Re-thinking and re-debating the Zimbabwean Diaspora.
By Takura Zhangazha.
There are many Zimbabweans that are no longer resident in the country for many reasons. It is now generally agreed that it was mainly the political and economic crisis of the late 1990s through to present day that caused their phenomenal exodus into the Southern African region, Europe, North America, the Australian subcontinent, North America and the Middle East . The overall effect of this emigration in Zimbabwe has been fundamentally the weakening of the state’s popular legitimacy via the process of its own citizens seeking better lives in foreign countries, particularly with regards to better employment opportunities, social service provision and the enjoyment of human rights.
The effect of this emigration on Zimbabwean domestic society, as documented by international non-governmental organizations, the media and academics, has been equally phenomenal. And because it has been almost fifteen years since the massive exodus of Zimbabweans began, it is necessary for us to place into perspective what the Diaspora means for those that constitute it and to those that are still in Zimbabwe.
To begin with, the Diaspora is a Zimbabwean political, social and economic reality no matter how many times the government seeks to deny it the right to vote, dual citizenship or easy access to passport renewals and applications. Further still, it is an established fact that the Diaspora helped the country through its worst post independence economic crises via remittances to relatives and friends at home. Even the government tried to take advantage of these remittances by setting up schemes such as the now somewhat forgotten ‘Homelink’ and allowing a thriving parallel money market in the mid 2000s and onwards.
In this regard, the Zimbabweans citizens who were and have been in the Diaspora over the last fifteen or so years were part of the solution to the country’s economic crisis of that time, even though they may not view it that way. They were also new standard bearers of societal ambition and living the potentially full or ‘good life’ as it were due to the fact that it became a common Zimbabwean standard for its young and middle aged citizens to aspire to leave their country of birth. This equivalent of the ‘bright-lights’ syndrome affected all of us in the early 2000s and at some point every young adult Zimbabwean considered the option of following relatives in other parts of the world.
For others still, other peoples countries proved too difficult to live or find work in permanently but they retained opportunities such as cross border trading and the buying and selling of manufactured products (clothes, car parts, basic commodities) to the extent that they added a new dimension to ‘Diaspora’ that also now included it being considered a status of being ‘in-between’ countries.
But what primarily concerns this article is the issue of the more or less ‘permanent’ Diaspora. I call it ‘permanent ‘because most of the colleagues and fellow citizens I have talked to have stated that they have no particular intention to come back to Zimbabwe on a permanent basis. They will occasionally come to visit, attend the odd wedding or funeral, but after all is said and done, will never come back to call Zimbabwe home in the manner they did before they left. This is because a number have since either acquired permanent resident status or citizenship in their host countries or are too committed to trying to get either to rule out the possibility of a permanent and voluntary return to Zimbabwe.
Taking into account the above cited issues, the citizens that are still resident in Zimbabwe together with the government need to seriously begin to look at the bigger picture of how to re-intergrate the Diaspora into our society. This would entail understanding our fellow citizens that are resident in other countries holistically and not just for their ability to be able to cast a ‘vote’ in favour of one or the other political party. We must begin to consider the necessity of starting a new ‘big debate’ on this very important national matter if we are to retain some semblance of loyalty from those that have left our borders permanently of the new generations of Zimbabweans that have ties with us, even though they have been born or have grown up abroad.
A few pointers as to how this debate can be begun is by zeroing in on the policies of our ministries of Foreign affairs, Home Affairs, Finance and that of Labour and Social Welfare, not only about dual citizenship, but also about initiating a formal and broad consultative process about the concerns of the Diaspora vis-à-vis their country of birth. This includes a review of the economic investment mechanisms that the previous government had put in place, the establishment of a retirement/pension plan for the Diaspora as well as family intergration and responsibility social welfare unit to ensure that families left behind are not exposed to the vagaries of poverty and societal abuse. And these consultations must be underpinned by the truth that Zimbabwe values all of its citizens wherever they are, and is actively seeking to invite them back. Primarily because, it is indeed their country too.