Mashudu Netsianda and Nqobile Tshili, Chronicle Reporters
THE Government has engaged South Africa over remarks by its Police Minister Fikile Mbalula alleging that the Zimbabwean ex-soldiers were responsible for violent crimes in the neighbouring country.
In an interview yesterday, Zimbabwe’s Ambassador to South Africa Mr Isaac Moyo said the embassy was shocked by Mr Mbalula’s claims, which he described as baseless and likely to strain bilateral relations between the two countries.
He said the two governments have engaged over the matter, but could not reveal details of the engagement.
“We’ve many structures in our bilateral cooperation arrangements that are specifically there to assist one another and this includes the police and the defence forces. The South African government has not approached us to even tell us about what we saw being flighted in the media,” he said.
“In fact, we got surprised by the inclusion of certain elements in the South African Police Minister’s statements claiming that people in the Zimbabwe National Army don’t retire, and that they are running away from uncle Bob. We think this is casting unnecessary assertions and we know that retirements and resignations in the ZNA are as ordinary and normal as anything.”
Ambassador Moyo said the claims by Minister Mbalula that Zimbabweans were promoting criminality were not true.
“The claims in this regard are completely false and we think it is regrettable to peddle things that are not correct and to then use them as grounds for issuing certain positions. We have already engaged the South African government,” he said.
State Security Minister Kembo Mohadi also urged Mr Mbalula to use official bilateral platforms to raise any grievance against Zimbabweans in the neighbouring country.
Mr Mbalula while addressing the media at the South African Police Services (SAPS) training centre in Pretoria on Tuesday said Zimbabwean ex-soldiers were robbing banks in the neighbouring country.
He alleged that some Zimbabweans escape their military duties and illegally get into South Africa where they resort to criminal activities.
“There are people who come from Zimbabwe and cross the line here. They run away from the military in Zimbabwe and they come and promote criminality here in South Africa. That is the truth, where should I tell that truth?” Mr Mbalula was quoted as saying.
He said that it was difficult for the police to trace the said criminals because their details are not captured as they are in the country illegally.
Mr Mbalula said that he had no problems with Zimbabweans as they are working in South Africa in “our kitchens” and that they are highly educated.
Cde Mohadi said Mr Mbalula chose to use a wrong platform to grumble instead of using proper bilateral forums.
“We have bilateral platforms such as the Zimbabwe- South Africa joint permanent commission and bi-annual conferences where government to government issues are discussed. Why doesn’t he (Mr Mbalula) engage his Zimbabwean counterpart (Home Affairs Minister Ignatius Chombo) at bilateral level and come up with a solution rather than doing it through the Press?” he asked.
Cde Mohadi said the South African minister’s remarks were in bad taste and uncalled for.
“I can’t speak on behalf of Minister Chombo, but I am saying there are forums where we discuss these issues and ideally that is where the South African minister should have discussed the issue and certainly what he did is uncalled for,” he said.
Cde Mohadi said Zimbabwe and South African government officials in the security sector met every year under the permanent joint commission to discuss various issues of mutual interest affecting the two countries.
“We also have bi-annual conferences to discuss issues which are of mutual interest to ourselves,” he said.
The controversial South African minister last week torched a storm on twitter when he announced that South African police arrested five Zimbabweans in connection with an armed robbery at a jewellery shop at a Johannesburg mall.
There were mixed reactions to Mr Mbalula’s tweet. Some were of the view that the minister should not have mentioned the nationality of the armed robbers as that might fuel xenophobic attacks, but others said there was nothing wrong with that.
Mr Mbalula’s penchant for tweets in his new job saw him accused of xenophobia although the minister strongly denied it. He is not new to controversy as he has a history of making controversial comments. In 2014, when he was Sports and Recreation Minister, Mr Mbalula made news again when he made derogatory remarks about Kenyan swimmers which sparked a twitter war.
Mbalula was speaking about quotas for black players in South African sports teams at a Press briefing in Johannesburg when he reportedly made the remark about Kenya and their athletes. He reportedly said South Africa would not be like Kenya and send athletes to the Olympics to “drown in the pool.”
This outraged Kenyans who took to twitter using the hashtag #someonetellsouthafrica