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Expelled South Africans Furious

Visiting parliamentary delegation say their deportation was “scandalous”.
By Bridget Musa

A delegation from South Africa’s official parliamentary opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, DA, on a fact finding mission ahead of Zimbabwe’s crucial March parliamentary election, was expelled on arrival at Harare International Airport on Friday, February 18.

The three officials, DA deputy leader Joe Seremane, party spokesman Douglas Gibson and backbench MP Paul Boughey, were labelled prohibited immigrants and put on the same South African Airway plane on which they had arrived. The plane left Harare in the afternoon an hour after landing.

Gibson said they were shocked at the treatment by Zimbabwe’s immigration officials. They had expected to be welcomed as honoured guests from a friendly neighbouring country.

“We are going to appeal regarding us being treated as prohibited immigrants. We didn’t expect this to happen,” Gibson told IWPR in Harare. He said they had written in advance to the Zimbabwe government, through the country’s South African embassy in Harare and Zimbabwe’s ministry of information, requesting a meeting with President Robert Mugabe and other government officials.

The DA officials said they had also wanted to meet other organisations to understand the Zimbabwean situation ahead of the March 31 parliamentary election and assess whether a free and fair poll was possible. “Clearly, we have to suppose that the election will be a farce,” said Gibson. “Our treatment was scandalous, but we can only conclude that the people of Zimbabwe are daily facing even worse treatment than we have received.”

Seremane told IWPR their deportation showed that the Zimbabwean government had something to hide, particularly in the field of human rights abuses and lack of freedom of expression and association. He said the DA was concerned about allegations of violation of human rights and the disregard by Mugabe’s government of principles and guidelines set down by the Southern Africa Development Community, SADC, for the conduct of Zimbabwe’s election.

“We recognise Zimbabwe’s sovereignty,” said Seremane, a veteran of the guerrilla struggle against apartheid in South Africa. “We are going to appeal. I am very sad that this has happened. It seems that something is being hidden. I don’t think it was proper to deport us.

“We are passionate about democracy and democracy in the southern region and in Africa. And where SADC principles are being threatened, we want to know.”

This is the third South African delegation to be deported from Zimbabwe, after representatives of the Congress of South African Trade Unions were expelled first in October last year and then again early this month.

The purpose of Cosatu’s visits was to find out how the current political crisis is affecting Zimbabwe’s workers

The first 13-member Cosatu group was arrested by intelligence officers and driven to Beitbridge border post - on the Limpopo River between Zimbabwe and South Africa - in the middle of the night after being accused of unauthorised meddling in Zimbabwe’s domestic affairs. It had hoped to meet trade unionists, government officials and human rights groups. The second Cosatu group was put back on the plane on which they arrived.

Bridget Musa is the pseudonym of an IWPR contributor in Zimbabwe.