By Felix Chiroro
AS their charter plane touched down at the Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport on the morning of Thursday, 22 July, the 14 Zimbabwean deportees who arrived from Britain would have been forgiven for thinking they were walking right into a lion’s den where they were going to be bundled into some dark room and be treated like the ex-convicts they are.
But what lay ahead of them was a life of three-course meals, free Wi-Fi connectivity, desserts, satellite TV and all the goodies that has left even working class Zimbabweans green with envy.
The UK deported them as they had been convicted of serious offences during their stay there. Some were dragged onto the plane kicking and screaming, bad-mouthing Zimbabwe saying if deported, they would be tortured and even murdered in police dungeons by the “brutal” Zanu-PF regime. How wrong they were!
Despite their fears, genuine or made-up, that they would be brutalized by authorities in Zimbabwe, the only violence these returning Zimbabweans received was on social media where memes, crude jokes and even an old-school Malawian song were used to ridicule their “changani” bags. Indeed, there is nothing these deportees need to fear, except maybe some guy with a smartphone and data bundles.
About 50 Zimbabweans were supposed to be deported initially, but most successfully raised objections with the courts and were allowed to stay pending appeal. Reports say some were allegedly saved from removal by Covid-19 infections in some detention centres.
“The crimes for which they were convicted and subsequently deported do not count against them as the offences were not committed in Zimbabwe,” a Foreign Ministry official said, requesting anonymity.
She added: “As Government, we want to live up to our promises, that is to take care of all Zimbabweans including the returnees because they are as much Zimbabwean as any of us. We catered for them while in quarantine and we are helping them integrate back into their communities.
“There is talk that a Government department together with a non-governmental player will even being offer them some opportunities to get themselves grounded economically. They do not have an income to sustain themselves, so they need all the help Government and communities can give.”
This is in line with what Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services Nick Mangwana said when they arrived two weeks ago: “They will be safe and the same opportunities available to everyone else will be available to them.”
Government policy is that residents returning to Zimbabwe voluntarily undergo a mandatory quarantine and do so at their own expense, while those who test positive to Covid-19 will be expected to isolate at a centre of their choice.
However, these fourteen were quarantined at Government’s expense at the Norton-based Zimbabwe Institute of Administration and Management (ZIPAM).
“All the 14 were taken to their families and relatives, 13 were the first to be released on Sunday while the remaining one was still finalising with his family members, but he later also went comfortably on Monday,” ZIPAM acting Director-General Dr Edgar Makande said yesterday.
“They enjoyed good hospitality as the Government was fully catering for their stay at the centre including the standard three course meals and desserts. They were also enjoying free Wi-Fi connectivity.”
He added that initially, they were struggling a bit to cope with sadza, but later got used to it alongside other traditional foods. Most of the deportees left for the UK some over 15 years ago.
The International Organisation for Migration, a UN agency, worked in conjunction with Government and facilitated the movements of the new members of society to their families across the country. The two buses that departed ZIPAM were destined to places as far as Umguza in Matabeleland North and Magwegwe in Bulawayo. Others had their addresses indicated as Highfield, Westgate and Avondale in Harare.
This proves that surely, Zimbabwe is safe for the return of all the Zimbabwean nationals abroad, whether they return voluntarily or by deportation. Since 2017, even prominent Zimbabweans who had fled the country for one reason or another – including businessman James Makamba and musician Thomas Mapfumo, can now jet in and out of the country at will.
Most appeals of the hundreds of Zimbabweans still held up in the UK are based on the argument that Zimbabwe remains a dangerous society to them because of their political activism. The Zimbabwe Government has proved time and again that it is not vindictive, and that it respects the rights of even those who soil its name.
May the communities kindly welcome these fellow Zimbabweans and help them settle in. It will be tough initially for the returnees, as some will point fingers at them and speak in hushed tones, but local leaders can help clear the stereotyping of others. May the new members of the great Zimbabwean family stay on the straight and narrow an play a part in building this great nation. Welcome home!
- Felix Chiroro writes in his personal capacity. Feedback: email@example.com