By Blessings Mashaya
The government must urgently provide thousands of stranded Zimbabwean cross-border traders one-way bus tickets out of South Africa after a fresh wave of xenophobic attacks that left more than three foreigners dead in the neighbouring country, the Zimbabwe Cross-Border Traders Association (ZCBTA) has said.
This comes amid reports that several fearful and broke Zimbabweans are sleeping at police stations and churches after unemployed South Africans forced them out of their homes in the night in protests also targeting shops, many of which are foreign-owned.
Anti-immigrant violence has flared sporadically in South Africa’s Durban and Polokwane over the past week against a background of near-record unemployment, with foreigners being accused of taking jobs and women from citizens and involvement in crime.
A significant number of Zimbabweans cross borders daily to engage in informal cross-border trade, sustaining their families back home.
About 100 people attacked small food shops last Sunday night and into Monday morning, looting and burning the buildings.
One woman died when she fell through a roof while she was running away from protesters.
Another two people died from gunshot wounds, allegedly inflicted by a shopkeeper.
Killer Zivhu, the president of the ZCBTA, made an impassioned plea to government yesterday to help evacuate stranded cross-border traders, which he said had sent distress calls to the association.
“The government must provide transport to bring them back, some don’t have money to run away,” Zivhu told the Daily News yesterday.
South Africa’s minister of International Relations and Co-operation, Lindiwe Sisulu, urged the police in her country to act against people targeting foreigners.
“All criminal activities and looting of properties of foreign nationals will not be tolerated‚ and the police and other law-enforcement agencies must act without fear or favour,” she said in a statement.
Zimbabwean cross-border traders are a cosmopolitan, footloose group of cultural and economic entrepreneurs. They are a highly-gendered group, as they comprise mostly women. Cross-border trade as an occupation has given rise to the image of a strong, independent and mobile class of women involved in long distance trans-border business.
Zivhu said: “The government must provide employment for its citizens so they don’t become a problem in other countries.”
Several million Zimbabweans have fled the country, mostly to South Africa, after the economy shrank by more than a third from 2000 to 2008 following the collapse of the agriculture sector.
Unemployment rose to over 80 percent. Many in the diaspora said the change they hoped for after the coup has not happened, and the economic crisis continues to force them to continue with the transborder trade.
Zivhu called for an “urgent meeting government to government to avoid more deaths.”
This comes as the government of President Cyril Ramaphosa — which stands accused of exacerbating last week’s mayhem in Durban and Polokwane through some ill-considered electioneering comments — this week agreed to meet African diplomats in Pretoria to address growing concerns over the scourge.
Last week, hordes of mobs in South Africa’s coastal city of Durban poured onto the streets and looted goods from shops run by foreign immigrants, before they also destroyed haulage trucks driven by foreigners.
Zivhu said “for cross-border traders, they must use master cards to avoid robberies.” Xenophobia against migrants from other African countries is not new in South Africa.
In 2015, unrest in the cities of Johannesburg and Durban claimed seven lives as immigrants were hunted down and attacked by gangs.
South Africa experienced its worst outbreak of violence against foreigners in 2008, when more than 60 people died. DailyNews