Harare – The huge number of undocumented Zimbabweans illegally staying in South Africa poses a security threat to Pretoria, and Zimbabwe’s interests in that country, a diplomat warned on Tuesday.

Zimbabwean Ambassador to South Africa Isaac Moyo said in an interview on the sidelines of a bilateral meeting between the two countries in Harare that the majority of Zimbabweans in South Africa were there illegally.

“I think this is an issue which impacts on the security of South Africa and it also impacts on the interests of Zimbabwe because we cannot have such a large number of people carrying no known documentation at all,” he said.

He said although he did not have specific figures for those that were illegally in South Africa, he was certain that they outnumbered the more 260 000 who carried Special Dispensation Permits.

Moyo said some media houses and non-governmental organisations were exaggerating the number of Zimbabweans living in the neighbouring country.

He said while most of the illegal immigrants entered the country through undesignated points, others went through proper entry points but became illegal somewhere in the process, mostly due to overstaying.

“Nobody knows the numbers of these people because most are border jumpers. Some organisation carry out studies while some newspapers just throw figures which appear exaggerated but the fact is we really don’t know.The South African government doesn’t know and we as an embassy don’t know,” he said.

Moyo said the Zimbabwean government was still in talks with South Africa to establish the fate of the 260,000 Special Dispensation Permits which expire next December. He said the issue was likely to be discussed at the ongoing bilateral meeting in Harare.

“I have no doubt that this will be one of the issues (Home Affairs Minister Ignatius Chombo will very keenly want to take up with his South African counterpart. The initial discussion did not resolve this issue but we had very good discussions,” he said.

Moyo also expressed concern at the huge number of Zimbabweans in South African prisons.

“It is unfortunate that we have a couple of thousands who are also linked to crimes and that we continue to commit these crimes, some of them very serious,” he said, adding the government of Zimbabwe did not condone any form of crime.