16 August 2013

Southern Africa: Regional Stability Fears Rise As Zimbabwean 'Exodus' Reported

Photo: Guy Oliver/IRIN
Zimbabwe asylum seekers queue outside the home affairs in Musina (file photo).

A reported exodus of Zimbabweans out of the country, in the wake of the disputed July 31st elections, is raising fears for stability in the region.

There are increasing reports of an influx of Zimbabweans entering South Africa and Botswana, amid increased tensions and fears that have followed the polls last month.

Bishop Paul Verryn from the Central Methodist Church in Johannesburg, which assists more than 2,000 Zim refugees, has said that there is a definite increase in people seeking help from the Church. He has been quoted as saying that people are running away from threats and violence back home.

Gabriel Shumba, who heads the Zimbabwe Exiles Forum in South Africa, said Friday that they have also witnessed an increase in the numbers of Zimbabweans crossing the border. He told SW Radio Africa that the Diaspora Election Observer Mission, which the Exiles Forum was part of, witnessed the influx in the days after the polls.

"They (the observers) noticed that the border was congested and that was not limited to the days after the elections. Even up to today there are thousands of people trying to cross," Shumba said.

He explained the main issue driving people into neighboring countries is the general uncertainty surrounding the election outcome.

"There is uncertainty that there might be backlashes, social upheaval, and other things associated with the elections. Secondly, people fear the rumours that SA will impose a visa restriction on Zimbabweans," Shumba said.

He added: "The last reason why people are crossing into South Africa and Botswana in their thousands is things on the ground are already showing signs of deteriorating. Prices are increasing, basics like cooking oil are beginning to disappear, and electricity supply has worsened."

He said that the influx is a serious problem for South Africa and other SADC countries like Botswana and Namibia, where thousands of Zimbabweans have also fled to.

"Any insecurity in the region caused by controversial elections is always not a good thing for the region," Shumba continued.

He called on the SADC leaders who will be meeting for an annual Summit in Malawi this weekend to address the Zimbabwe issue, because of the impact it has for the region.

"They should unequivocally condemn what has happened in Zimbabwe, which is a clear electoral theft," Shumba said.

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