Pretoria – Hired buses left Gauteng on Friday, ferrying hundreds of Zimbabwean nationals who have been stranded in South Africa after the nationwide lockdown was imposed to curb the spread of the coronavirus (Covid-19).
“What has necessitated the repatriation is the hardship some of our nationals are facing following this proclamation of the national state of disaster and the lockdown measures that have been implemented, which have entailed that we stay at home, without being able to go out and do normal activities,” said Zimbabwe's ambassador to South Africa, David Hamadziripi.
He said the scenario has led to a loss of income for a lot of people and they can no longer sustain their stay within South Africa.
“The (stranded Zimbabweans) have indicated that they wish to go back home and the embassy, working with the Bigtime Strategic Group, has been able to put together some resources to support their return home.”
The United Nations' migration agency, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), was also providing technical support to the embassy in planning the trip logistics and carrying out this humanitarian repatriation exercise.
The technical support also included co-ordination of pre-departure arrangements, pre-embarkation medical check and distribution of Covid-19-related awareness material.
Hamadziripi said his countrymen were voluntarily returning to Zimbabwe.
“The return to Zimbabwe is voluntary and ours is to support those who have voluntarily indicated that they wish to return to Zimbabwe. This is just the assisted repatriation.
"There are others who have their own means, some have personal vehicles while others have used buses to go back to Zimbabwe.
"In all those instances, the embassy provides support especially in getting the necessary clearances from the South African government,” said Hamadziripi.
Six coaches with trailers left Johannesburg and Pretoria on Friday afternoon, transporting the Zimbabwean nationals. The total number of Zimbabwean nationals who left South Africa under the assisted programme – funded by Zimbabwean-born, Pretoria-based business tycoon Justice Maphosa, the chief executive and founder of Bigtime Strategic Group – was not immediately available. The travellers were also provided with meals before the trip, and on the long journey home.
Earlier this week, the embassy of Zimbabwe said that upon crossing into Zimbabwe all the returnees are subjected to mandatory quarantine at designated centres. The costs thereof are carried by the government.
The embassy also said subsequent communication would be made regarding assistance for distressed Zimbabwean nationals who had elected to remain within the borders of South Africa.
Last month, the German government said it had repatriated more than 5 600 of its citizens and other European Union citizens who became stranded in South Africa when the country imposed the nationwide lockdown.
African News Agency