Hundreds of survivors of Gukurahundi atrocities and political violence who have been living at a refugee camp in Botswana were yesterday expected to return to Zimbabwe after decades of residing in the neighbouring country.
Over 300 of the 700-plus Zimbabwean refugees living at Dukwe Refugee Camp, about 120km from Francistown, were expected to arrive via the Plumtree border post.
Already a family of four is in the country and housed at the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) Reception and Support Centre in Plumtree.
The bulk of the returnees were expected to arrive in the country yesterday, but their repatriation was delayed as the neighbouring country was reportedly seized with some logistical issues.
Their return was voluntary after the new dispensation under President Emmerson Mnangagwa assured them that no harm would befall them.
However, many of the survivors were reportedly reluctant to come back, arguing that Mnangagwa’s government could not be trusted as it was the same Zanu PF which persecuted them before.
The returnees were expected to be received by a high-level delegation of government officials at a reception ceremony to be held at the IOM centre in the border town.
Matabeleland South provincial social welfare lead Totambirepi Tirivavi on Friday confirmed the repatriation of the refugees and the arrival of the one family housed at centre.
“The refugees are expected to arrive home soon. We have already received four of which are part of a group of over 300 who are coming. I cannot comment much because there are some pertinent issues that have to be dealt with by the Ministry of Home Affairs and our officials from the head office who will be here to welcome them,” said Tirivavi.
A survivor of the massacres, Lameck Nkomo of Lupane who returned, with three members of his family said he was relieved to come back home after 15 years in a refugee camp. He was hopeful the government would empower the returnees after years in the wilderness.
“For security reasons, I will not disclose why I left the country, but I missed home. You know home is best. I am very happy to come back home after such a long time. I really thank the government of Botswana for hosting us although we were not allowed to work, but we were kept safe,” Nkomo said.
“I appeal to our government to do something for us as we left the country with nothing and have returned with nothing. If it could open for us some small entrepreneurial businesses, we would be very grateful.”
Industry and Commerce minister Nqobizitha Mangaliso Ndlovu, who is also MP for Bulilima East, assured the returning survivors that government would help them integrate back into their communities.
“I will speak to (Local Government) minister July Moyo to see that they are assisted and are integrated into their communities and have something to fall back on. These are our people they are not refugees and we don’t call them refugees,” said Ndlovu.
Over 20 000 civilians in Matabeleland and Midlands were killed by the military in the 1980s in what became known as Gukurahundi while former president
Robert Mugabe’s government also viciously targeted opposition supporters forcing thousands of people into exile in neighbouring countries.