The Zimbabwe Community in South Africa claims to have received information from certain parents based in South Africa that some of the children intercepted at the South African border were theirs who had passports and were travelling with their grandparents.
This comes after South Africa’s Border Management Authority (BMA) stated that 443 unaccompanied Zimbabwean children under the age of eight were intercepted and handed over to Zimbabwean authorities on suspicion of child trafficking.
According to the BMA, the unaccompanied children only had passports and no other essential documentation such as parental consent letters.
However, the Zimbabwean government claimed it has no record of child trafficking as a result of the reported interception of 42 buses carrying 443 unaccompanied minors on the South African side of the Beitbridge Border Post.
Speaking at a post cabinet meeting briefing, the Home Affairs and Cultural Heritage minister, Kazembe Kazembe, labelled the reports as false.
Kazembe said if the buses had been stopped, the appropriate legislation on human trafficking and immigration-related charges would have been preferred on the bus crews as applicable to both South African and Zimbabwean laws.
Previously, Minister of Public Service, Labour, and Social Welfare, July Moyo, stated that from November 25 to December 3, 2023, a total of 124 children were intercepted from South Africa and turned over to the Department of Immigration at the Beitbridge Border Post.
In an interview with CITE, Chairperson of the Zimbabwe Community in South Africa, Nicholas Ngqabutho Mabhena, said the organisation was contacted by some parents in South Africa who said “some of the intercepted children were travelling with their guardians such as grandparents.”
According to Mabhena, these parents stated complications developed at the South African border when officials informed the guardians they were not the children’s biological parents.
“What we understood all along is there must be an affidavit from the parents giving consent for their child to travel,” he said.
“Parents must submit necessary documents to the guardian who will travel with the children across the border. The grandparents of some of these children who had passports were refused entry into South Africa because they were not the biological parents.”
Mabhena said this circumstance explained why the youngsters were cleared on the Zimbabwean side.
This is despite the assumption that Zimbabwean officials had permitted unaccompanied children with no passports to cross.
“The guardians and children who had passports were then returned back on the basis that they were not the biological parents of the children but children who were with their biological parents were able to cross,” Mabhena said.
“We needed to clarify that indeed some of the children were accompanied by their guardians who had passports so when they faced problems at the border, the guardians had to go back to Zimbabwe with the children. We are still trying to establish whether the other children were unaccompanied by their grandparents or guardians.”
Mabhena said his organisation would contact the Immigration Section of South Africa’s Department of Home Affairs to determine whether guardians could travel with children if they had all the necessary documentation, such as a passport and affidavits, or if children had to be accompanied by one of their biological parents.
“We have received calls from parents in South Africa asking what the requirements of travelling for their children are,” he said.
He also underlined that parents must “never give children to strangers. It should not happen.”
Dr Vusumuzi Sibanda, leader of the African Diaspora Global Network, said it was “very sad” that people could no longer trust either the South African or Zimbabwean governments because both had issued contradictory comments regarding child interception.
“Obviously when one government says there are 443 children that have been intercepted at the South African border that is definitely a very high number. It is quite alarming and we were all shocked. Now we are having the government of Zimbabwe coming up with another figure, which is 124 and both officials have vested interests in these statistics where they could both be manufacturing them,” Dr Sibanda said.
“This is because the South African government wants to show the extent of illegal cross-border jumping that is happening in the illegal crossing of children. On the other end, the Zimbabwean government is also trying to show that ‘no, that is not happening.”
Dr Sibanda said the number reported by the Zimbabwean government remained “very high.”
“It is sad to have a government acceding to the fact that so many of their young children have been illegally transported from the country to another and even go on and say they come from Matabeleland South and Bulawayo provinces confirms the extent of poverty and underdevelopment in those particular areas, he said.
According to Dr Sibanda, such migration confirmed individuals were finding it difficult to live in marginalised areas and had become “ascending communities” in terms of movement and migrants.
“That cannot obviously be tolerated,” he said. “In any event, we need those figures to be verified. Whatever the case, we have seen that the large numbers of children travelling testifies of a problem were people are unwilling to continue living in Zimbabwe, either because of the political situation, the failed elections and all related issues taking place such as the economy, which is not doing quite well in unemployment levels.”
“This needs to be fixed, not only for the migration of the economically active, but even those that are not economically active. To have parents prepared to stay forever in South Africa as they attend to their children and take them for the holidays testifies to the fact that there are a lot of people living in South Africa with children in Zimbabwe who are willing to risk their children travelling without documents.”
Meanwhile, Zimbabwe’s Home Affairs Minister said minors travelling with their guardians should be accompanied by supporting affidavits received from their consenting parents in accordance with agreed procedures.
Kazembe said however, of late, the South African authorities are not accepting commissioned affidavits preferring that the minors and their guardians tender affidavits commissioned by local courts.