“We do an average of 2 000 consultations per month. It’s not getting any better, it’s been like this for quite some time. I would say it’s actually increasing… Zimbabweans are still coming,” MSF Musina official Tonderai Mazanihi said at the release of a report on Zimbabweans seeking refuge in South Africa.
‘No decrease in number of illegals’
“People are coming legally, but there hasn’t been a decrease in the number of illegals,” said Dr Eric Goemaere, MSF medical co-ordinator for South Africa.
In April, the department of home affairs announced that Zimbabweans with government-issued identification could apply for special permits.
“The permit confers on them the right to stay in South Africa for a period of six months, it confers on them the right to schooling or education, it confers on them the right to work and access to basic health care,” said home affairs director general of immigration services Jackie MacKay at the time.
MacKay had also said that if Zimbabwean applicants did not have identification they would be given a test by the UN High Commissioner on Refugees to determine their country of origin.
Government offices inconveniently located
Goemaere said many Zimbabweans were not taking up the offer because they did not have proper government identification or because offices issuing the permits were inconveniently located.
“Despite the fact that this was announced months ago we are still waiting for an enactment of the policy,” said Goemaere.
“Our clients have not indicated any change.”
MSF told reporters the health care needs of the Zimbabweans were enormous.
The organisation operates a free clinic in the Central Methodist Church in central Johannesburg where about 2 000 Zimbabweans have sought shelter.
Goemaere said some of the Zimbabwean refugees tested positive for tuberculosis, others had been physically and psychologically traumatised by rape, while between 30% to 40% of those tested were HIV positive.
Physically and psychologically traumatised
Zimbabweans, like all South Africans, are entitled to basic health care. However, Goemaere said many of them were being turned away by staff at public hospitals and clinics.
“Instead of having access to health care we often see they are turned down or asked for astronomical sums.
MSF nurse Bianca Tolboom said this was due to xenophobia, a lack of understanding of health policy or even a shortage of available health care.
“The South African health system is very overburdened,” said Tolboom.
Goemaere said MSF was releasing its report in an appeal for international aid in treating the health of Zimbabweans.
“This should be paid for by the international community. Why not?” he asked.
Goemaere acknowledged, however, that any appeal would have to be made officially by the South African government.
This plea for aid for Zimbabweans in South Africa comes amidst a plea by the UN for $700m for the reconstruction of Zimbabwe. The response from international donors has so far been tepid.
One recent bright spot has been the European Commission, which on Tuesday announced it had earmarked 8m for Zimbabwe’s health and water infrastructure.
“We have had this poor response because the view is that the [political] problem has been solved,” said Goemaere.
“It has not been solved.”