By Mashudu Netsianda
South African Police Minister Fikile Mbalula has claimed that undocumented Zimbabwean farm workers are behind a spate of robberies among other crimes committed in the neighbouring country, drawing rebuke and sharp criticism from the Zimbabwean community.
Minister Mbalula, who was responding to questions from an opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) party official during the release of annual crime statistics in Parliament on Tuesday, said local farmers employing Zimbabweans who are staying in South Africa illegally should not cry foul when they get robbed or killed by the foreigners.
“It’s true that there are criminals who are stealing from farms, undermining farmers work, 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,” SABC quoted Minister Mbalula as saying on Tuesday.
“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, you blame the South African Police Service. We’ve got nowhere to find such people.”
The chairman of the Zimbabwean Community in South Africa, Mr Ngqabutho Mabhena, yesterday hit out at the minister, challenging him to produce evidence linking Zimbabwean farm workers to murders and robberies.
“There is no evidence suggesting that Zimbabweans working on South African farms are engaging in crime. In fact, it is the undocumented farm workers who are being exploited and we expect the South African government to engage their farmers so that they respect labour rights,” he said.
Mr Mabhena said despite Mr Mbalula’s remarks, migrant labour contributed to the growth of the South African economy.
“In our view, Minister Mbalula should direct his energy towards ensuring that the proposed migration policy, which is under discussion in Parliament, is speeded up so that undocumented workers are granted Sadc visas when eventually rolled out,” he said.
Mr Mabhena said the call by Minister Mbalula to discourage South African farmers from employing Zimbabweans was not practical given the historical and geographical links between the two countries.
In April, Mr Mbalula sparked a diplomatic row when he alleged that Zimbabwean ex-soldiers were responsible for violent crimes occurring in the neighbouring country.
“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 said at the time without providing a shred of evidence.
Zimbabwe through the country’s Ambassador to South Africa, Mr Isaac Moyo, described Mr Mbalula’s remarks as “shocking” and subsequently engaged the neighbouring country’s government over the issue.
The Minister of State Security, Kembo Mohadi, also weighed in, saying the South African minister’s remarks were in bad taste and uncalled for.
Mohadi also urged Mr Mbalula to use official bilateral platforms to raise any grievance against Zimbabweans in the neighbouring country. The Chronicle