BY RICHARD MUPONDE
ONE hundred and thirty-five victims of Gukurahundi atrocities and political violence were repatriated from a refugee camp in Botswana, where they had sought shelter from persecution by the late former President Robert Mugabe’s regime.
The refugees are part of the 700-plus Zimbabweans living at Dukwe Refugee Camp, about 120km from Francistown in the neighbouring country.
They are expected to be received at the International Organisation of Migration (IOM) centre at the Plumtree Border Post by government officials en route to Zimbabwe.
Contacted for comment, Matabeleland South provincial social welfare officer Criswell Nyakudya, who is in Plumtree waiting to receive the refugees, said he could not comment since the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) commissioner, who was in his company was the one qualified.
The commissioner referred questions to the Labour and Social Welfare ministry. “Phone the social welfare offices in Harare, they will give you the full information,” the UNHCR commissioner said curtly.
However, a source close to the matter said the refugees were already on their way.
“We don’t call them refugees, but returnees. They have not yet arrived, but are on their way. We are waiting for them at the border as we speak,” the source said.
Efforts to get a comment from a Botswana counsellor, identified only as Mokomani, who is responsible for the repatriation exercise, were also fruitless after an official at the embassy said she was in Botswana, where she was reportedly seized with the matter.
“I don’t have information about the issue. Ms Mokomani does, but she is in Botswana right now. She is the right person to speak to relating to the matter,” the embassy official said
Early this year, a family of four was repatriated out of the expected 300 people after the repatriations were temporarily shelved amid reports that some back-tracked on plans to return home.
The family’s return was voluntary, but the rest of the survivors were reportedly reluctant to come back, arguing that President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government could not be trusted because it was the same Zanu PF which had persecuted them.
The repatriation was stopped after the intervention of the UNHCR to make sure that the returnees were doing so voluntarily in accordance with international law.
The returnees were expected to be received by a high-level delegation of government officials at a reception ceremony which should have been at the IOM support centre in Plumtree.
A survivor of the massacres, Lameck Nkomo of Lupane, who returned with three members of his family in January, said he was relieved to come back home after spending 15 years at a refugee camp.
He said he was hopeful the government would empower the returnees after years in the wilderness.