South Africa is struggling to cope with a rising tide of refugees from Zimbabwe
South Africa is struggling to cope with a rising tide of refugees from Zimbabwe and must take action to solve the growing crisis, Deputy Foreign Minister Aziz Pahad said on Thursday.
In a briefing with reporters in the capital Pretoria, Pahad said there were clear signs that the numbers of Zimbabweans entering South Africa, both legally and illegally, had increased recently, posing a "serious problem" for authorities.
"We must do more to see what we can do to deal with this influx of refugees," Pahad said, adding that South Africa had both a moral and economic interest in helping its northern neighbour avert a total economic collapse.
Zimbabweans are struggling with official inflation of about 5,000 percent, soaring poverty, 80 percent unemployment and chronic shortages of food, fuel and foreign exchange amid an eight-year depression.
Thousands every day cross illegally into South Africa to look for food and work. The number, however, has jumped in recent weeks since Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's government introduced a radical price freeze in a bid to stem inflation.
The move has led to panic buying and prompted some stores to stop stocking bread, milk and staple items. Zimbabwe's main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), has accused Mugabe of driving the economy into the ground.
South African President Thabo Mbeki, who is trying to broker a political agreement between Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF party and the MDC, will report on the talks this month at a Southern African Development Community summit in Lusaka, Pahad said.
Pahad also expressed concern about a deteriorating political situation in Burundi, where there are renewed fears of a return to the 12-year ethnic war that killed some 300,000 people in the central African nation.
Leaders of the rebel Hutu Forces for National Liberation (FLN) have disappeared from the capital Bujumbura after quitting a joint ceasefire monitoring team. Many Burundians believe the FLN has returned to the bush and will resume fighting.
South Africa played an instrumental role in bringing the Burundian government and rebel forces to the bargaining table, mediation that led to a peace deal last year. More than 1,000 South African troops are in Burundi to keep the shaky peace.
Pahad said South Africa would "respond very aggressively" if the FLN attacked its troops.
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