Survey compares lives of black and white Zims in diaspora


LONDON - Any attempt to theorise about the embryonic Zimbabwean diaspora is theorizing about race, ethnicity, gender and class. To leave one or the other out is get an incomplete picture of

this complex phenomenon. Yet in recent research on diasporic Zimbabweans white Zimbabweans are conspicuously absent, as if to suggest they are not Zimbabweans or were not part of the recent wave of out-migration. Other piecemeal analysis of Zimbabweans abroad tends to focus on the loss of skilled personnel, particularly health professionals, making other categories of people invisible. This paper does not claim comprehensive coverage of what is becoming a burgeoning object of analysis, the Zimbabwean diaspora. Rather it sketches a comparative analysis of the migration experiences of black and white Zimbabweans in the UK and presents intuitions inferred from inductive reading of my own research.

The survey aimed to obtain information on the demographic profile of respondents; their migration dynamics, issues of settlement and marginality, gender and identity formation, political and social networks and how these relate to Zimbabwe. The results are aimed to tell the migrant’s story, their feelings and thoughts, how they see life and what their opinions are.

From the survey data, it is clear that the worst economic crisis in Zimbabwe’s history and the deepening political calamity were seen by migrants as legitimate grounds for seeking better life elsewhere. More than two thirds of the respondents were male and most of the respondents are between 31-40 years of age (66%). More than half of the respondents 56% were from the Shona ethnic group; 25% were Ndebele and 17% identified themselves as English. A third of the respondents had been granted permanent residence status. Most of respondents were skilled workers in Zimbabwe and had highly paid jobs. Most of the respondents are doing jobs they have never being trained before. Two-thirds of respondents said that they would like to return to Zimbabwe and to live there at some point in the future when the economic and political conditions have changed.

Examining the stages of migration, most black Zimbabweans had never been in UK before, unlike white Zimbabweans who had visited relatives and friends twice or more. Nearly all respondents acknowledged having a family or friends at the time of migrating to the UK. Only 8% of the respondents are undocumented migrants and this contrast sharply with my other research findings that suggests that a number of Zimbabweans are living underground. The low response rate from undocumented migrants can be explained in two ways. Firstly, the majority of them struggle with life and having a computer and setting up Internet connection can be regarded as an unnecessary expense. Related to this point, is the general trend among undocumented migrants of trying to be invisible and this means not passing one’s identity to organisations like BT or any Internet service providers. There is always the suspicion that these companies might pass the details to the Home Office.

Even though the survey failed to capture undocumented migrants, anecdotal evidence suggests that most black Zimbabweans in the UK are undocumented migrants having arrived in the UK as visitors, students, and political refugees or on work permits. Most of these are working in the health sector as care workers. On the other hand, the majority of white Zimbabweans either came to the UK on the ancestral visa or as political refugees. The ancestral visa would allow them to the right to live in the country for four years without recourse to public funds and after which they can claim Indefinite Leave to Remain.

Thus, while most black Zimbabweans worry about their immigration status, what to do when the visa expires or how to remain invisible, this is less a problem to white Zimbabweans. – Continued next week.

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