Grace Murapa*, who used to work as a secretary at a large textile
factory in Chitungwiza, Zimbabwe, has scraped a living in Mozambique’s
capital, Maputo, for over five years by selling colourfully printed
cloth on a busy road along the city’s beachfront.
"It is a hard and painful job," she said. Police harassment and endless
days exposed to traffic and the elements were major hazards.
Zimbabweans call it the "Diaspora" – the flight of its citizens to
neighbouring states and even further afield to such countries as
Britain and Australia to escape their country’s collapse.
There are no accurate figures of the numbers involved, but it is
estimated that more than three million people, from a population of 12
million, have left Zimbabwe.
Money earned by those in the diaspora – estimated to be in excess each
year of Zimbabwe’s best ever annual tobacco harvest, once the primary
foreign currency earner – has been remitted to relatives at home.
A power-sharing political agreement holds out hope of expatriates
returning home to begin the task of rebuilding a shattered country.
IRIN spoke to Zimbabweans in three neighbouring countries – Botswana,
Mozambique and South Africa – and asked: Is it time to go home?
"When I first came to work here I used to go back home frequently every
year, but in the past three years it was becoming very difficult to
travel to and from Zimbabwe because of the politics, shortage of food
Murapa said she had not seen her mother, who is ill, and her two
children for months. "I have been sending back money for them to go to
school but the schools have been closed and they are not learning."
News travels fast
Recently the cross-border traders from Zimbabwe who supply her wares
brought news that an agreement to form a government of national unity
(GNU) had been signed between President Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party
and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).
"We hear that there is a new government and that Morgan Tsvangirai [MDC
leader] is now a Prime Minister. I hope to go back home this month and
try to get my old life back. Now I am planning to go for good, because
I think the new government is going to work," Murapa said.
Tichaona Nyamunda*, 28, has been living in Maputo since 2006, where his
wife and two children recently joined him. "I believe the new
government will work, so I am going back home soon because I want to be
part of the first reforms, should they work out," he told IRIN.
"I have received some messages from relatives in Zimbabwe and they are
happy with the new situation; they are telling me not to fear to come
back. If things do not work out I will make plans to return [to
Mozambique] by the end of this year, but I am tired of living as a
foreigner. I am tired of the high monthly rents we are charged, the
uncertainty when I fall sick – there is no place like home," Nyamunda
"I want to go back to Chinhoyi [about 100km east of the Zimbabwean
capital, Harare,] and see if I can start my life anew. It is easier to
work when you have friends and relatives to support you; here it is not
possible, and the living standards are not that good."
According to Joseph Matongo, National Coordinator of the
Zimbabwe-Mozambique Solidarity Alliance (ZIMOSA), a support group of
Zimbabweans in Mozambique, most Zimbabweans living in the
Portuguese-speaking country welcomed the new political settlement and
were ready to go home.
"As of now, people are excited that the crisis is going to end, that
the new government is going to stick to making the agreement work, and
people are going home," Matongo told IRIN.
Not an easy living
The biggest problems immigrants faced in Mozambique were related to
legal documentation and dealing with a foreign language. Increased
flows of Zimbabweans in the past several months had created a problem
of overcrowding in Manica Province, bordering Zimbabwe.
The busiest crossing between the two countries is the Machipanda/Forbes
border post in Manica on the Mozambican side, near Mutare on the
Matongo said a ZIMOSA survey at the end of 2008 had revealed that the
overcrowded shelter facilities in Manica gave rise to problems such as
prostitution, outbreaks of diseases like cholera, and a rise in general
cases of abuse.
"It is just about 15 kilometres from the border to the nearest town in
Mozambique, so the numbers of Zimbabweans running away from the
humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe – especially last year , soon
after the March 29 [general election] and June 27 [presidential]
elections – shot up," he commented.
"Following the new political agreement in Zimbabwe, we are monitoring
the benchmarks of the agreement, especially the revival of the economy
and the provision of humanitarian aid," Matongo said.
"Once people know there is unrestricted flow of humanitarian aid we are
certain there will be more people ready to go back home, because food
is the major problem that made them cross the border in the first
IRINPost published in: News