Hundreds of Ethiopian Refugees Flock Through Zimbabwe

By Ngoni Chanakira, Juru Growth Point, (Radiovop) – More than 25 shabbily dressed and visibly hungry refugees from Ethiopia are passing through Zimbabwe almost daily using the Juru Growth Point Highway.

The refugees, old men, women and children, say they are en-route to South Africa where they “hope” to settle soon, investigations reveal.

A trip accompanying the refugees on parts of their long journey by Radio VOP, showed that the individuals come from very “poor families in Ethiopia are unemployed and are political individuals who have virtually nothing to lose from their quick departure”.

They cannot speak English and use a translator whom they pay about US$2 daily in each country travelled through. The Zimbabwean translator was known simply as “Billy”.

Billy, it later emerged after asking several questions, comes from a broken home in Mozambique.

The witty boy had “falsely” informed the refugees that he could speak English and, therefore, could take them “safely” across Zimbabwe to South Africa where he would pass them over to yet another translator based there.

Little did they know that for “witty” Billy this was full time work since he is unemployed in Mozambique.

“They share everything they can get their hands on,” Billy told Radio VOP in an exclusive interview when the refugees had stopped for some water at Blue Ridge Shopping Complex along the highway.

Blue Ridge Shopping Centre is owned by fugitive business tycoon, James Makamba, a former ZBC Disk Jockey (DJ), who became an overnight millionaire in Zimbabwe and began his own television station rivalling the monopolistic ZBC TV.

Makamba, owner of a huge farm behind Blue Ridge, is understood to be in London in the United Kingdom (UK) where he fled Zimbabwe allegedly fearing political persecution from State Security agents after he had been specified by the Government of President Robert Mugabe. Makamba has since been de-specified.

Last night we only managed to get some packets of maputi (popped maize) when we passed through Juru Growth Point,” Billy said. “We got these after we had begged some businessmen there. They then also gave us water to drink and hoped us well on our trip to Harare.

“But I am not stopping in Harare. In fact I am taking them to Bulawayo and then finally to Beitbridge where I will leave them for another translator in South Africa. It is a very long trip,” he said, sometimes speaking to this Reporter in Shona, a major language also used in poor Mozambique.

Billy revealed that food was very difficult to come across especially at night on the long trip.

He said, in an interview, that the refugees had fled starvation and alleged poor governance from the current government in power.

Billy said the refugees “thought” that since their former President, Mengistu Haille Mariam, was given shelter in Zimbabwe by President Robert Mugabe, they could also receive the same.

Some pilots flying the national carrier Air Zimbabwe and the Air Force of Zimbabwe (AFZ) led by Perence Shiri, were trained in Ethiopia before Independence in 1980.

“They say they want to see President Megistu Haille Mariam when we get to Harare,” Billy said in the interview.

But Mengistu is nowhere to be “easily” seen in Harare. He is housed under close State Security agents in the plush Gun Hill suburb in Harare’s Northern Suburbs near The Harare Mayor’s Mansion built by the late Harare Executive Mayor, Solomon Tawengwa.

However, investigations by this Reporter show that the road leading to where Mengistu used to reside is now quite easily accessible even by gardeners and house maids working in Gun Hill.

The Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) soldiers guarding the road are sometimes “nowhere” to be seen because they would have gone shopping for cigarettes at Sam Levy’s Village in Borrowdale suburb, about five kilometres away from the mansion secured for the “former dictator Megistu”.

Mengistu was given refugee status in Zimbabwe by his political friend Zanu (PF) boss, Mugabe. The 87-year-old Mugabe agreed to keep him in this country until the political and economic clouds hovering over Ethiopia had cleared.

Nothing has been heard about Mengistu’s whereabouts.

The last time information was gathered from State Security agents was that he had been given a lucrative commercial farm somewhere in the plush Mazowe farming area – the area reserved mainly for prominent top army bosses where “grabbed commercial farms” from white commercial farmers were dished out by President Mugabe.

“We are just stopping here for water,” Billy said in the interview. “I think Harare is near now because they tell me that it is only about 20km from here (Blue Ridge Shopping Centre). We will get there by tonight.”

Billy and his new found poor and hungry friends once they arrive in Harare they will be faced with yet another task – this time the more than 420km gruelling trek to Bulawayo – the City of Kings.