Telecel closure as bad as xenophobic attacks

More than 1,000 workers await their fate at Telecel Zimbabwe. The company, one of country’s largest mobile telephone operators, faces closure under a government directive at the end of the month, and the staff are likely to swell the ranks of the many millions who are now unemployed.

Tracy Murombo*, who has worked in the company’s marketing department for the past five years, says she has no other choice but to take up a job offer with an events company in Cape Town. She has no fear of the attacks on foreign nationals that rocked South Africa last month and shrugs off any suggestions to the contrary, saying in Shona: “Kusiri kufa ndekupi?”

She implies that government’s decision to close her employer’s business was akin to the xenophobic attacks on foreigners in South Africa. If it winds up its operations, Telecel will join hundreds of companies that have closed down as a result of the government’s misrule, forcing millions of Zimbabweans out of work at home to seek better chances of survival elsewhere – especially in South Africa.

Zuma’s remarks

The 2011 South African census puts the number of foreigners in that country at 1,7 million, although the figure is contested by some quarters. President Jacob Zuma was quoted recently lashing out at neighbouring states who “criticise the South African government but their citizens are in our country”.

Zuma’s remarks drew criticism from many quarters, especially from countries that have been affected by xenophobia. Last week, he was cornered by the SADC heads of states and government at a meeting in Harare, where he defended his country’s position.

At the same meeting, President Robert Mugabe criticised “those who were running away from home thinking they would find heaven on earth in South Africa”. He said people must get back to their own countries and should not have the “instinct of rushing into South Africa” if the situation at home proved unbearable.

But Zimbabweans living abroad say Mugabe must remedy the situation back home first. “Some of us who are foreigners have the cheek to demand from host countries what we could not and will not demand from our own governments. We ran away from poverty and war and violence. We could not confront the dictators who have torn our countries apart and destroyed our future. Now we are demanding respect from those sheltering us,” writes journalist Wonder Guchu from Namibia.

Prayer meeting

Many industrialists have blamed government policy on matters such as indigenisation and political interference on foreign direct investment for the economic collapse. In addition, they say, corruption in high circles has created a huge gap between rich and the poor.

At a prayer meeting in Harare to commemorate the disturbances in South Africa recently, businessman and church leader Shingi Munyeza said unless and until the Zimbabwe government put an end to the economic and political malaise in the country such skirmishes would likely continue. Munyeza did not mince his words when he mentioned that there was no need for people to board buses bound for south of the Limpopo River, long after what government insisted was “economic and political recovery”.

“The Zimbabwe government must take political and economic steps so that our people don’t have to go to South Africa,” he said. Adding voice to Munyeza’s call was the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe (EFZ), which implored on government to rectify the economic situation so that Zimbabweans living in South Africa would find reason to come back home.

Rich get richer

“The EFZ exhorts the government to deepen its engagement strategy by offering practical, appropriate, relevant, and immediate and long-term remedies to the diverse categories of Zimbabwean immigrants living in South Africa,” said Bishop Ishmael Musawanda, the EFZ president.

Labour lawyer Rodgers Matsikidze says the current economic imbalance characterised by corruption, greed, lack of accountability by employers and the government has led to poverty of unprecedented proportions.

“The rich are getting richer by the day while the poor are getting poorer. The end result is that most companies have closed down and workers go home empty-handed without even getting their terminal benefits. Meanwhile, they still have rentals to pay, families to feed and children to send to school. One wonders where they can find the financial means to do so,” Matsikidze said.

Representing students, Douglas Tigere said there were more than 70,000 students living in South Africa whose fees were being paid for by their parents, who are mostly cross-border traders. Tigere said most of the victims fleeing South African back to Zimbabwe were traumatised emotionally and psychologically and needed to be integrated back into society.

Back home, questions still remain on whether any of them are going to be integrated back into an already impoverished society – psychologically, emotionally or otherwise. In the same vein, business and employment opportunities for a majority of the returnees remain a pipedream.

Post published in: Business

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