Gone to Egoli: Economic survival strategies

central_methodistMany desperate Zimbabweans have fled to other countries, The Solidarity Peace Trust have compiled a report detailing the effects of this migration on the country.

Zimbabweans have been battered by the collapsed economy and have limited access to forex. The Solidarity Peace Trust interviewed families in five rural districts and found that migration has soared in the last year to one hundred times its 1990s rate – and people continue to leave.

Yet the rural poor migrate and are often unable to maintain in any meaningful way, the lives of their families back home. This is particularly true in districts that do not have a long history of migration. We found that: 68 per cent of people in the South African diaspora have never, or almost never, remitted anything back to Matabeleland. Families who have been reduced to abject poverty have now also lost their able-bodied labour, and most associate diasporisation with death, disease and broken relationships.

The report findings indicate that those aged below 30 and who migrated in the last two years, fare the worst in terms of sending remittances.

Phenomenon of diasporisation

Zimbabwe is conservatively estimated to have around 15 per cent of the population, or 1.5 to 2 million people, in the Diaspora. It is also a truism to say that money from the Diaspora has been a major survival mechanism for Zimbabweans back home. The phenomenon of diasporisation on this scale is also a very recent one for Zimbabwe: prior to 2000, there was not much of a Diaspora community.

Knowing more about both the rate and impact of diasporisation has become more urgent in the light of two key decisions. Firstly, in mid February 2009 the Zimbabwean Minister of Finance introduced the use of multiple foreign exchanges in place of the Zimbabwe dollar, meaning that only those with a steady access to foreign exchange (forex) can now survive in the local economy. Yet the number of formal sector, forex-earning jobs in Zimbabwe has not increased notably since then. Secondly, on 5 May 2009 the South Africans lifted visa requirements on Zimbabweans, and now issue 6-month entry stamps and the right to work to all Zimbabweans entering their country. Within days of the change in visa regulations, the number of Zimbabweans crossing the border at Beitbridge rose from 3,000 per day to 7,000 per day.

No remittances

This study therefore set out to gain some preliminary insight into rural diasporisation and remittances: we found that while the rate of diasporisation has escalated almost vertically in the last 18 months and this was prior to the waiving of visas – there has not been a corresponding return for poor rural families. We found that 51 per cent of our sample families with at least one member in the Diaspora received NO goods whatsoever from them during 2008. 68 per cent of people in the diaspora have never, or almost never, remitted anything back to Matabeleland. Families who have been reduced to abject poverty have now also lost their able-bodied labour, and associate diasporisation with death, disease and broken relationships. Only 26 per cent of those interviewed mentioned the diaspora in positive terms.

In all districts where we conducted interviews, more than 50 per cent of families were affected by diasporisation. Bulilima and Tsholotsho had the highest prevalence, at 100 per cent and 87 per cent respectively, with Nkayi the lowest at 52 per cent. The vast majority of those in the Diaspora were said to be in South Africa. Families were asked to indicate when in the past, and up to the present, a family member had left the country more or less permanently, for any reason. The findings were astounding. The rate of diasporisation in the 142 Matabeleland families in our target group has increased one hundred-fold since the early 1990s.

Diaspora trends

Some interesting minor trends are visible from the changing diaspora rates in these 142 families.

Firstly, it is possible to see the impact on them of the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (ESAP) on Zimbabweans: as the industrial base began to shrink from the mid 1990s onwards, as a result of IMF imposed policies, there is a jump in migration, which had been fairly steady at around 1, up to 5, peaking at around 11 in 1999.

With the advent of the MDC and the excitement locally about the possibility of a shift in government, migration falls slightly in the early post 2000 era, from 11 down to 6.

However, it climbs again in 2002, possibly coinciding with the violence of the Presidential election of that year.

Diasporisation quadruples from 7 in 2004, to 31 in 2005 which is the year of Operation Murambatsvina, when demolitions destroyed homes and livelihoods around the country.

After this, we enter the current period of almost vertical escalation in diasporisation, climbing to a per annum rate of 100 by March and possibly over 120 by June 2009.

The vast majority of people entering the diaspora are referred to by their families as having done so for economic reasons. While generally some Zimbabweans have fled after torture, assaults, property losses linked to political oppression, only 5 people out of 278 (2 per cent) were referred to by their families as having left as a political refugee.

People related detailed histories of their experiences and attitudes to having family in the Diaspora, and often cried when relating tales of unfaithful husbands, or daughters who returned dying of AIDS, or sons who had become criminals, creating the strong impression that their experiences are real and not invented.

Disappointed families

18 per cent of families claimed that the diaspora was their major source of income. Most claimed to rely on subsistence farming. Vending, and in the case of Bulawayo respondents, a job in town contributed to 29 per cent of households. My oldest son I am told he is working but drinks all his money after he is paid. He came to Zimbabwe to mourn his dead brother and brought nothing with him. I had to source money for him to return to SA, believing he was going to change his ways and support me but that has not happened, said one mother.

Families reported that:

59% of those in the diaspora have never sent a single item or cent of money home to their families.

14% of diaspora members have sent goods during 2009.

18% of diaspora members brought goods home at Christmas when they returned for the holiday break.

6% had sent items 9 -12 months ago.

3% had sent items more than a year ago.

From this, it can be seen that only around a third of families with somebody in the diaspora claimed to receive any kind of regular remittance, if we include those who received three times a year or more, as regular recipients. We are suffering worse than ever before. My daughters body arrived from SA and we had no money to bury her. I borrowed money and now have got nothing to my name. I have three other children in SA, and one sends me R100 once in a while. I got R600 last year. I wonder all the time when this suffering will come to an end.

Insatiable demands

Key informants both in South Africa and Zimbabwe have also referred to the insatiable demands of families back home, in the event of someone getting a job in the diaspora. In some instances people under this pressure decide to go to ground and to avoid demands from family back home entirely, instead focusing on building a separate life abroad. Again, it is younger men and women who do not have spouses and children back home who can most easily make this decision, where older spouses with more established family bases could be predicted to be more likely to keep in touch and send money home.

Interviewees were asked to describe how the diaspora had affected them, and all responses were noted. Many interviewees were insistently negative, and a few were positive, while others gave mixed responses, such as: We get groceries at Christmas, but there is nobody to help in the fields now.

Only 20 per cent of the responses indicated that the diaspora was a source of groceries and money. Most of these responses were from families in Bulilima, unsurprisingly.

A further 6 per cent indicated that there were at least fewer mouths to feed now at home, which was the only other positive response to the question. The other 74 per cent of responses were all negative.

The lived experience of the diaspora is clearly far from the myth Egoli has proved to be no city of gold for most rural families in Matabeleland. The predominant feedback on diasporisation is that it has undermined family and community cohesion, depleted villages of competent leadership and labour and too seldom has resulted in poverty relief for families. It has even exacerbated poverty, through death and disease.

Post published in: News

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *