South Africa - no longer the Promised Land
Why there is no welcome for Zimbabwe's refugees south of the border
Anyone who thinks that escaping to the apparent sanctuary of South Africa could be an answer to the suffering we face in Zimbabwe is mistaken. I have just spent a couple of days in the Republic, and I have to warn anyone contemplating such a step. Life for us in South Africa can be hard, cruel and devoid of hope.
Just getting there is fraught with difficulty. As any Zimbabwean will tell you, anyone wishing to cross the Limpopo must have a visa, and to get that visa you must demonstrate you are worth at least R2,000 - something out of reach to most of us, even the professionals.
Even to apply for a visa you must have a passport - something with which our top politicians seem to have problems. You can of course apply for an Emergency Travel Document, a piece of paper valid for six months. To get that you must convince the Registrar-General's office that your need to leave Zimbabwe is vital.
Perhaps it is. But you try explaining to the Zanu-PF members who staff the Registrar-General's office that you need to escape torture and death at the hands of Zanu-PF terror squads, and see how far you get.
Of course, you can bribe them. Average cost of an Emergency Travel Document tends to be R500 - again, not the sort of loose change that the average Zimbabwean has in his or her pocket.
So let us assume you do it the hard way. You escape through the wire at the border, and find yourself in South Africa. What awaits you there?
Your first task is to apply for an asylum permit at the South African Department of Home Affairs. These permits, amazingly, are free. I visited Crown Mines, a refugee reception centre in Johannesburg, and saw 3,000 Zimbabweans waiting, desperately hoping to apply for one. But the officials serve only 100 applicants each week - that's 50 each on Thursday and Friday. Some Zimbabweans have been waiting for five months, sleeping in the open.
You can of course bribe your way to the front of the queue, if you have the necessary cash. But even then most applications are rejected, and the people are given either 14 or 30 days to leave the country.
"They told me that since the power-sharing agreement had been signed in Zimbabwe, there was no reason for me to be here," said Trust Mathe, who's application had just been rejected. "They said I should go home to re-build Zimbabwe, where the violence has ended and everyone is living in peace and harmony."
Peace? Harmony? It would be interesting to hear from anyone who is enjoying this new "peace and harmony" in Zimbabwe. Write and tell us all about it.