Will we come home to nothing?

One of Africa’s biggest banks summed it all up in a way we could think of but never express in words: “They call it Africa, we call it home.” Africa is a mysterious, fascinating and sometimes dark place. But for us, this is where we were born, where we live, where were work, where we invest, where we buy property. And one fascinating place to do that is Zimbabwe. What makes Zimbabwe such an interesting investment place is not its landscape or anything special, but its people.

The story of our country and its people can never be divorced from the economic meltdown that drove millions into the diaspora over the past 15 years or so. The diaspora community has become a massive force to reckon with, having a significant impact on the socio-economic life of those back home. During the decline of Zimdollar, many in the diaspora, particularly those living in the United Kingdom, could afford to build houses and buy properties back home – even when they did not earn much in terms of their salaries. They played on the ever-weakening Zimdollar, while they earned salaries in a stable currency.

This enabled them to plan better and save while the opposite was true for many back home. There were suburbs in Zimbabwe nicknamed UK as it became apparent that most of those able to build houses in those areas were based there.

But the tables seem to have turned with the introduction of the multi-currency economy. Zimbabweans in South Africa are a case in point. Many of us are not able to purchase houses in South Africa because of the residence status and also not enough disposable cash. Back home, the cash economy has taught people to save and with the little they have, one of the major priorities is to purchase land to build houses.

The biggest fear for many Zimbabweans living in South Africa is returning home after many years of toiling in a foreign country.

“I remember when I was a child, my father always told me a story of his brother who went to live in South Africa many years ago. He hardly made contact with anybody back in Zimbabwe. He came back home after about 15 years holding a can of coke and nothing more. He came back destitute, found his wife, remarried and had nothing to show for the time he lived far away.” This story has been recounted to this writer many times by a friend living in SA.

Sadly it is true for many today, who after ages of working in a foreign country will go back home empty-handed.

Another Zimbabwean living in the diaspora has blamed his lack of basic investment at home on the high expectations that his family has on him.

“People think that by simply living in South Africa, I have more money than them. It is not the case at all, I have actually realised that people at home have more disposable income than me,” he says.

The socio-economic dynamics that riddle Zimbabweans across the world have had an impact on how they invest, particularly in property. Many find themselves torn between two worlds: the diaspora does not offer a conducive environment to invest and most are still unable to invest at home.

But Africa is an enthralling place. What works today for one group of people, may not work tomorrow. We are a people constantly on the move, seeking better opportunities for our families and ourselves. When we find the opportunities, we are home. We don’t stop until we do.

Post published in: Analysis
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