ZIMBABWE: Arrest sours plans for leaving Botswana

transport.jpgAre you taking the bus home?
GABORONE- Scenes of jubilation broke out at the long-distance bus terminus in Botswana's capital, Gaborone, on the day Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the Zimbabwean opposition party, Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) was inaugurated as prime m

For the next 48 hours, Zimbabweans, who according to some estimates add
another 600,000 people to Botswana’s official 1.6 million population,
spoke of their homeland’s renewed prospects, but the mood changed with
the arrest of MDC deputy minister designate Roy Bennett on 13 February.

Zimbabweans call it the "Diaspora" – the flight of its citizens to
neighbouring states and even further afield to such countries as
Britain and Australia to escape their country’s collapse.

There are no accurate figures of the numbers involved, but it is
estimated that more than three million people, from a population of 12
million, have left Zimbabwe.

Money earned by those in the diaspora – estimated to be in excess each
year of Zimbabwe’s best ever annual tobacco harvest, once the primary
foreign currency earner – has been remitted to relatives at home.

A power-sharing political agreement holds out hope of expatriates
returning home to begin the task of rebuilding a shattered country.

IRIN spoke to Zimbabweans in three neighbouring countries – Botswana,
Mozambique and South Africa – and asked: Is it time to go home?      

"The problem is, the things that forced us to leave home in the first
place have still not been addressed," Amon Maredza, a hawker at the bus
rank, told IRIN.

"Personally, I was very disappointed when we heard one of the people
who were supposed to be sworn into office [Bennett] was arrested …
That is very disturbing if you are just about to make such a bold
decision of going back home," he said.

The failure to release other political activists, accused of receiving
military training in Botswana as part of a conspiracy to topple
President Robert Mugabe, weighs heavily on the minds of Zimbabweans.

"I have always wanted to go back home when things normalise, but not
now … I certainly cannot take the risk and go home. I would rather
remain here for a little longer, and see how the situation unfolds,"
Maredza said.

The reluctance to return home is not that life is easy in Botswana, but
because for the meanwhile the neighbouring state offers greater
benefits, despite the difficulties of living there.

"We just have to allow ourselves to be humiliated, that is the only way
we can survive. People here are very impatient with us," said Mandla
Mdlongwa, from Filabusi in Zimbabwe’s Matabeleland South Province, told

"They have this attitude that we came here to take their jobs; they do
not seem to understand that it is not our decision to be here, we were
forced by circumstances beyond our control."

Expatriate Zimbabwean who fled the country’s economic and humanitarian
crises looked forward to going home when Mugabe, leader of ZANU-PF, and
the MDC signed an agreement to form a unity government on 15 September
2008. "We were hopeful things would normalise when Tsvangirai and
Mugabe agreed to work together last year. But at the moment, we just
hope," said Mdlongwa.


However, Thabang Molefe, one of the few local traders operating at the
bus terminus, provided a different perspective. "It’s not that we hate
our Zimbabwean brothers or have any bad feelings towards them. Some of
them are the problem – they are too arrogant and most of the time do
not cooperate when locals want to talk to them," said Molefe.

"They always use Shona when communicating in our presence, but expect
us to address them in English. We also feel it’s not fair – we
understood their problems when they came here, but now that the
situation in their country has normalised, they should go back."

Yet Mdlongwa and Maredza insist the Batswana have a hostile attitude
towards Zimbabweans, and especially towards Shona-speaking Zimbabweans.
"They always say provocative things, but we do not retaliate because
here you can easily get deported. At times they go and lie to the
police that we are operating illegally," said Maredza, who has a valid
work permit until the end of 2009.

"Even the authorities have this hostile attitude towards us. Right now,
I know of a case where a Zimbabwean was robbed by police officers."

Maredza is referring to a case on the roll at Gaborone’s Magistrate’s
Court where two police officers and five other local men allegedly
swindled a Zimbabwean man out of US$1,600 and other valuables in
Gaborone. The matter is set down for 24 February.

According to media reports, Dukwi Repatriation Camp, near the
commercial town of Francistown, has delayed a decision to repatriate
some of the 1,000 Zimbabwean refugees "until the situation has become
conducive for their return".


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