PRETORIA — South Africa’s Police minister Fikile Mbalula has warned local farmers against employing undocumented Zimbabweans, whom he blamed for engaging in various criminal activities that country.
Mbalula, who has on a number of occasions triggered diplomatic tiffs with Zimbabwean authorities over his sharp tongue, told South African legislators on Tuesday that undocumented foreigners, particularly Zimbabweans, were linked to most criminal activities recorded on South African farms.
He has previously angered Harare by claiming that former Zimbabwean soldiers fleeing President Robert Mugabe’s regime were responsible for violent crime across the border.
“It’s true that there are criminals, who are stealing from farms, undermining farmers’ work,” he said on Tuesday.
“But equally, there are farmers, who are wrong because they employ people from Zimbabwe as cheap labour and exploit them, and then those people turn against them and kill them and then it becomes a safety question.”
He was responding to questions from an opposition Democratic Alliance MP during the release of annual crime statistics to Parliament.
The minister continued: “So, I am saying to the farmers as I have met with them: Stop that. Help me to ensure compliance, working with the department of labour.
“Don’t employ unregistered, undocumented foreigners in our country and when they turn against you blame the police. We’ve got nowhere to find such people.”
In April this year, Mbalula sparked a diplomatic spat after he blamed Zimbabweans for violent crime in South Africa.
“There are people who come here from Zimbabwe, and they cross the line here. They run away from the military in Zimbabwe and they come here and promote criminality here in South Africa,” the minister was quoted saying.
“There are Zimbabwean ex-soldiers, who are in this country, robbing banks and promoting criminality. They are running away from Uncle Bob (Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe) there.”
The remarks were condemned as xenophobic by both government and opposition politicians in Harare.
Zimbabwe’s ambassador to Pretoria, Isaac Moyo then visited South Africa’s Department of International Relations to register Harare’s “unhappiness” over Mbalula’s comments.
Meanwhile, Zimbabwean migrant workers based in South Africa have expressed concern over stringent conditions set for those applying for the Zimbabwean Exemption Permits.
The permits allow Zimbabweans to stay in South Africa for a maximum of four years and only people with valid Zimbabwean Special Permits (ZSP) issued in 2014 expiring in December can apply.
Butholezwe Nyathi, chairperson of the Migrant Workers’ Association-SA, said the new permit requirements were likely to trigger mass deportation of Zimbabweans in South Africa.
“Our people are not living in comfort… Lindela is not the solution, but a systematic documentation of African migrants. Not all migrants are criminals or hijackers. We refuse this generalisation. Call migrants to a platform where you will engage them and hear how your plans as the SA government can be supported by us, the migrants,” he said.
“We hope the quietness in the application process does not mean what we saw with (Dispensation for Zimbabwe Project (DZP)_ DZPs to ZSPs. A drop from 247 000 to 197 000… We cannot accept the Lindela option. We know what it means to our people. We have been there before. Minister (Mbalula), we call for a serious thought and establishment of a joint forum on migration in Southern Africa,” Nyathi wrote in a letter to South Africa’s Home Affairs minister.
Lindela is South Africa’s deportation centre for illegal immigrants.
The bulk of the detainees are Zimbabweans and Mozambicans, but there are also citizens of Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Congo-Brazzaville, Rwanda, Burundi, Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia, Liberia and Zambia. Lindela is, in theory, their last address before being deported from South Africa.