Thupeyo Muleya Beitbridge Bureau
South Africa’s lockdown has hit migrant Zimbabwean workers in both the informal and formal sectors, with over 6 000 now seeking food aid from organisations and their embassy.
While the South African government has special packages to help its own citizens who have lost their incomes through the lockdown, many migrant workers do not qualify because they do not have the necessary immigration status.
The Zimbabwe Government through its embassy in Pretoria is battling to help its nationals.
So far, over 1 200 people have been repatriated via Beitbridge Border Post after the embassy managed to arrange buses and negotiated with the South African authorities for the necessary travel permits to move during the lockdown.
Others are still registering with the embassy for various needs.
It is however, not clear how many Zimbabweans are based in South Africa, though 300 000 are there courtesy of the three-year Zimbabwe Exemption permits which expire next year.
Thousands others are there under less formal arrangements, either as visitors while indulging in cross-border trade or are in the informal sector.
Zimbabwean Ambassador to South Africa Mr David Hamadziripi said yesterday as of May 6, 2 680 Zimbabweans had registered for repatriation while 4 172 had indicated they were in need of food.
“However, the figures are changing because, for one reason or the other, some have decided not to register with the embassy,” said the ambassador.
“This presents a difficult position to tell how many people have own means to travel home and how many need help and at times some pretend they have their own transport.
“In addition, you will note that the number of those who have registered for repatriation is now less because some have returned to Zimbabwe on their own.”
In a statement on Wednesday, Mr Hamadziripi said the embassy had entered into partnership with Zimbabwean businessman Mr Justice Maphosa of Bigtime Strategic Group who will fund the transportation of 400 countrymen by road via Beitbridge Border Post.
Unlike earlier groups, these are people who cannot afford to pay their own fares.
He said the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and the United Nations Migration Agency had also offered the embassy technical support and planning on carrying out a humanitarian support for distressed Zimbabweans.
The Zimbabwe Community in South Africa, through spokesperson Mr Bongani Mazwi Mkwananzi, said it had a data base with 1 235 people in need of food and that they had managed to assist 150.
They are now seeking other organisations to help support the rest.
“If there is any organisation that comes forward intending to assist, we will open another data based on available resources and distributions will be done on first come first serve basis.”
He said those seeking repatriation were being directed to the embassy through various platforms.
Director of Unity Zimbabwe, a non-governmental organisation based in Gauteng province, Mr Boniface Maigueira, said he had registered over 1 000 compatriots for food assistance and that more were still coming forward.
“Last week we donated food packages to 400 people and we are working on another package to cover 500 others.
“Most of these have their general upkeep affected because they cannot go to work or are not formally employed and have to comply with the ongoing lockdown guidelines,” said Mr Maigueira.