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Cape Town - Fear has been expressed about the welfare of the newborn triplets of Chipo Chiramba, a woman who has been deported to Zimbabwe.
Chiramba had previously pleaded for a South African family to care of her triplets Danuel, Danisa and Danielle, saying she’d rather be separated from them than take them back with her to Zimbabwe.
On Monday a Department of Home Affairs 4x4 collected Chiramba and her babies from the shelter where she had spent the weekend in the West Coast town of Vredendal, and taken to a safe house in Malmesbury. On Tuesday morning she started the long journey to the Beit Bridge border post, according to friends from the shelter.
Refugee campaigner Braam Hanekom, director of People Against Suffering Oppression and Poverty (Passop), a refugee rights agency, said the government was wasting money deporting the 32-year-old mother.
“It is a waste of money because the department is unwilling to deport people who want to return to their countries of origin, while they spend money on deporting people who will probably return to South Africa,” said Hanekom.
Elna Andrew, who helped care for the triplets over the weekend, said Chiramba would struggle to make it from Beit Bridge border post to Gokwe in northern Zimbabwe where her mother lives, as she had little money.
Another community member from Vredendal who helped look after the babies, and who did not wish to be named, was worried the triplets would become ill in Zimbabwe.
Hanekom also noted that the health of the triplets could be put in danger once Chiramba entered Zimbabwe: “In our view there should be a humanitarian basis for not deporting someone like Chiramba,”
Chiramba gave birth to triplets on December 14 at Tygerberg Hospital. She entered South Africa illegally in September, after apparently being thrown out of her husband’s house in Zimbabwe.
Chiramba was one of roughly two million Zimbabwean migrants living in South Africa. Exact numbers are hard to come by, as many are undocumented migrants.
According to the South African Institute of Race Relations Survey 2012, just under 700 000 Zimbabweans have the right to work in South Africa. The rest are undocumented migrants, students or asylum seekers.
Chiramba’s niece, Hellen Ndlovu, said her aunt came to South Africa to earn money to send back to her mother in a small village in Zimbabwe’s rural Gokwe region, about 200km west of the capital, Harare.
But experts the Cape Times spoke to said it would have been difficult for Chiramba to enter the country legally to work, and almost impossible to receive documentation allowing her to stay in South Africa once she entered illegally.
“There are very few options for legal entry for relatively unskilled economic migrants,” said Roni Amit, senior researcher with the African Centre for Migration & Society in Johannesburg.
Chiramba could have entered South Africa on a 90-day visitor’s permit at Beit Bridge, but she wouldn’t have been allowed to look for work and would have had to leave after the permit expired.
“This permit allows you to shop, travel and visit SA as a tourist,” said Selvan Chetty, deputy director of the Solidarity Peace Trust.
“If you are a undocumented migrant you will be turned away at the border, unless you want to apply for asylum.”
Once Chiramba’s presence had been noted by the Department of Home Affairs, deportation proceedings began, even though her triplets were born in South Africa.
“Her children are not South African under the country’s nationality laws, which require at least one South Africa parent,” said Amit.
The government stopped deportations of Zimbabweans in 2009 following xenophobic attacks. But the Department of Home Affairs resumed deportations in 2011.
According to the Department of Home Affairs Annual Report 2010/11, about 160 000 Zimbabweans were being deported annually before the moratorium came into effect.
Hanekom says about 200 to 300 Zimbabweans are being deported back to Zimbabwe from South Africa every day, or about 7 500 per month.