By Ray Ndlovu
SOUTH AFRICA – An estimated 400 bodies of dead Zimbabweans are repatriated into the country every month from South Africa, with most of the deaths being a result of murder, the Financial Gazette can report.
Horror stories are told of Zimbabweans dying in gruesome deaths in neighbouring South Africa, a situation government said was a cause for concern.
Although Zimbabweans also die in many parts of the Diaspora, their deaths south of the Limpopo River are way more than in other countries.
Last month, a Zimbabwean woman from Bikita was shot and killed after being caught in a crossfire as armed robbers led a heist at a Standard Bank branch in Musina.
Deaths by knife stabbings and shootings are routinely reported, particularly of Zimbabweans staying in South African townships.
In March last year, 23 Zimbabweans died at a disused South African mine after inhaling high levels of carbon monoxide underground.
HIV-related deaths are also quite common as are suicides (jumping off high rise buildings), shootings and other causes.
There are also a few murders by burning, particularly in xenophobic inflamed incidences.
Although the Zimbabwean government could not provide an overall figure of repatriated bodies, sources said Beitbridge, which is the largest border into Zimbabwe from South Africa, processed the repatriation of 100 bodies a week, which translates to 400 a month.
Funeral parlours across the country confirmed handling the repatriation and burials of about 400 Zimbabweans who are dying in South Africa every month.
Kings and Queens funeral parlour, headquartered in Bulawayo, said they were handling the repatriation of at least 120 bodies monthly, at an average of 30 bodies per week through the Beitbridge border post.
Reuben Phiri, chief executive of Kings and Queens, said the bulk of its clientele were Zimbabweans, although they now provided services to Mozambican and Nigerian nationals.
“The bulk of the corpses which we handle according to distribution; nearly 70 percent are going to the Mashonaland provinces, while the rest are destined for the Matabeleland provinces,” said Phiri.
Auxillia Dzenga, the public relations and marketing manager at Moonlight Funeral Services head office in Harare said most of the repatriations they handled were from South Africa, with murder topping the list for the cause of death.
“I would say on a weekly basis we receive an average of five bodies and monthly about plus or minus 20 cases. The causes may vary, but the biggest number is murder,” Dzenga said in an e-mailed response to questions.
Francis Mabika, the assistant regional immigration officer, said official statistics of corpses being repatriated into the country were tabulated by the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (ZIMRA). The Financial Gazette was, however, unable to verify the figures with ZIMRA at the time of going to press.
But Home Affairs Minister Kembo Mohadi admitted that violence and instability in South Africa was a cause for concern, as many Zimbabweans were being killed in the neighbouring country.
“It’s just not Zimbabweans only who are being killed, but many other nationalities as well,” said Mohadi. The Home Affairs Ministry, Mohadi said, did not have any records of the deaths.
“I don’t have numbers of the repatriations we receive in the country, but as you well know that the incidents of crime are too high in South Africa. In South Africa when it comes to things like these (crime and violence) they are common place…and are always high, but we unfortunately do not have documented figures,” he said.
It is estimated that between two to three million Zimbabweans live in South Africa.
It costs anything between R10 000 (US$857) and R23 000 (US$1 973) to repatriate a corpse back to the country from South Africa.
Hard pressed relatives of the deceased loved ones normally choose the cheapest option to cut down on costs.
The US$857 package which includes a coffin and basic transport to accompany the corpse by relatives is the most preferred.
South Africa with its allure of flashy cars and the promise of a better life has been the destination of many locals seeking a better life.
With the xenophobic tensions persistently rising up in South Africa and tougher immigration laws in place, political observers say engagement by authorities in Pretoria with their counterparts in Zimbabwe is the best way to avoid a bloodbath ensuing, from which Zimbabweans are likely to bear the biggest brunt of. Financial Gazette