If Robert Mugabe and his family chose to move to South Africa, the government would have to provide them with state security and a house.
“We have done this before, when we took in a former head of state and he lived in Pretoria for several years,” said Anthoni van Nieuwkerk from the centre for defence and security management at Wits University.
The professor was referring to South Africa giving refuge to ousted Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide and his family in 2004. Their stay cost the country about R5-million a year.
“The monthly costs related to his accommodation, transport, office staff and security [which] are similar to the cost associated with a South African cabinet minister,” the Department of International Relations said at the time.
Aristide stayed for about seven years, meaning about 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,” Van Nieuwkerk said. “They will have the rights and privileges of any citizen, but I’m not convinced South Africa will agree to this.”
Asked to elaborate, he said Grace Mugabe had a pending court case in South Africa. “She came here and [allegedly] 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,” he said. “Our activists will most likely hound her until she stands trial.”
The second issue, Van Nieuwkerk said, would be that international human rights activists would most likely come after Mugabe and force him to stand trial for crimes he committed in Zimbabwe in the 1980s and 1990s.
But then again, it is reported that the Mugabes own several properties here. It is also said that they own properties in Hong Kong and Singapore.
John Akokpari, an associate professor at the University of Cape Town, had a different view.
He said while opposition parties in South Africa might be against the state granting the Mugabes asylum, it would be wise for them to agree.
“Opposition parties have in the past suggested the simple toppling of Mugabe will decrease the high number of migrants in the country, but South Africa needs Zimbabwe more than Zimbabwe needs South Africa,” said Akokpari.