If Robert Mugabe and his family chose to move to South Africa‚ the government would have to provide them with a house and state security.
“We have done this before‚ when we took in a former head of state‚ and he lived in Pretoria for several years‚” said Professor Anthoni van Nieuwkerk from the University of the Witwatersrand’s Centre for Defence and Security Management.
He was referring to South Africa giving refuge to ousted Haitian president‚ Jean-Bertrand Aristide‚ and his family in 2004. That cost the country approximately R5-million a year.
“The monthly costs related to his accommodation‚ transport‚ office staff and security are similar to the cost associated to a South African cabinet minister‚” the Department of International Relations said at the time.
Aristide stayed in South Africa for about seven years‚ meaning approximately R35-million of taxpayers’ money was spent on him and his family.
“If we have to do the same‚ although I think it is unlikely‚ [the Mugabes] will probably get a house and state protection for a period of time. They will have the rights and privileges of any citizen‚ but I am not convinced South Africa will agree to this‚” Van Nieuwkerk said.
Asked to elaborate‚ Van Nieuwkerk said that Zimbabwe’s first lady‚ Grace Mugabe‚ had a pending court case in this country.
“She came here and beat up a South African citizen‚ and people have said that if she comes back here‚ she has to stand trial‚ so that is the first complication‚” Van Nieuwkerk said. “Our activists will most likely hound them until she stands trial.”
The second issue would be that international human rights activists would most likely come after Mugabe and force him to stand trial for crimes he committed in the 80s and 90s‚ Van Nieuwkerk added.
“So it wouldn’t be a quiet and peaceful asylum. South Africa also needs to ask itself if it wants to be associated with retired dictators‚” he said.
But the Mugabes are already familiar with the country‚ and reportedly own several properties in its affluent suburbs. Mugabe’s sons‚ Robert Junior and Chatunga‚ have also spent the past few months in South Africa‚ where they live in an upmarket Sandton apartment.
Van Nieuwkerk said‚ however‚ that the Mugabes also own properties in Hong Kong and Singapore‚ and could choose to live there.
Dr. John Akokpari‚ an associate professor in the department of political studies at the University of Cape Town‚ shared a different view.
He said that while opposition parties may be against South Africa granting the Mugabes asylum‚ it would be wise for them to agree.
“Opposition parties have in the past suggested the simple toppling of Mugabe to decrease the high number of migrants in the country‚ but South Africa needs Zimbabwe more than Zimbabwe needs South Africa‚” said Akokpari.
“Zimbabwe is South Africa’s biggest trading partner in the region‚ and South Africa is constantly looking for areas of investment‚ so it is unlikely that they would ever do anything to annoy Zimbabwe‚” he said.
“That is why when Mbeki and Zuma have gone to mediate‚ they always appear sympathetic towards Mugabe. It is all about the countries’ shared history of colonialism and economic relations.”
If the Mugabe family decided not to come to South Africa‚ Akokpari said they could consider heading to Mozambique‚ Angola or Zambia‚ as these nations have historically received ANC and liberation fighters.
“But the chances are higher that they will come to South Africa‚ and South Africa will most likely accept Mugabe‚” Akokpari added.
Van Nieuwkerk‚ however‚ said it would be best if South Africa played an even hand‚ and rather gave the Mugabe’s temporary accommodation.
“South Africa can house them for a short term‚ as they plan to go to London or elsewhere‚” he said.