Doreen Sibanda, 27, was among the first undocumented Zimbabwean nationals to be deported after South Africa apparently lifted its more than two-year moratorium on expulsions imposed following widespread xenophobic violence.
"I was on my way to the shops to buy porridge for my 4-year-old son when I was stopped by the police [in the inner city Johannesburg suburb of Berea] who asked for my passport and residence permit. I lied to them that I had forgotten them at home but they never gave me a chance," Sibanda told IRIN.
"They took me to a police station where they locked me up. I begged to be accompanied to go and collect my son but none of the police officers took me seriously. The only thing they told me was that they were deporting me because I was living in South Africa illegally," she said.
Sibanda, who earns a living as a hair braider, failed to take advantage of a window of opportunity presented by the South African government to regularize her status in the country, because she feared it was a ploy to identify undocumented foreign nationals and expel them.
The South African Home Affairs department introduced the moratorium, through the Zimbabwe Documentation Process (ZDP) in April 2009, to allow undocumented Zimbabweans living in the country a chance to formalize their stay by applying for, and being issued with, residence and work permits.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates that 1-1.5 million Zimbabwean migrants are living in South Africa, but only 275,000 had applied to be regularized through ZDP by the 31 December 2010 deadline, and the department has so far only issued permits to just over half of them.
South Africa's director-general of home affairs, Mkuseli Apleni, had told parliament that deportations would not resume until the ZDP was completed.
Police appear to be acting on an internal directive sent by Apleni on 27 September 2011 (IRIN has a copy), instructing the police service, as well as the defense force and home affairs offices to start deporting undocumented Zimbabwean nationals.
Braam Hanekom of People Against Suffering, Oppression and Poverty (PASSOP), a Cape Town-based refugee rights NGO, told IRIN his organization had lodged a complaint with the parliamentary portfolio committee for Home Affairs, because of the "underhand method" used for the resumption of Zimbabwean deportations.
In a statement PASSOP said: "We cannot believe that the same week that the director-general briefed the [portfolio] committee on the Zimbabwean Documentation Project, he failed to mention that he was about to sign a directive that ordered the resumption of deportations of Zimbabweans. This directive essentially ended a moratorium on deportations of Zimbabweans and authorized the first sizable deportations of Zimbabweans in over two years."
Apleni said at a Cape Town press conference on 12 October that about 55,000 undocumented foreign nationals were deported in 2010 and "the top five groups of nationalities were from Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Democratic Republic of Congo and Nigeria."
Hannekom said with Zimbabweans now eligible for deportations, this number was "likely to increase three-fold."
After Sibanda spent two days at a Johannesburg police station, where she said visitors were forbidden, she was transferred to the Lindela Detention Centre in Krugersdorp and joined hundreds of other Zimbabwean nationals awaiting deportation.
Since arriving back in Zimbabwe she has been in regular contact with her roommate in Johannesburg who is looking after her son, but since her deportation the toddler has fallen sick.
"I am worried about my son's health and have no choice but to go back. Besides, I don't see how I can earn a living here," said Sibanda, who is raising the money selling second-hand shoes with her sister at a market in Chitungwiza, about 30 kilometers south of the capital Harare.
In recent years South Africa has redeployed troops along the Zimbabwe border to try and stem the flow of undocumented migrants, but Sibanda said she would return the same way she did two years ago - by bribing immigration officials.
Zimbabwe's decade long economic malaise and political violence has acted as a spur for migrants to seek employment in neighboring states, as well as Europe and the USA, but South Africa remains the destination of choice for most, because of its large economy and easy access.
Vincent Houver, the IOM chief of mission in Zimbabwe, told the media recently at an event marking UN Day that IOM was providing deportees with transport, psychosocial and medical support assistance.
"From October 7 to yesterday (19 October 2011), the IOM has assisted 530 Zimbabwean deportees but the figure of people who have been deported is obviously much higher than that," Houver said.
Dickson Mukamba, 30, from Chitungwiza, who worked as a car washer in the Johannesburg inner city suburb of Hillbrow, told IRIN he was deported despite applying for a residence permit through the ZDP.
"The police did not give me a chance to prove that I was waiting for my permit. I was busy washing cars when they raided us and they would not allow me to go and get my passport and the papers showing that I had applied for the permit, even though we were just a few meters away from where I lived," Mukamba told IRIN.
He alleged one of the police officers assaulted him after he had insisted on fetching his documents and was also denied a chance to appeal against his deportation after arriving at Lindela.
"I left my passport, clothes and money behind and it will be difficult for me to go back, unless one of my friends manages to send me my travel document," Mukamba said, adding that during his return to Zimbabwe, other deportees had told of how they had left behind medication, or had been unable to inform their families of their predicament.
However, he said some of the deportees "have themselves to blame because they did not bother to apply for the permits, probably because they are criminals or just did not trust the Home Affairs department."
Provided by Integrated Regional Information Networks.
"South Africa: Deportation of Zimbabweans Tearing Families Apart"