By Veneranda Langa
Foreign Affairs ministry secretary James Manzou yesterday told Parliament that bodies of 700 Zimbabweans who passed away in South Africa have so far been repatriated to the country, adding that 37 COVID-19 deaths of Zimbabweans were also recorded in the United Kingdom.
Manzou had appeared before the Kindness Paradza-led Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Foreign Affairs to speak on repatriation of Zimbabweans.
He disclosed that his ministry had not been allocated a single cent to assist people that needed to be repatriated home.
Most of the financing was being done by the International Organisation of Migration (IOM) and well-wishers.
However, Manzou did not specify whether the 700 Zimbabwean corpses that were repatriated were COVID-19 deaths. He said they were treated as COVID-19 deaths in order to ensure that strict measures for their repatriation and burial were observed.
“We have repatriated the remains of 700 Zimbabweans who passed away in South Africa, but these died of natural causes,” Manzou said.
He said there was a lot of traffic of deceased nationals whereby at one point there were 100 bodies that needed repatriation at the same time.
“So far, we have repatriated 2 682 nationals, but there are 4 172 nationals who do not want to come back, but need food assistance.
Manzou added: “There is no specific budget given to the ministry to enable our citizens to come back and our embassies do not have a particular vote,” he said.
He added that a Zimbabwean, Justice Maphosa was responsible for the repatriation of 480 people. He paid for their transport, food and personal protective clothing, and will assist to repatriate 500 more people.
On prisoners, he said the Foreign Affairs ministry was working with South Africa to ascertain the nature of crimes they committed and level of sentences, but said they had identified separate quarantine centres for them.
But MPs said some prisoners were actually mixed with non-criminal citizens and were causing havoc at quarantine centres.
He said several other Zimbabweans were being repatriated from neighbouring countries, including those that work in cruise ships.
“About 300 nationals have registered with the consulate in China for repatriation and not all 300 will need government assistance to come back. We have made requests from Treasury for US$300 000 to buy tickets for our people to be repatriated from China, but it has not come through,” he said.
Ministry legal adviser Stewart Nyakotyo said 91 Malawians needed to be repatriated, including those at remand prison, as well as 15 Ethiopians who need assistance for repatriation from IOM.
Manzou was also asked by Parliament to explain the diplomatic tiff between the United States and Zimbabwe.
“The Foreign Affairs minister Sibusiso Moyo has already issued a statement on the issue,” Manzou said.
“We were very surprised when we heard a statement by the US National Security adviser Robert O’Brien and were made to wonder how Zimbabwe can be a major adversary of the US.”
He added: “We summoned (US ambassador to Zimbabwe Brian) Nichols to come to the ministry to explain himself. We totally rejected that statement as unwarranted because Zimbabwe cannot be an adversary of the US.
“We do not seek to be enemies with any country, let alone the US and that is why we are extending a hand of friendship to different countries including the US for dialogue. We reject that assertion with the contempt it deserves because Zimbabwe has no means to threaten a superpower.”
But MDC legislator Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga said: “The response from Nichols referred to the alleged abduction of the three MDC Alliance women and what you are doing to put closure to the issue.”
She said even the European Union and United Kingdom made similar statements.
Manzou said any investigation should not be prejudged.
“One of the things I have learnt in diplomacy is that statements issued after meetings sometimes do not reflect what had transpired in the meeting,” he said. News Day