Come Home Campaign: let us proceed cautiously

tsvangirai_sadcFor the first time in my life, I saw (Zimbabwean Prime Minister) Morgan Tsvangirai (pictured) in the flesh last week. I went to hear him speak at a public forum in Cape Town. He was cogent and lucid, humorous at times but not quite the politician on the stump because, of course, he was playing Mr Prime Mini

His message was mainly to Zimbabweans in South Africa, urging them to go back home. He has previously carried this message to the UK, where it did not go down well and ended in some humiliation for him. To his credit, though, he did not shy away from preaching the same gospel, albeit with some caution.

But when asked by a member of the audience what opportunities for gainful employment exist in Zimbabwe today, he rightly pointed out that the inclusive government cannot give or guarantee jobs. Rather, it is trying to create an enabling environment for people to pursue economic activity. In his words, there will not be a time when a line will be drawn in the sand to say things are now good, its time for those in exile to come home. Each person, he said, must take a risk and throw in their lot.

The issue of going back to Zimbabwe is indeed a complicated one. In fact is it necessary for people to be urged to go back to Zimbabwe, to go back home? Or, in these days of globalization, perhaps we should actually look at the continued existence of the diaspora as an asset.

India has millions of its citizens resident around the world; they were not exiled by political turmoil (as in the case of Zimbabwe) but by different accidents of history and personal choices. Today they form a powerful economic bloc and important pillar of Indias development and international standing.

China and Mexico also have a burgeoning number of non-resident citizens. Prime Minister Tsvangirai should perhaps take a leaf from this. The problem is that the Zimbabwean diaspora was largely spawned by the collapse of the country and much of it has led to social instability within the region, so it is natural that the leaders of the region are supporting a resolution of the Zimbabwean question in order to put the genie back in the bottle.

However it also true that a substantial number of Zimbabwean immigrants are educated and skilled persons who contribute to economic activity in host countries and are the unsung heroes in saving Zimbabwe from total collapse. Tsvangirai did not acknowledge the latter fact. Mugabe has predictably been scathing of Zimbabweans doing menial jobs. In a discussion I had with Margaret Dongo, she also appeared blind to the fact that, despite Zimbabweans living in some of the most horrendous circumstances, particularly in South Africa, and despite Zimbabweans suffering abuse from locals (read xenophobic attacks), they have continued to work to send money home for their families.

And this money has prevented total economic collapse the past and is now playing a huge part in stabilizing the current economic situation in the country.

The other worrying part of this blanket call to go back home is that it might inadvertently expose Zimbabweans to xenophobic attacks. In South Africa in a particular, this has been a gathering storm and when locals hear news that there is progress in Zimbabwe or things are getting better, they appear to find no excuse why Zimbabweans should continue to be sheltered among them. Go back to Zimbabwe, they have said in the past, and vote Mugabe out. And now they say, Go back to Zimbabwe because things are now well, you dont belong in South Africa.

So let us approach the come home campaign with some caution. First because it is a good thing to continue to have Zimbabweans in influential positions in other countries of the world it gives us what in business they would call a global footprint. Second, because the idea of home makes little sense in a globalized world – migration is a reality that we have to live with and take advantage of. And third, because it might expose citizens to increased xenophobic attacks.

Post published in: Opinions

Leave a Reply

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