its nationals. Anyone who wishes to come back home is welcome. Those with problems have always been assisted, but the decision to come back is individual. Our citizens are coming back home from different countries on a daily basis,” he said.
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