21.01.2013_ Vredendal_ Chipo Chiramba with Danuel one of her 3 week old triplets looks at daniel as community members and department of home affairs officials speak before the oficials begin the deportation process. Chirombo moved down from Zimbabwe illegally when she was five months pregnant and will be deported by the department of affairs on Tuesday the 22nd of January. PICTURE: Jonathan Jones

Jan Cronje

“In Zimbabwe there is nothing,” a bewildered Zimbabwean refugee pleaded as she and her newborn triplets were fetched by Home Affairs from a Vredendal shelter.

Chipo Chiramba is being deported for being an illegal immigrant.

At the weekend she pleaded for a family to take in her month-old triplets, saying she’d rather be separated from them than take them to Zimbabwe. But yesterday she climbed into a Department of Home Affairs 4x4 with her babies for the long journey to the Beit Bridge border post.

A group of Vredendal women crowded around the 4x4 to say goodbye to Chiramba and the babies they had cared for at the Heavenly Promise shelter. Some pleaded with officials, others hugged the babies and whispered encouragement to Chiramba.

Chiramba, who comes from Gokwa in Zimbabwe, crossed solo into South Africa illegally in September and hitchhiked to Vredendal, where her brother and niece live in Polapark township. She was five months pregnant when she crossed the border. In Vredendal she found employment as a farmworker and rented a shack in Polapark.

Her triplets were born prematurely on December 14. She was taken to the Vredendal clinic and transferred to Tygerberg Hospital in Cape Town where she gave birth to Danuel, Danisa and Danielle.

She stayed in hospital for a few days before being transferred back to Vredendal clinic. Returning to her

rented shack in mid-January, she found it had been let to someone else in her absence.

She moved in with her brother and niece, and the families crammed into two small tin and wood shacks. But the cramped living conditions allegedly led to a falling-out between family members and she was asked to leave.

Chiramba spent last Wednesday at a community member’s house. On Thursday she went to seek help at the Vredendal Police Station.

“The police were phenomenal,” said community member Elna Andrew. “No one saw her as an undocumented immigrant. She felt that she was at home with mense.”

The community rallied round, donating nappies, milk, baby food and clothes.

On Friday she moved to Heavenly Promise, an NGO affiliated with Vredendal’s Catholic Church that provides a home for vulnerable mothers and children from the town’s poor communities.

But by now Chiramba was on the radar of Home Affairs. Yesterday morning they came to take her back to Zimbabwe.

Community members are worried about how Chiramba will fare after crossing Beit Bridge border post.

Hellen Ndlovu, Chiramba’s niece, lived next to Chiramba in Polapark township. “She came here to work, due to a lack of employment in Zimbabwe,” says Ndlovu.

She opens the door to the small shack where Chiramba slept on a thin mattress with her babies: “I don’t think there is anyone who can help her in Zimbabwe,” she says. “She was happy when she was staying here. She was planning to work here and send money back to Zimbabwe.

”I don’t know how she can survive,” says Ndlovu.

Queries to the Department of Home Affairs had not been answered at the time of going to press.

l As at early December, nearly 43 000 Zimbabweans have been deported from South Africa since October for living in South Africa without proper documentation. The deportations started in October following the expiry of the July 2011 deadline for the Zimbabweans to regularise their stay there.

The amnesty ran from May 5, 2009 to July 31 last year. A Zimbabwean official said yesterday that they were receiving an average of between 200 and 300 deportees from South Africa a day at Beit Bridge.