WHAT is now commonly described as the Zimbabwean Diaspora has its beginnings in the Witwatersrand Native Labour Association (Wenela) era when large numbers of migrant workers found their way to South Africa’s Witwatersrand known for its massive gold mining operations in the early 1900s, but more acutely in the late 60s to 70s when some of these countries began to find independence but largely exclusive of the promised economic prosperity.
Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia), among SA’s other neighbours, contributed significantly to this migration even though it remained under white minority’s rule. The author’s paternal grandfather was part of this initial wave. There are other emigration waves relating to the 14-year period of the mid-sixties to the 1979 armed struggle for Zimbabwe’s independence but the Zimbabwean Diaspora became far more significant & undeniably visible in the post-independence era, including the 80s the Gukurahundi campaign as well as the period around and post the chaotic land reform economic collapse related period in the late 2000s.
There is a large variety of estimates of just how large this Jewish-like dispersed Diaspora is, but the consensus is that the largest number of displaced Zimbabweans is to be found in neighbouring South Africa followed by the United Kingdom and thereafter some debate as to who comes next as the next biggest hosts between neighbouring Botswana, Zambia, the Australasian region and North America (USA and Canada).
The writer’s personal travels have also unearthed Zimbabweans as far afield as parts of East Africa and the rest of SADC and the Middle East. Whatever official story the Zimbabwean government and its adversaries try to advance for the reasons for this massive emigration, the fact remains that, large numbers of Zimbabweans have escaped post-independence Zimbabwe, perhaps as many as a quarter of its total population.
Outside of listening to first-hand personal experience, it’s difficult to comprehend just why such a large percentage of citizens would run away from their “hard won” independence but the fact remains that they did indeed escape, some as economic refugees and yet still others as victims of political repression by the authoritarian Gabriel (ironically named after an angel in the Bible) Mugabe regime. However, one looks at it, a large section of Zimbabweans and the Robert Gabriel Mugabe regime are like oil and water and simply won’t mix. Advertisement
What is also inescapable is that most of these migrants are potentially economically active citizens; in other words those that can actually migrate & find alternatives outside their country of birth legally or otherwise. It’s most certainly not infants and the elderly that dominate this group. This clearly spaces the bulk of that group snack bang within the demographic that could and should play a significant role in the country’s political landscape. In fact, some commentators have lamented just this level of mobility as being partly responsible for the lack of a revolution in a country where its inevitability goes beyond the obvious.
The Zanu PF government by all accounts whether resorting to fraudulent or imagined methods in any normal society would still have all but disappeared as far back as 2,000 save for the absence of this collective mass of human beings. It’s widely believed that none of the shenanigans employed by ZANU PF would have succeeded in the face of these masses being present in Zimbabwe and there’s a context to this. The 2013 elections saw around 3.5m voters turning out with just over 2.1m of those voting for the “angel” Gabriel’s ZANU PF securing just over 2.1m of those and their main opponent, the Morgan Tsvangirai led MDC obtaining around 1.17m of the votes and the rest spread out among a number of smaller opposition supporters.
Now if the Zimbabwean Diaspora numbers 3m per some conservative estimates, that would place them at a number potentially equivalent to the combined total that ZANU PF and the MDC-T obtained combined. The Diaspora therefore either by merely registering to vote and subsequently also participating in an election and voting in Zimbabwe or even voting from Diaspora locations (should that be secured) would have a significant say in how the proverbial rolling dice lands in Zimbabwean politics.
There’s a number of very adverse or negative findings or arguments put forward with respect to the unfairness of recent elections inside Zimbabwe itself, factors which would be largely irrelevant in the Diaspora including vote buying, manipulation of the rural population via traditional Chiefs and herdsmen, intimidation and violence.
Following the most recent general elections in 2013 the opposition screamed murder, cried foul and cited interference by an Israeli shadowy entity Nikuv either in manipulating the population register, voters roll or both. Now the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission is reportedly on the verge of employing a biometric voter registration system and my argument, in short, is that a potential game changer in the midst of all these potential loopholes is the sheer number of Zimbabweans in the Diaspora.
Zimbabwe’s current constitution, the result of political compromise really rather than genuine citizen input, currently only allows government employees temporarily located abroad to vote, potentially denying up to 40% of its citizen that basic of rights. Anyone else that is said to have departed from Zimbabwe by perceived choice currently cannot vote.
Zimbabwe currently survives on the back of $6bn per annum worth of imports mostly of the most basic consumptive commodities, almost 70% of it funded by Diaspora remittances. For a number of reasons both genuine and self-inflicted the country’s productive capacity is all but dead. Why then aren’t ALL Zimbabweans up in arms over the issue of the Diaspora Vote, an inalienable right by all accounts? What other game changer is there that’s greater than this?
Lovemore Fuyane is a Zimbabwean currently resident in various parts of Africa at any point in time