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South Africa | Zimbabwe
Society | Human rights

Zimbabweans flee SA "xenophobia rumour"

South African Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa

© SA Presidency/afrol News
afrol News, 13 July
- On the South Africa-Zimbabwe border, the stream of migrants now goes northwards, into Zimbabwe. But only few of the fleeing Zimbabweans have experienced xenophobic violence, and SA politicians warn of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Is there a post-World Cup "wave of xenophobic violence" throughout South Africa? There are indeed some reports of violence and the new northwards stream of Zimbabweans could indicate this. But South African political leaders disagree about the existence of such a "wave".

"I am not certain whether there have been threats of xenophobia. What I know, there have been rumours that have been reported," South African President Jacob Zuma yesterday said on national television. He concluded immigrants had mainly been fleeing "as a result of the rumours."

South African Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa at a press conference today agreed. He strongly warned about spreading such "dangerous rumours" as they could become a self fulfilling prophecy. Already, unnecessary "fear and anxiety" was being spread, Minister Mthethwa added.

However, there have been some spread attacks on immigrants' homes and shops in South Africa. Also, the Police Minister had ordered more police officers and the army into the streets to secure immigrants and their property. The increased police presence is said to have prevented several violent attacks.

As the South African debate over xenophobic violence or rumours of violence is heating up, interviews with migrants on the Zimbabwean border indicate both sides are right.

The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) during the weekend conducted interviews with returning migrants on the Zimbabwean side of the border. More than 90 percent of the 140 interviewed stated they had fled threats of violence and 10 percent stated that they had already suffered xenophobic violence prior to their departure.

Fear of violence was the main drive of fleeing migrants. "I cannot risk the life of my family while trying to watch the World Cup final," said Ellias, a 26 old Zimbabwean from Gwanda, who is married with two children. He was passing through South Africa's border town Musina on his way from Mamelodi Township near Pretoria.

Musina, situated approximately 20 kilometres from the Zimbabwean border, is a traditional entry and exit point for a large number of Zimbabwean migrants. Here, most of the large number of Zimbabweans fleeing the Mugabe regime and the country's economic meltdown originally entered South Africa.

However cross-border flows during the last week were atypically characterised by trucks laden with furniture and other household goods, indicating that people were anticipating outbreaks of xenophobic violence and are sending their belongings back to Zimbabwe to minimise losses, and to allow for a quicker flight should they need to make a quick getaway.

IOM fears the exodus of Zimbabweans can increase dramatically if there are more xenophobic attacks reported from South Africa. A reception and support centre located in the border town of Beitbridge is being prepared "for a possible exodus of vulnerable Zimbabwean migrants," the organisation said today.

Preparations are made to allow prompt document processing in case of a large influx of returning Zimbabweans. In addition, provisions are being made to provide adequate transportation from the border to various locations in Zimbabwe, should the need arise.

Immigrants in particular fear a repetition of the sudden storm facing them in 2008, when a wave of xenophobic attacks in South Africa killed 62 persons and displaced 150,000.

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