SA deportations a ‘threat’ to Zimbabwe

The deportation of Zimbabwean nationals from South Africa could pose a serious threat to the lives of thousands of Zimbabwean back home, after it was revealed that up to 40% of the country’s GDP relies on remittances.

South Africa resumed deporting Zim nationals last year, marking the end of efforts to document as many of the foreigners as possible. This process only saw an estimated 270,000 Zimbabweans applying for work and study permits, leaving many tens of thousands more vulnerable to deportation.

It’s believed that at least two million Zimbabweans are living in South Africa, making it the largest part of Zimbabwe’s scattered Diaspora community. Refugee rights activists have since warned that the decision to resume deportations from South Africa has not been thought through, arguing that conditions in Zimbabwe have not improved enough for people to be returned.

Rights group PASSOP has now also warned that these forced removals threaten the livelihood of hundreds of thousands of people, with a large percentage of Zimbabweans relying on remittances from outside the country to survive back home.

According to a PASSOP report released this week and sent to South Africa’s Reserve Bank and Department of International Development and Cooperation, about 91% of Zimbabwean migrants in South Africa send money home regularly. The report, titled ‘Strangling the Lifeline’, found that the average amount remitted by migrants was almost a third of their monthly income.

“Taking into account that an estimated 1.5 – 2 million Zimbabweans have emigrated to South Africa over the past decade, the report estimates that ZAR5.1-6.8 billion ($700-850 million) were remitted in 2011, making remittances one of the most important sources of foreign currency inflows for Zimbabwe,” the report details.

The report’s author David von Burgsdorff told SW Radio Africa that the figures illustrate Zimbabwe’s “depth of dependence” on remittances, saying the such transfers are relied on to sustain the livelihoods of up two-thirds of Zimbabwe’s remaining population. He estimated that up to 40% of Zimbabwe’s GDP is made up of remittances from across the Zimbabwean Diaspora, with the majority of this money believed to be coming from South Africa.

“South Africa’s renewed practice of mass deportations is therefore a serious threat to the livelihoods of thousands of families in Zimbabwe who are dependent on remittances,” Von Burgsdorff said, adding: “Already some 20,000 Zimbabweans have been deported since South Africa resumed this practice last year.”

Von Burgsdorff meanwhile said that South Africa needs to be pressured to ‘formalise’ these remittances, explaining that roughly three quarters of migrants prefer using ‘informal’ channels to remit money, rather than formal channels like banks.

“Perhaps the most surprising finding in the report is that the cost of sending remittances from South Africa to Zimbabwe is amongst the highest in the world. The implication of this is that the amount of money that actually reaches families in Zimbabwe is much lower than it could be,” Von Burgsdorff said.

He added that remittances from South Africa to Zimbabwe “represent a huge source of untapped potential for development on both sides of the border,” but high transfer costs and stringent, inefficient regulations was standing in the way.

“If the formalisation of remittance flows is pursued comprehensively, remittances could realise their potential and play an invaluable role in the reconstruction of the Zimbabwean economy. This, in turn, is the only way to address the high currently high level of Zimbabwean migration to South Africa,” he said.

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