“Immigration crisis”: Zimbabwe must tackle elephant in the room

Tichaona Zindoga

The issue of Zimbabweans migrating to South Africa where they have become a burden to their hosts, at least according to a particular narrative, is not new.

Many Zimbabweans have over the past two decades found economic refuge down south following the implosion of the local economy, due to a number of factors.

The actual number of Zimbabwean nationals in South Africa is not known, as is the total of all immigrants that have settled abroad, with some estimates putting the number to three or so million.

The contentiousness of the immigration figures, as well as the politics behind the numbers is a story on its own – for another day.

What is beyond dispute is that, just like any other immigration situation across the world, the presence of Zimbabweans in South Africa has become a huge talking point.

While there are significant, and probably greater numbers, of other foreign nationalities in South Africa, the Zimbabwean component has attracted most attention in recent years.

The reasons are not very clear, but strong indications are that Zimbabwe’s case has been too heavily discussed and oversimplified that everyone has an opinion on it:

An ordinary South African or a journalist can easily be convinced that Zimbabweans are in South Africa because of a bad economy in Zimbabwe.

However, they may find it harder to process and explain why there are so many other nationalities from Nigeria to Somalia to Lesotho.

And, no one talks about the white or Asian expatriate populations, which have been spared scrutiny at best and at worst xenophobic attacks that have all too often visited black brothers and sisters.

Operation Dudula

Last week, South African vigilantes going under the banner of Operation Dudula, launched a campaign to sniff out foreigners in the country.

According to reports, Operation Dudula, Zulu for “drive back”, gained traction in a
sign of growing anti-migrant sentiment.

in South Africa, which has been plagued by record unemployment figures and poverty worsened by Covid.

Anti-immigrant protestors turned up in a mob of several hundred at a migrant centre in South Africa’s Soweto Township — unemployed, wielding weapons and angry with foreigners they accuse of
taking their jobs. (Redaction Africa news, February 19, 2022).

Another report said Operation Dudula Mobs gave local companies a week to get rid of all illegal immigrants, promising to take unspecified action against those that won’t heed their demands.

According to anti-immigration proponents led by an outfit called #PutSouthAfricansFirst, illegal foreigners should not work in restaurants, bars, saloons, departmental stores, vegetable markets
and other places as there was no need for specialized skills in these sectors.

It is widely accepted that vigilantism fronted by Operation Dudula – and now with wide traction on social media – is a fare of xenophobia and an excuse to justify driving out black foreigners, loot their
shops and properties and kill a number of the poor blacks for show.

Gut-churning scenes of xenophobic bloodshed have previously put the fear of God into the hearts of foreigners, and currently many of them – in particular Zimbabweans – are living in fear and
looking for their nearest exit points.

Politics of immigration in South Africa and Zimbabwe

Again, it has become customary for politicians across the world to ride their political fortunes on the issue of immigration. In the Western world, politicians such as Donald Trump in the United States and Marine Le Pen in France have been prominent in riding on anti-immigration sentiment to build large following and a political agenda.

In South Africa, politicians such as Herman Mashaba, former Mayor of Johannesburg, rode on anti-immigration sentiment to sustain his career. Now, a motley gang of low-level politicians is now stoking up xenophobia and anti-immigration sentiment to shore up their political fortunes.

In fact, in South Africa elections are fast becoming a referendum on which party has the toughest
stance on immigration policy. This is bad news for foreigners, in particular Zimbabweans.

At home, some politicians and influencers have all but welcomed xenophobic attacks on countrymen and women (and children) in South Africa because it serves the purpose of blaming the Government
and ruling party for the woes faced by the unfortunate and endangered compatriots.

Each attack or death can be blamed on Zimbabwean authorities for allegedly mismanaging the country leading to citizens “fleeing” the country, the reasoning goes.

On one hand, Zimbabwean proponents of xenophobic attacks on compatriots want them driven back home so they can vote for the opposition out of anger.

On the other, the opposition is likely to present itself as the saviour of the Zimbabwean immigrant.

As such, immigration will likely be a huge electoral issue in Zimbabwe, particularly in 2023 national elections.

Confronting the elephant in the room

From the perspective of Zimbabwe, the immigration issue can be looked at from at least two perspectives; namely political and foreign policy.

In the latter premise, there should be a deliberate policy or policies that seek to clearly lay out major principles and positions regarding how the State deals with issues arising from immigration and the

Unfortunately, Zimbabwean authorities and politicians – and this also extends to opposition politicians – have shown very little understanding of complex issues surrounding immigration and the Diaspora.

Only two aspect have major stakeholders paid attention to and these are, Diaspora remittances and voting rights.

Issues and discussions around these aspects have been very simplistic, narrow and disappointing. Not unpredictably.

Diaspora has just been reduced to being viewed as golden geese which can’t really be trusted – across major political spectrums.

On the other hand, when it comes to Zimbabwe’s foreign policy immigration is not clearly articulated as an important pillar.

One would think that Zimbabwe, upon realising the rise in immigration at the turn of the Ventry, make a deliberate policy that would protect and promote its citizens moving abroad.

There should be anything to be ashamed of having people moving abroad in search of greener pastures.

Immigration has been as old as humanity itself. Addressing the issue would have allowed authorities to adequately plan several mechanisms including negotiating with host governments and territories for a systematic and dignified life for people in the Diaspora.

Instead, immigration has happened in a haphazard manner with predictable consequences.

Lost opportunities and how Zimbabwe should face immigration crisis

Authorities in Harare have failed to effectively harness the advantages of immigration. They have also failed to articulate the basic premise of immigration being a human phenomenon and celebrate that Zimbabwe is exporting some of its best talents in service of the globe.

Instead, they have lost all moral authority. Many people consider the Government of Zimbabwe as having its people and consider them a burden, hence the abdication of duty to take care of them
and encumbering countries such as South Africa.

Politicians in Zimbabwe and South Africa who rub hands in glee over xenophobic attacks on black people in South Africa, or the so-called immigration crisis, know clearly that they can reap cheap political

With elections coming in 2023, there are clearly both risks and opportunities from the dynamic that immigration in particular and Diaspora in general.

*As a part of our research and think tank work at Ruzivo Media & Resources, we undertook research on this issue and developed a paper titled analysing theseissues.

Email tichaona.zindoga@reviewandmail.com

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