Hunched on seats at Rode Port cross border bus terminal in the Zimbabwean capital, 45-year-old Timothy Mundonda chats in excitement with his wife and three teen children as they wait to board a bus to Johannesburg.
Mundonda is filled with hope as he takes the journey with his family, heading to a land where he lived a decade ago.
Nostalgia for 2009
In 2009, he said, Zimbabwe saw positive changes with the formation of a unity government with the country’s opposition to stabilize the national economy.
But the honeymoon was “short-lived,” he added.
“Remember the stolen 2013 polls, also remember the stolen elections of 2018, things have never been the same,” Mundonda told Anadolu Agency.
“And even worse this year in terms of economic hardship, I have to head back to South Africa for my family.”
Not far from Mundonda and his family, a group of raucous young people stood, some hanging their jackets on their shoulders, others carrying small backpacks, debating Zimbabwe’s deteriorating situation as they are also set to leave for South Africa.
“We have nothing to stay for here,” 27-year-old Mike Matimbe told Anadolu Agency.
“I personally have never worked since I graduated from university five years ago, and I think it’s better to go toil in South Africa for as long as I would be able to feed myself.”
Left with no choice
Every day Zimbabwean migrants like Mundonda, Matimbe, and hordes of others head to countries like South Africa, unable to bear staying in the country any longer, according to human rights activists.
“People were shot at and some killed last year after elections because they demanded the release of results for the presidential polls,” said Claris Madhuku, director of the Platform for Youth Development, a democracy lobbying group in Zimbabwe.
“People were shot at and killed, some abducted in their homes and beaten by soldiers early this year, even as they battled to survive in this harsh economy, and most now have nothing to wait for, they just have to head out anywhere,” she added.
As such, there is a renewed exodus of Zimbabweans like Mundonda and Mutimbe fleeing an imploding economy and deteriorating human rights situation in the Southern African nation.
In 2000-2008, more than 2 million Zimbabweans migrated to its neighboring giant South Africa, most as economic refugees fell into a deep economic crisis, with inflation shooting up to a mind-boggling 231 million percent.
Over almost two decades, South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, and Mozambique have been destinations for Zimbabwean economic refugees.
Even to this day, according to media experts like Mlondolozi Ndlovu, “the trend of migration from Zimbabwe is on the rise again as people flee a dying economy in a post-Mugabe government,” referring to Robert Mugabe, the country’s late strongman ruler.
Soaring of inflation
Owing to that, Zimbabweans like Mundonda and Mutimbe, apparently taking to their heels, have reeled under the country’s soaring inflation.
Many have no choice, they say, because back home, according to Mundonda, “we face hunger, we face perpetual economic crisis under our government.”
To female migrants like 19-year-old Mucharipa Kazingizi, also heading to South Africa, life in Zimbabwe has become unbearable.
Due to financial challenges, Kazingizi dropped out of college during her first year, where she was pursuing a diploma in marketing.
“It’s tough here,” she said.
“I tried everything, from working as a housemaid to working as a shop assistant, still nothing has changed for me because the money here can’t buy [anything], with its value eroding daily.”
Growing tide of migrants
According to the Zimbabwe Cross Border Association, a group that represents the rights and concerns of cross-border traders, since last September — in the wake of July’s general elections — over 460,000 Zimbabweans left the country to neighboring South Africa and Botswana in search of greener pastures.
In Beitbridge, a Zimbabwean town bordering South Africa, an immigration officer on the South African side said: “The number of Zimbabweans crossing into South Africa has doubled since your country had elections last year.”
“About two months after the 2018 elections in Zimbabwe, we started recording over 800 Zimbabweans crossing into South Africa daily via the border; before, the figure of migrants from Zimbabwe was about 400 every day,” said the officer, speaking on condition of anonymity due to restrictions on speaking to the media
Company closures triggering migration
Indigenous Zimbabwean industrialists like Maynard Marembo, whose company recycles plastics, blame the renewed exodus on failing industries.
“Many people have lost their jobs owing to industries that have continued to shut down as they face perpetual operational challenges, and people losing their jobs are leaving the country in search of opportunities elsewhere,” Marembo told Anadolu Agency.
An immigration official at the Beitbridge border post, this time from the Zimbabwean side, speaking on condition of anonymity, rebuffed reports of a renewed exodus.
“We do not inquire from travelers where they are going to or from,” said the official.
“We cannot reveal how many people have left the country because there has been a continuous movement of people in and outside Zimbabwe.”
Up and until the 1990s, Zimbabwe was one of the wealthiest countries in sub-Saharan Africa, but over a decade later it became one of the world’s worst.
That has sent many Zimbabweans packing, according to human rights activists.
“Zimbabweans are anxious about the political and economic meltdown, with no answers from their leaders, which therefore is leading to the fresh exodus to neighboring countries as people seek better opportunities,” Okay Machisa, director of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights), told Anadolu Agency.