The Zimbabwe Sentinel-Media Centre

Telling the other story – MEDIA CENTRE

Opinion Politics

Economic woes in Zimbabwe driving out citizens to South Africa

By Chaka Magwenzi

AS more than 1000 workers await their fate at Telecel Zimbabwe – one of country’s largest mobile telephone operators faces closure under a government directive at the end of the month, many contemplate their next move as they join the ranks of the unemployed in Zimbabwe.
One of the company’s employees, Tracy Murombo*, who has worked in the company’s marketing department for the past five years says she has no other choice but to take up a job offer with an events company in Cape Town, South Africa. Murombo says she has no fear of the attacks on foreign nationals that rocked South Africa last month as she shrugs off any suggestions to the contrary saying in Shona: “Kusiri kufa ndekupi?”

In other words she implies that government’s decision to close her very-soon-to-be former employer’s business was akin to the xenophobic attacks on foreigners in South Africa.If it winds up its operations, Telecel will join hundreds of companies that have closed down as a result of the government’s misrule and the unemployed are forced to seek better chances of survival elsewhere and in South Africa.

The 2011 South African census put the number of foreigners in that country at 1, 7 million although the figure is contested by some quarters. Many Zimbabweans have been fleeing the country from economic and political violence since 2000 and many have not returned home.
President Jacob Zuma was quoted by the South African media recently lashing out at neighbouring countries who “criticise the South African government but their citizens are in our country”.

Zuma’s remarks drew criticism from many quarters, especially from countries that have citizens who have been affected by xenophobia and last week, he was reportedly cornered by the SADC heads of states and government who had a meeting in Harare, where he defended his country’s position and told the meeting the situation was now under control.

However, President Robert Mugabe issued a statement of denial at the end of the SADC meeting arguing that many people though South Africa was heaven on earth and were going there on their own .

“Some of us who are foreigners have the cheek to demand from host countries what we could not and will not demand from our own governments. We ran away from poverty and war and violence. We could not and will not confront the dictators who have torn our countries apart and destroyed our future. Now we are demanding respect from those sheltering us.”wrote journalist Wonder Guchu from Namibia.

Respected businessman and church leader Dr Shingi Munyeza told a gathering in Harare that unless and until the Zimbabwean government put an end to the economic malaise in the country such skirmishes would likely continue.

“The Zimbabwe government must take political and economic steps so that our citizens don’t have to go to South Africa. SADC and the African Union (AU) must look at steps of ensuring that xenophobia in South Africa is avoided,” he said.

Last month, President Robert Mugabe, who is current chair of the AU and SADC, was in South Africa on a three-day official visit at the invitation of the

South African president Jacob Zuma. In a communiqué issued after the visit, no mention was made over the plight of jobless South Africans and the immigrants living in that country despite that King Goodwill Zwelithini had prompted the violence a few days earlier in his speech in KwaZulu Natal.

Munyeza did not mince his words when he mentioned that there was no need for people to still board buses bound for south of the Limpopo River in their hundreds, long after what government now perceived as “economic and political recovery”. There is need for the revival of local industries so that jobs could be created and a boost to the economy could be observed was evident.

Many industrialists have blamed government policy on matters such as indigenisation and political interference on foreign direct investment for putting a dent on the industry. In addition, they say, corruption, particularly in higher circles authority, has created a huge gap between the rich and the poor in the country.

Adding voice to Munyeza’s call was the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe (EFZ) that implored on government to rectify the economic situation in the country so that Zimbabweans living in South Africa would find reason to come back home.

“The EFZ exhorts the Zimbabwean government to further deepen its engagement strategy by proffering practical, appropriate, relevant, and immediate and long-term remedies to the diverse categories of Zimbabwean immigrants living in South Africa,” said Bishop Ishmael Musawanda the EFZ president.

“We further implore on the government of Zimbabwe to take urgent political and economic steps to reduce the need for our people to become economic refugees in neighbouring countries where they are exposed to all kinds of humiliation and xenophobic attacks”

Representing the Christian Students Movement of Zimbabwe Douglas Tigere said there were more than 70 000 students living South Africa whose fees were being paid for by their parents who are mostly cross-border traders plying between Zimbabwe and South Africa. Tigere said although the students and their breadwinners have been affected by on-going disturbances in South Africa but it was the situation back home that was most depressing.

“When these students finish their studies they still need to go back home and find jobs and where else can they look for employment under the current environment where industries have closed down?” he said.
Tigere added that most of the victims fleeing South African back to Zimbabwe were traumatised emotionally and psychologically and needed to be integrated back into society.

He added“Our counterparts in South Africa need to be more practical. Deploying the police to the affected areas is not sustainable. We need to change their attitude and mind-set. Our government must put pressure on the South African government to provide protection to our people.”

Cross-border traders were also affected. Chairman of the Zimbabwe Cross Border Association Killer Zivhu said the violent attacks against foreigners in South Africa were regrettable. He urged the government of Zimbabwe to be more pro-active in this respect by making sure the economic and political environment in the country was palatable to most of the country’s citizens.

Most cross border traders are self-employed. One such group is the Vapostori. Most of the sect’s members have migrated to South Africa and work as blacksmiths which forms part of their day to day living. Secretary-general of the Union for the Development of the Apostolic Churches in Zimbabwe (UDACIZA) Edson Tsvakai said most of his sect’s members have been affected by recent events.

“The problem is not for South Africa only. Most of our members live on buying and selling in South Africa and some have established churches in that country. We make and honest living through trading and that is the crime we have committed. If the situation had allowed us to continue trading at home we wouldn’t be found vending in South Africa but we are forced to cross the border to fend for our families,” Tsvakai said.

Labour lawyer Rodgers Matsikidze says the current economic imbalance characterised corruption, greed, lack of accountability by employers and the government has led to poverty of unprecedented proportions in the country.

“The rich are getting richer by the day while the poor are getting poorer. The end result is that most companies have closed down and workers go home empty-handed without even getting their terminal benefits. Meanwhile, the former workers still have rentals to pay, families to feed and children to send to school and one wonders where they can find the financial means to do so,” Matsikidze said.

He also echoed the same sentiments that it might take time before we see any meaningful change in the country’s labour system and one of the only means of curbing unemployment in the country was to emigrate to South Africa and other neighbouring countries where they were assured of job security – albeit for a pittance. It is this scenario that has created animosity between Zimbabwean migrant labourers in South Africa and citizens of that country.

Back home questions still remains on whether all, if any, of them are going to be integrated back into an already impoverished society psychologically, emotionally or otherwise. In the same vein business and employments opportunities for a majority of the immigrants still remains a pipedream.


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