By Nkosana Dlamini
ZIMBABWE’S opposition politicians say South Africa could be paying for its failure to take a firm stand against President Robert Mugabe, whose ruinous policies have driven many some locals into violent crime across the Limpopo.
This follows claims by South Africa’s Police Minister Fikile Mbalula that some of the hundreds of Zimbabwe’s military deserters during the height of the country’s economic crisis around 2008, were involved in bank robberies and other violent crimes in his country.
“…There are Zimbabwean ex-soldiers who are in this country, robbing banks and promoting criminality. They are running away from uncle Bob (President Mugabe) there,” Mbalula told journalists at a media briefing in Pretoria.
He added: “…They are on the payroll of criminals, and we can’t trace them. If a South African steals, it’s easy to trace them because I will find you somewhere in the forensics because I have your fingerprints. I’ve got you all covered, South Africans.”
Zimbabwe’s Defence Minister Sydney Sekeramayi said he could not proffer any opinion on the accusations because “I am not at home”.
Information Minister Chris Mushowe said he was not ready to comment because he had not yet seen Mbalula’s comments.
But War Veterans Minister and a retired army Colonel Tshinga Dube felt the comments by Mbalula were problematic as they sought to paint all former soldiers with the same brash.
“You don’t just make allegations,” Dube said, “There must be concrete evidence to say this has happened. If one or two former soldiers get involved in a certain crime, it cannot be taken as a trend among all soldiers.
“It could just be those who may have been caught in the offences.”
But while some Zanu PF politicians may have found excuses not to immediately react to likely a diplomatic storm torched by the outspoken South African government official, their opponents were quick to apportion blame on both countries’ leadership omissions.
“This (Mbalula comments) reveals a terrible truth about a situation in Zimbabwe that a legion of our servicemen are deserting the army because Mugabe’s government has failed to look after them,” PDP secretary general Godern Moyo told NewZimbabwe.com Tuesday.
“It also sends a clear message to South Africa that the problems have a direct impact onto the domestic affairs.
“Instead of (President Jacob) Zuma popping up champagne, celebrating useless bilateral agreements with Mugabe, South Africa should be behaving like Nigeria in west Africa that is forcing dictators to abide by principles of democracy.
“While we don’t condone what our army deserters may be doing, we definitely condemn both Mugabe and Zuma.”
Renewal Democrats of Zimbabwe leader Elton Mangoma said this could be expected of economic refugees who have fled their own government’s ruinous policies.
While Mangoma was quick to caution that Mbalula “needs to get his statistics right”, President Mugabe has, in past comments, conceded to a Zimbabwean culpability in South Africa’s sky rocketing crime statistics although limiting blame to Kalangas.
Mangoma said South Africa could help the situation by assisting its delinquent neighbour restore economic prosperity “otherwise Zimbabweans will continue to migrate to South Africa”.
The former energy minister has first-hand experience on the frustrations associated with South Africa’s continued reluctance to respond to ordinary Zimbabweans’ pleas to rein in their abusive leader.
He was among the opposition’s negotiators ahead of the formation of Zimbabwe’s now defunct coalition government 2009.
During the period, the Thabo Mbeki government was accused of soft-pedalling the Zimbabwean crisis with the then South African leader at one time declaring “there is no crisis in Zimbabwe”.