ZIMBABWE: Returning will take more than politics

Saturday, April 5, 2008

It is going to take more than a regime change back home to get the several million-strong Zimbabwean diaspora to return, according to analysts.

"It's both the economy and politics," said Mlamuli Nkomo, an expert in Forced Migration at the University of Witwatersrand, South Africa.

"There has to be change of government first, and the economy must be seen to be on the recovery path thereafter. Once these two are achieved, I think we will witness dozens of Zimbabweans flocking back to their motherland to restart their lives, and participate fully in their country's rebuilding processes," Nkomo told IRIN.

It is estimated more than two million Zimbabweans are living in South Africa, with another two million in the United Kingdom. As many as 45,000 Zimbabweans live in the United States of America, according to the US-based think-tank, the Association of Zimbabweans Based Abroad (AZBA).

Despite the hardships many face in their adopted homes, even being targeted by xenophohic attacks in South Africa, many would prefer to wait for an economic recovery in Zimbabwe. The almost dysfunctional economy has left Zimbabweans struggling with an inflation rate of more than 100,000 percent and widespread food shortages.

"I need to know if I can get a job that can give me a decent living wage before I go home," said Sibonginkosi Ndlovu,( not her real name) who works in a fast food outlet in South Africa. "I do not like South Africa, the crime is high, I do not feel safe and I'm always called a kwere-kwere (illegal immigrant). Zimbabwe is peaceful, people are friendly but the economy has to get going smoothly if I am to go back."
Professionals like Silas Dziike, a lawyer based in Johannesburg, would prefer to return if they are assured of a decent income. "Professionals will relocate and settle if there is an enabling environment," he said. "For example, doctors will go and work in Zimbabwe if they can get a decent wage and medicine is available in hospitals".

According to Nkomo, some Zimbabwean businessmen, who have the capital may want to return and invest in their country, but would continue to run their operations overseas. Those in well-paying jobs will also not return, at least not in the first 15 years of transformation, he said.

Skills needed

Dumaphi Mema of the think-tank, AZBA, said that Zimbabwe should retain its skilled workforce some day and rebuild. "The country has been robbed of brilliant minds in business, the health sector and many other crucial sectors of the economy.

"And should change happen, it is imperative that the skilled labor returns and take charge of the economy...It may take an effort to convince some people though," he said. "But I know there are people who are saving money in the diaspora who are dreaming of returning home to open up businesses when change comes."

A study in 2004 by the International Organisation of Migration found that the majority (82 percent) of Zimbabweans had arrived in the UK or South Africa with a qualification, of which 38 percent held a bachelor's degree or higher, 19 percent had a diploma in higher education and three percent had a professional qualification.

However, many in the UK and South Africa have had to take employment not commensurate with their skills or experience, and "an area of great concern is the effect on the skills base of this very highly skilled diaspora population of not being able to use their skills and qualifications" in their new country of residence.

This meant that "in future years, some Zimbabweans returning from the diaspora will return with a lower skills base than when they left."

"Given that many Zimbabweans in the diaspora are key workers in the education and healthcare professions, their emigration, and the evidence of deskilling, creates clear and obvious concerns for the longer-term future of Zimbabwe", the IOM study said.

But the drawing power of the foreign currency is going to govern decisions to return home. "I believe the mere fact that the British Pound is stronger than the Zimbabwean Dollar means some people would rather stay and work abroad even if things changed," said Nomalanga Moyo, a Zimbabwean journalist based in the UK. Moyo, who worked for Zimbabwe newspapers as a sub-editor before the papers' closure by government in 2003, and now works for a British tabloid.

"We have people here in the UK doing menial jobs that are faring well; they are fending for their hunger-stricken families back home while others have bought state-of-the-art properties with remittances," she said.