AFRICA/SOUTH AFRICA - Missionaries and concerns for Zimbabwean refugees in South Africa

Cape Town (Agenzia Fides) – "The Zimbabwean refugees with whom I have spoken are very concerned about the regularization measure decided on by the South African government, as the situation in their country has not changed," Fides was told by Fr. Mario Tessarotto, Scalabrinian missionary in Cape Town who assists refugees from other African countries.
On September 2, the South African government announced that by the end of the year it will withdraw the special permit granted to thousands of Zimbabweans, allowing them to reside in South Africa without documents. "After December 31, all undocumented Zimbabweans will be treated the same way and will start being expelled," said a spokesman for the South African government.
"South Africa and Zimbabwe have very complex relationships involving the ruling parties in their respective countries," said Fr. Mario, who questions the viability of the measure: "I think this measure will be difficult to implement. The ANC, the party in power, is divided between a populist current, sympathetic to the position of the President of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, who supports the return of refugees, and another that wants to maintain good relations with the United States. The latter current fears that the expulsion of refugees may harm relations with Washington, especially on economic terms."
There is a strong community of Zimbabweans living in South Africa - about 1 ½ million people who left their country to escape hunger and political persecution. "Zimbabwe was once considered the breadbasket of Southern Africa; some people even called it the Switzerland of Africa. The economic policy of its leadership has plunged the country downwards, now making it among one of the poorest nations in the world with a massive unemployment rate and a crumbling agricultural economy that has forced Zimbabwe to have to import food from abroad," mentions Fr. Mario.
The presence of a high number of refugees from Zimbabwe, to which are added the immigrants from other countries like Mozambique, has led to tensions with the South African population and resulted in severe episodes of intolerance and xenophobia (see Fides 23/5/2008), which were condemned by the Catholic Church in South Africa (see Fides 29/5/2008).
"We missionaries tried to calm tempers and to promote development projects to benefit both refugees and South Africans, to make them understand that the Zimbabweans did not come to "steal their jobs." For example, we help 2,500 Zimbabweans in De Doorns, a farming village in the Cape Province, where there are still incidents of violence against them. Just a few days ago, two Zimbabwean citizens were killed," said Fr. Mario.
Several South African human rights organizations have expressed their opposition to the order revoking the special permit of residence out of concern for a possible revival of political violence in Zimbabwe, on the occasion of 2011 elections. (L.M.) (Agenzia Fides 04/09/2010)

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