Discrimination and Xenophobia in South Africa: Why and how South African authorities can reduce the vulnerabilities and exposure of Zimbabwean immigrants
2 September 2022
JOHANNESBURG - Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, a conglomeration of 81 civic society organisations drawn from churches, women’s groups, social movements, residents associations, labor unions, human rights lawyers, teachers groups and health professionals, acknowledges the key mediator role that South Africa has played in regional and international efforts towards resolving Zimbabwe’s protracted political crises for over two decades now. We also note with appreciation, South Africa’s decision to step in and accommodate an estimated one million Zimbabweans that have flocked to South Africa to escape the dire political, social and economic situation back home, at least since the year 2000. The scale of influx of Zimbabweans into South Africa has been so huge that a special migration program, under the Zimbabwe Exemption Permit (ZEP), had to be devised specifically for them.
In light of this history of solidarity, and given the neighborly relationship Zimbabwe and its citizens have so far enjoyed with South Africa, we want to register our deepest concern and strongly condemn the ongoing acts of discrimination and xenophobia against Zimbabweans in South Africa.
Over the years, Zimbabwe’s protracted immigration crisis has exposed Zimbabweans to inhumane, unfair and discriminatory treatment as they continue to flock to South Africa, many fleeing political persecution, economic and social exclusion by the incumbent government; and many more in search of better economic opportunities and improved standards of living. The situation of Zimbabweans in South Africa has been made worse by the South African government’s decision to not extend the ZEP beyond December 2022. With the majority of Zimbabweans facing expulsion after the expiry of this deadline, there has been intensified calls and systematic attacks by vigilante groups, opposition leaders and ordinary South African citizens, who are demanding that Zimbabweans go back home.
Last week, Limpopo health Member of the Executive Council (MEC) Dr. Phophi Ramathuba was filmed confronting a Zimbabwean woman who was scheduled for surgery at a hospital in the province. In the video that has since gone viral, Dr. Ramathuba accused Zimbabweans living in South Africa of being responsible for the South African government’s failure to provide adequate health care to its citizens as a result of having to cater for Zimbabweans on a tight budget.
“You are killing my health system…In Limpopo, we have 5.7 million people, 91% do not have medical aid, and they are dependent on the state. But instead of using the budget for what it's meant for, I am operating for what Mnangagwa is supposed to do. You are not even registered anywhere, you are illegal…so you won't be discharged until you settle your bill...” she said.
Meanwhile, Doctors Without Borders have reported that members of the anti-foreign movement known as Operation Dudula have turned several foreign nationals away from public hospitals in various areas across the country including Limpopo, Pretoria and Johannesburg, in what they termed an intensifying xenophobic climate and politicisation of healthcare.
This discrimination, ill-treatment and inhuman stigmatization of Zimbabweans in South Africa violates the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (1951) and the Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa (1969) that South Africa is party to. The South African government is therefore mandated to ensure the safety and security of all refugees domiciled within its borders.
It is important however, to note that the South African government has not been decisive in engaging Zimbabwe in the current conjuncture, both at a bilateral level and through the Southern African Development Community (SADC) as a regional bloc. We have reiterated before and continue to do so, that the self-destructive path taken by the Government of Zimbabwe in seeking to entrench an authoritarian model of government, based on an extractive (and crony capitalist) rather than redistributive economic system, will continue to make the country unfavorable for basic survival for many citizens. It is not a secret that the Government of Zimbabwe continues to underfund the provision of basic social services and goods for its citizens; yet the country is being bled financially by the political elites through illicit financial flows and a corruption-patronage network that benefits only a few. Where citizens have attempted to push back against these excesses by the government, they have encountered serious repression. It is the region and its continued passive policy towards Zimbabwe, and giving a blind eye to the excesses of the Government of Zimbabwe and its repression of citizens, that remains the biggest push factor for outward migration from Zimbabwe. South Africa in particular, and the entire SADC region cannot give a blind eye to the repressive government in Zimbabwe, and in the same vein expect citizens to await slow death at the hands of their own government.
It is not uncommon that citizens leave their country en masse, fleeing war and conflict – Zimbabwe today represents a law-intensity warfare zone, where the government is at war against citizens calling it out to respect the constitution and the rule of law, stop endemic corruption that is suffocating social services delivery, and stop persecuting human rights defenders and civil society. Civil society organizations cannot enjoy basic constitutional freedoms to demonstrate against these excesses; ordinary citizens cannot speak out without being arrested or harassed; even political parties cannot campaign freely without being violently attacked by the police of ZANU PF functionaries; ordinary citizens cannot access social welfare or other state assistance if they do not belong to ZANU PF. Yet, this is the situation that faces a significant population of Zimbabwe today. This is why citizens are fleeing the country. And the very reason why South Africa and the region cannot afford to take a ‘business as usual’ approach. The region’s intervention is not unprecedented, not only in Zimbabwe but other countries as well. That is the whole essence of having a regional bloc in the first place; the very essence of the neighborliness and solidarity upon which episodes of liberation solidarity are founded.
We reiterate that South Africa has a critical role to play in resolving the multi-faceted crises in Zimbabwe and therefore implore the Government of South Africa to:
Restate and reaffirm its resolve to providing a lasting solution to end xenophobia.
Uphold their important obligations towards protecting refugees and asylum seekers under regional and international law.
Guard against uttering and/or encouraging irresponsible statements that may inflame xenophobic sentiments and attacks against Zimbabweans and other foreign nationals domiciled in South Africa.
Embrace its regional leadership role to work towards a robust regional reaction that rightly puts Zimbabwe back on the SADC agenda and use its influence to steer Zimbabwe towards a path of rational economic and political practice.
Reinvigorate its actions towards reducing the massive levels of inequality among South Africans as these are providing fertile ground for xenophobia towards immigrants.
We also reiterate that the Government of Zimbabwe must:
Take full responsibility of its own citizens including those residing outside its boarders.
Realize and acknowledge its own role by immediately working on improving access to identity documents for all its citizens.
Embrace far reaching governance reforms to stem further forced migration. The daily influx of Zimbabweans into South Africa through legal and illegal migration is a clear indicator of push factors that the government must urgently address.
Address the socio-economic and political factors that are forcing Zimbabweans to cross into South Africa, Botswana, Namibia and other neighboring countries. This is the surest way of ensuring that immigration does not end up overwhelming local populations leading to deadly events such as the one currently unfolding in South Africa.
Unreservedly engage their South African counterparts for immediate relief and protection of Zimbabwean citizens and other foreign nationals in South Africa.