THE actual number of Zimbabweans in the Diaspora has remained an elusive piece of statistics. We have had estimates from 2 million to 4 million with the biggest number said to be in South Africa. But this number has remained transient as people go to South Africa and back to Zimbabwe regularly. What we know from the South African authorities is that from 1 September 2010 to 31 December 2010 approximately 295,000 applied for permits to stay in South Africa to either work, study or conduct business. We also know that of the said applicants, 245, 000 were given the permits.
The University of Witwatersrand in 2013 estimated that the population of both documented and undocumented Zimbabweans to be between 1 and 1.5 million. This body of Zimbabweans in a foreign land is arguably followed by the Zimbabwean Community in the UK which, in 2008, was estimated to be 200,000. But there are a lot of people in the so-called “black economy” making it extremely difficult to come up with a precise and accurate figure. Then there are those in North America and Australia and other African states. These figures will always debatable but what cannot be disputed is their economic contribution to Zimbabwe.
Zimbabweans who remained at home endured a lot of hardships during the period from 2002-2009, with the worst period being the 2007/2008 economic meltdown. They showed a lot of resilience and came out on top. For that, those in the Diaspora will always be respectful. Those that left the country also showed a lot of resilience and adaptability. It is never easy to leave everything that you had and that you were and start afresh in new country, a new culture and a new way of doing things. In some cases a new and unfamiliar job to start with. It takes a lot of flexibility and adaptability, especially if one considers that most of the time some were not working for themselves only. So we give kudos to both groups of Zimbabweans.
Those who experienced hyper-inflation and those that did everything to be able to fit in foreign countries and sustain the ones they left behind – we all endured the eye of the sanctions discourse. We all contributed to avoid a total meltdown and collapse of the country during the eye of the sanctions storm and we continue to contribute during this period when the country is facing. Hardly any family has not been affected by the social dislocation emanating from emigration. One thing has remained true to most Zimbabweans that have left the country, however. They have remained loyal and true to those they left behind.Advertisement
The most prevalent business amongst the Zimbabwean Community during the hyper-inflationary days was money transfer. A lot of companies mushroomed including some fly-by-night operations. This was because the discerning and enterprising Zimbabwean realised that compatriots were sending money home for the succour and sustenance of those they had left behind. The Diaspora has argued with a good degree of accuracy that, without their contributions, the outcome for Zimbabwe between 2007/2008 would have been unfathomably catastrophic. There was a shortage of medication in Zimbabwean hospitals and it became a common sight at airports to witness people begging a traveller to carry some medication for desperate relatives in Zimbabwe.
Some were flown or ambulated to South Africa for life-saving medical or surgical care. Logistic and shipping companies emerged. They focussed on ferrying drums of groceries and other necessities in short supply in Zimbabwe. Some people would fly directly to South Africa or Botswana and drive back with a car full of supplies for their loved ones. A total melt down was averted. But what’s the point in all this sad narration? Well, it is our way of illustrating that everyone played their part; those who remained in Zimbabwe and those in the Diaspora. We were in it together.
Those in the Diaspora who had projects or errands to be carried out in Zimbabwe benefitted from having people on the ground to carry them through. All the things mentioned above from remittances to arranging the clearing of sent items as well as ferrying people to hospital, were coordinated by those on the ground. The Diaspora remittances alone could not have achieved much without boots on the ground. So those who remained at home were equally important. They were part of the production line to stop Zimbabwe from total collapse. And together we became the sanctions busters. Those at home learnt innovation in distress. The human spirit was not cowed. But those that left were also not cowards. Just like during the Liberation War, everyone played their part. Those who left to train and to be armed and those that remained to reconnoitre and feed the trained – we all played our part. We were in it together.
Zimbabwe is currently facing economic challenges. These do not only affect those based in Zimbabwe. They affect those in the Diaspora as well. You stop your personal projects to make sure members of the extended family go to school and have something to eat and also avail basic medical care. Those that work shifts put in extra hours. They spend less time with their families, again to mitigate the economic hardship of kith and kin. Diasporas are therefore are not immune to what is happening in Zimbabwe. They therefore remain stakeholders in the direction of their country. They embrace the spirit that we are in this together. In November 2013 Minister Patrick Chinamasa presented a budget of $4.4 billion. The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe says the Diaspora contributed $2.1 billion in 2012 and $1.8 billion in 2013 through normal channels. A lot is unaccounted for because of the informal nature of the remittances.
The role is of the Diaspora is clearly significant. Is it then a big thing that they now seek a Ministry or, at the very least, a department which serves their interests as well as coordinate their efforts and harness their contribution to the betterment of the country. The strenuous efforts made by one Hon. Mzembi have been noted. Current efforts are however, fragmented. The ministry of Finance has its very small part time desk. The focus is to see how Zimbabwe can benefit from the Diaspora even more. The Diaspora say this is one sided. How can they also benefit from Zimbabwe? The ministry of Tourism is trying its best.
Zimbabweans in the Diaspora are not mere tourists in Zimbabwe. By now, we have made a case that they are major players. There are complaints that those who have benefitted by having family members are at the forefront of denigrating them but we will not get into that. Zvirikufaya, if taken in its proper context, is just mere leg pulling banter. We will not delve into it. The central point is that there ought to be mutual respect between those Zimbabweans at home (including in authority) and those who reside in foreign lands. It should be a mutually beneficial relationship which is not lope sided. The Diaspora also needs to find their niche in ZimAsset; deriding and mocking it would not change much. ZimAsset is our current Blue print – without it we have nothing else. For we believe that as Zimbabweans we are in this together. And we are all in it for the long-haul