Zim Community in SA urges caution over Zille’s citizenship stance

Chairperson of the Zimbabwe Community in South Africa, Ngqabutho Nicholas Mabhena, believes people should take South Africa’s opposition party leader Helen Zille’s comments on giving Zimbabwean migrants citizenship in South Africa with a pinch of salt.

Zille, a former leader and now the federal council chair of the Democratic Alliance (DA) said in a recent interview that ZEP holders should be regularised because they have been in South Africa for a long time and added huge value to their economy.

Zille said she does not support the taking away of their permits but that the South African government should have proper laws and proper border control.

However, Mabhena cautioned that political parties in South Africa were campaigning and exploiting the issue of migrants as one of their rallying points, with some activists accusing parties including the ANC of electioneering concerning migrants in that country.

Mabhena noted that while Zille praised Zimbabwean migrants’ contributions in South Africa, he questioned her “intentions.”

He then referred to a case that occurred in 2012, when Zille who was the Western Cape Premier at the time caused a stir after she referred to Eastern Cape pupils attending Western Cape schools as “education refugees”.

“After she came under pressure from all progressive forces, Zille was forced to apologise,” said the chairperson.

“In her apology, she said ‘I’ve read Marvin’s piece. I was a chop. Using language too loosely. Opened myself to this without thinking.’”

The Marvin that Zille referred to was Sunday Times then deputy editor Marvin Meintjies who in his column said Zille’s refugees’ comment was not, as others claimed, racist but was being a chop, meaning an idiot. 

Mabhena said looking at that case, questioned if Zille had repented and possibly genuine about the plight of ZEP holders.

“South Africa is in the middle of an election campaign, whose elections will be held on May 29, 2024 and Zille has said holders of the exemption permits should be given citizenship. Already,  there is a court case which wants ZEP holders to be granted Permanent Residence Permits. Now she has taken it up to say give them citizenship,” he said, claiming this could be a ploy to garner funding from employers.

“We discussed an opinion poll by the eNCA and based on that opinion poll,  it seems opposition parties are not attracting enough support to the extent that they will dislodge the ANC from power. This poll put support for the DA at 20 percent.”

Mabhena noted that political parties in South Africa are using migration as their key electoral messages, modeling the migration question to suit their agenda.

“While the DA is concerned about the borders it has not taken a tougher stance on migrants in SA. This  is election season and migration gets discussed,” he said.

The chairperson said he knew other migrants would welcome this news but advised them to do it cautiously.

“ I am a member of the African Diaspora Forum (ADF) and know a lot of migrants will welcome what Zille is saying but we need to think deeply about the intentions in this election. This is an election campaign right, is she trying to attract more funding from employers to her party in this election campaign?” he said.

“She does make a point that migrants have made a contribution to the South African economy but what is her intention in raising this during the election campaign?  I’ve not seen the response from ActionSA which uses migration as its key message and we know ideologically ActionSA is liberal like the DA. Is Zille trying to draw more funding from employers or is she genuine?”

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