Security agents in Zimbabwe are interrogating more than 160 Zimbabweans who were deported recently from South Africa.
The South African Broadcasting Corporation (Dec. 28, 2005) reports that the deported men and women had been held at Lindela Detention Center outside Johannesburg and included Zimbabwean civil servants who claimed they had been arrested in South Africa despite having legal travel documents.
"The deportees, some of whom did not have travel documents, were flown into Zimbabwe last night [Dec. 27] and are currently at Harare International Airport pending clearance."
A spokesman for South Africa's department of home affairs confirmed that Zimbabweans had been deported by air but said this was not unusual.
"We deport people by air from time to time," Nkosana Sibuyi said.
More than 3 million Zimbabweans are estimated to be living outside the country, most of them in South Africa.
Zwnews.com (Dec. 28, 2005) says more Zimbabweans are set to be flown back to Zimbabwe from South Africa soon.
Zimbabwe's Consular General in South Africa, Chris Mapanga said:
"Deportations have been by road or by train to Beitbridge [border post], but this time around, because trains are not available for deportation, the South African home affairs [department] decided to deport our people by air."
He described the deportations as a "unique arrangement" aimed at reducing the number of detainees inside Lindela.
"They [the South African authorities] don't want to keep Lindela full to the brim during this holiday time. They want to make sure people are moved out of that place because we've had cases of deaths at Lindela due to overcrowding.
"The total number of Zimbabwean detainees we have identified at Lindela is about 560, and of that number some of them left yesterday, and others are yet to leave, probably today," Mapanga said.
Over 30 detainees, including a pregnant woman, died at Lindela Detention Center in 2005 because of overcrowding and the poor conditions under which they were being held.
Newzimbabwe.com (March 2, 2005) revealed that deportees receive a "Gestapo" welcome at the Harare International Airport with some of them being detained and interrogated for more than three hours.
Some of the detainees report being tortured by Zimbabwean security agents. Others, who were forcibly removed from Britain in 2005, have not been heard of since. The last their families heard of them, in Zimbabwe and in Britain, was that they had been picked up by Zimbabwe's omnipresent secret police, the Central Intelligence Organization.
The move by the South African home affairs department to deport Zimbabwean immigrants comes at a time when President Robert G. Mugabe's government has become increasingly hostile to and suspicious of Zimbabweans who return to the country after long stays abroad. Officials have publicly accused them of being spies, mercenaries and agents of regime change who are being sent back into the country under the guise of returning illegal immigrants and failed asylum seekers.
President Mugabe's government is also currently working on measures aimed at curtailing the travel rights of Zimbabweans who are critical of its policies.
This article was first published on the World Press Review.