Zimbabweans seeking refuge from days of murderous anti-immigrant riots in a police station on the outskirts of Johannesburg took comfort and encouragement Thursday from opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai who urged them to return to Zimbabwe to rebuild their lives and support his presidential bid to restore their country.
Tsvangirai told a thousand or so displaced Zimbabweans during his visit to the police station in Alexandra township, one of many subject to mob violence in the past several days, that he would himself return to Harare on Saturday after weeks in Johannesburg from which he embarked on regional and international diplomatic initiatives.
Tsvangirai is set to face President Robert Mugabe on June 27 in a presidential run-off election perceived to be fraught with risk for the opposition leader. He outpolled Mr. Mugabe in the March 29 first round by 47.9% to 43.2%, according to official figures, though his Movement for Democratic Change insists he won the ballot outright.
Tsvangirai was scheduled to return to Zimbabwe on May 17, but MDC officials called off the homecoming alleging a plot was afoot to assassinate him. The opposition party later alleged that military intelligence had fielded snipers to take Tsvangirai's life.
Despite that alleged plot, which some observers find credible given the increasingly deadly wave of political violence targeting opposition members, Tsvangirai in recent days has come under increasing pressure to return and launch his campaign.
Correspondent Benedict Nhlapho of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe reported from Alexandra on the emotional response to Tsvangirai's surprise visit.
One of the Zimbabweans in Alexandra who heard Tsvangirai’s words of consolation after being assaulted and seeing his property seized by a xenophobic mob, said he would heed his advice to go home and rebuild his shattered life.
The man, who gave his name only as Tawanda, told reporter Patience Rusere that he cannot go on living in destitution at the police station in Alexandra, and while he may face hunger and violence at home, he would rather die among his own people.
With immigrants accounting for one in 10 of South Africa’s population of 50 million, the bulk of them Zimbabwean, some say it was only a matter of time before major violence like that which left at least 42 people dead this week would occur.
Reporter Chris Gande of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe looks at how South Africa’s attraction to millions as a political and economic haven led to tragedy.