Mashudu Netsianda, Senior Reporter
THE first of group of 335 Zimbabweans who sought refuge in Botswana a few years ago is set to arrive in the country today through Plumtree Border Post in an initiative being championed by the Government.
The group, which is part of 686 Zimbabweans staying at Dukwi Refugee Camp outside Francistown, will be met by a delegation of high ranking Government officials at the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) Reception and Support Centre in Plumtree.
Government has assured the Zimbabweans living at the refugee camp in the neighbouring country that under the new dispensation, there was no need to fear returning home.
Matabeleland South provincial social welfare officer Mr Totambirepi Tirivavi yesterday confirmed that the first group would arrive in the country today with four family members already at the IOM Reception and Support Centre in the border town.
“We are expecting at least 335 Zimbabweans who were staying at a refugee camp in Botswana and four of them have already arrived. However, I cannot comment much because there are some pertinent issues that have to be dealt with by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade and our officials from the head office who will be here tomorrow (today) to welcome them,” he said.
One of the four returnees, Mr Lameck Nkomo of Lupane who arrived with three members of his family, said he was glad to be back after spending 15 years at Dukwi Refugee Camp.
“I left the country about 15 years ago and I am glad to be back and I have been well received by the Government. I will not go into detail as to how I left the country and the reasons behind that but all I can say is that I really missed home and I could not continue to stifle the urge to return home until this opportunity was availed to us by the governments of Zimbabwe and Botswana,” he said.
Industry and Commerce Minister Nqobizitha Mangaliso Ndlovu, who is also MP for Bulilima East, said Government would assist the returnees as they are reoriented into their respective communities.
“Those are our people and we have to find means of helping them. We have committees to look into what sort of capacitation they would need to be assisted. These are not small numbers and certainly they would be assisted. It is the responsibility of Government to assist them as they are oriented into the mainstream society,” said the Minister, who was in Plumtree yesterday.
Government has since last year been working to facilitate the return of the people who sought refuge in Botswana. Some of them claimed they were victims of political violence.
Former Home Affairs Minister Dr Obert Mpofu last year met Botswana’s Minister of Defence, Justice and Security, Mr Shaw Kgathi and the Minister of Nationality, Immigration and Gender Affairs, Mr Edwin Batshu to discuss the issue among others.
After the meetings, Dr Mpofu then travelled to Dukwi Refugee Camp which is home to some 687 Zimbabwean refugees. Some of the “refugees” have lived at the camp, which is close to the border between the two countries, for more than 15 years.
He appealed to the “refugees” to return home as there was no reason for them to continue living outside the country.
Dr Mpofu said there was a new dispensation in Zimbabwe and “the situation has changed, and we will actually ensure that they come back home without any victimisation or retribution”.
He told the Chronicle at the time that they were apprised of the Government’s position on the matter, “but they were also keen on their personal security, especially after having lost their homes and were displaced and how the Government was going to assist them to re-settle”.
Following President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s State visit to Botswana in February last year, authorities discovered that nearly 700 Zimbabweans sought refuge in the neighbouring country during the 2008 general elections. – @mashnets