Alfred Khumalo claims he has lived in Botswana since the early 1940s, but that didn’t stop the government of Botswana from deporting him to Zimbabwe on Monday, where Mr. Khumalo, aged 96, was born.
Now, a Botswana-based human rights organisation is trying to have Mr. Khumalo repatriated back to Botswana, while Zimbabwe argues that the issue should be sorted out bilaterally.
Mr. Khumalo’s deportation has sparked an uproar within and outside Botswana, due to Khumalo’s age and because when immigration officials collected him from the central town of Selebi-Phikwe this week, the nonagenarian was in hospital recovering from a stroke, according to Khumalo’s attorney.
Khumalo, who has been living in Botswana for 70 years, is currently receiving assistance from the International Organisation for Migration in Zimbabwe’s Plumtree border post.
The Botswana government insists that Khumalo was deported at his request.
However, in an interview with a Bulawayo-based daily newspaper, The Chronicle, Khumalo is quoted as saying he was forced to leave Botswana.
Zimbabwean authorities are apparently reluctant to let Khumalo return, arguing that the issue should be sorted out by the two countries.
Botswana’s Labour and Home Affairs Minister, Edwin Batshu, told VOA Studio 7 he was informed by his officers that the man wanted to return to his homeland.
Mr. Batshu said the immigration office in Selebi-Phikwe received a call on July 30, 2013 from a social worker at the hospital saying a patient who had been admitted to the hospital on July 23 was discharged on July 29, but had remained in hospital as he had no place to go to and had no identity documents.
In response, immigration officials went to the hospital where they met Mr. Khumalo, who reportedly told them that he is from Kezi in Zimbabwe. With no confirmed family in Botswana and no residence, officers decided to take Mr. Khumalo to the border post in Plumtree, where Zimbabwean border officials could assist him in reaching his home village.
Mr. Batshu said he could not comment on Khumalo’s potential return to Botswana, saying bilateral issues are handled by Botswana’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Phandu Skelemani.
Foreign Affairs Minister Skelemani could not be reached for comment, as he is in Malawi for a two-day Southern African Development Community (SADC) summit beginning tomorrow.
The Botswana Centre for Human Rights is also campaigning to have Khumalo returned to Botswana. The Centre’s spokesperson, Flora Kedibonye, says only the Botswana government can solve this issue.
Tshiamo Rantao is a human rights lawyer in Botswana. He calls the deportation a violation of Mr. Khumalo’s dignity.
“Also,” Mr. Rantao said, “[it is] a violation of his dignity to be returned in his stage, to be deported at this age, in his state, to his ancestral land, i.e. Zimbabwe.”
While Mr. Khumalo’s deportation may be the most controversial, it is certainly not isolated. Minister Batshu has told the Botswana parliament that more than 62,000 Zimbabweans have been deported over the last two years.
However, despite a renewed police crackdown on illegal Zimbabwean immigrants, Mr. Batshu insists there is no immigration policy shift following the country’s disputed July 31st elections.