ZIMBABWE NEEDS THE DIASPORA, THE CROCODILE JUST SCARED IT OFF
THE SILENT MAJORITY
There is a group of people who have been watching this Zimbabwean election closer than many international observers. A group of people with on the ground sources they can rely on for first hand information. There is a group of people who were watching this election because it determines their next moves directly. Whether they should use their savings, whether they should quit their jobs. Whether they should finally go back to the place they love.
They saw the army rolling into the major cities on Tuesday. They saw the same army shooting at civilians like it was target practice. They heard the reports from family members in the township about army brutality there. They are on the whatsapp groups were reports of military brutality have continued over the weekend.
I am talking about the Zimbabwean diaspora.
This is a group of people who never left Zimbabwe because of gypsy feet. Many left because of a fear of persecution for speaking out against Mugabe and his regime. A regime whose enforcer was Mnangagwa. Many left for pragmatic reasons. There were no more jobs for physicists and molecular biologists. There were no more good salaries for high skilled professionals. So they packed their bags and went off, first to the U.K, then the U.K changed their visa laws when too many Zimbabwean Nurses and Doctors showed up on their shores. The diaspora in droves then moved to Canada, USA and even Australia.
Those who could not go so far went as far as they could. Zambia, Namibia, Botswana, South Africa. Maths and science teachers easily obtained work permits, people with special skills. Degrees in all sciences, PhDs , Engineering graduates. Finance graduates. They all got critical skills visas. They are serving South Africa today. Teaching, nursing, modelling complex algorithms, engineering complex infrastructure projects. Running massive Universities and faculties.
Those who could not get a study permit or a legal work permit eventually took the morally ambiguous path. They illegally crossed the border. They are working on South African farms for less than the minimum wage. They are working in SA restaurants for no wages, they only earn a living from tips. They are working in white suburbia for way less than the minimum wage. They are pushing trolleys outside Makro. Some are begging on the streets. We all know this. There are millions of Zimbabweans amongst us. They had the choice of starvation or xenophobia. They chose to take their chances with xenophobia and the police. This is not the kind of life that one chooses lightly, it's a decision made out of desperation, out of a need to survive.
We have so many Zimbabwean in SA that we have made special provisions for the super talented in the field of sports, arts and culture . The late Simba Mbhere on top billing. Peter Ndoro who graces our news screens daily. South Africa even made a special plan for the Beast. Fast tracking his citizenship so that he could become a Springbok. There is a long list of rappers and Kwaito artists who are part of that artistic and cultural diaspora. Soccer players you name it.
The diaspora voted long ago with their feet. Many tried to fight Mugabe but realised the futility, the 2002 election was rigged. So was the 2008 election. Blatant rigging with no respect for the intelligence of the highest educated nation in Africa. The state media was a propaganda machine, the police suppressed human rights. People disappeared in the night. Corruption was rampant, billions were going missing. State Capture claim in South Africa are amateur hour in comparison to what was happening in Zimbabwe. A military mafia had seized the purse strings of the state and was making Zimbabweans an offer they could not refuse and live. If you dared shout pay back the money you would go missing forever like Itai Dzamara and so many others. It’s no wonder the diaspora voted with their feet.
Many in the Zim diaspora hoped to return shortly. There were so many popular songs in that time. Roy and Royce (bubbly twins with amazing education, I think they were engineers ) had one called “Andirege” a promise from a lover that once he had made some money and things were fine he would return hope. There was another one by the late MC Villa (Zim rapper names are a subject for another day) called “Unodzoka here Mudiwa”, a lover asking her partner whether he would return after going to work overseas. His assurance was that he would be right back. These songs captured the mood of the people. One which could be summarised in one statement “I GOTTA GET OUT OF HERE”. Zimbabwe had become the sunken place. The diaspora sent money home, they invested in building projects with great faith that the situation was temporary. They even accepted menial jobs in their overseas destinations because they anticipated a short stay.
As the condition turned from being an acute one to being a chronic one the diaspora reevaluated their bets on Zimbabwe. Many of those ambitious building projects stopped. Less money started trickling into Zim, many of them started removing their children and relatives. Many started building lives elsewhere. Rather be a maid in the UK with a good standard of living than be unemployed in a country with no currency, no working hospitals, no power and no clean water. Every five or six years this community gets hopeful again, they still harbour dreams of going back home, maybe retiring in Zimbabwe. They still remember the peaceful and blissful days of Zimbabwe. After all is said and done. There is still no place like home.
So they watch the elections like hawks, the gobble up every news article, every interview. They speak to their childhood friends and do robust analysis of the prospects of the country and their future in it.
The diaspora would have loved to be part of this ahistorical vote. However the Zanu PF made all manner of excuses to prevent this from happening. Even if there is precedent for it. They claimed there was no money even when there were multiple donors willing to fund the vote. Zanu PF knew very well that the millions of voters living in the diaspora would not support them. They have seen what a functional state looks like, they know what it means to have service delivery, working schools, decent housing and a functional economy. They know what a free media looks like and they know how far from the mark Zimbabwe is from all of those things.
While Zanu PF may have denied the diaspora the right to vote, the diaspora remains the most important vote for the future of the country. You see everyone talks about the need for foreign investment to improve the country, very few people realise the most important investment actually is the diaspora investment. Foreign investment, the kind that is being pursued by Mnangagwa will most likely be mining investment. These companies are coming in to resume mining business. That investment will likely not ever make it to the street, firstly most of it will end up in the pockets of the Zanu elite, secondly mining companies pay very low wages and while more people may be employed in those mining areas, there will be a small bump in disposable income. To top it all up, if the investment is coming from China, it comes in the form of a loan, or they use their own people for the infrastructure projects. You get the road but not the job creation, and the only reason why the Chinese are willing to build roads and ports for African states is not out of benevolence of their hearts, it's because they want to quickly get the mineral resources out of the country, they need good roads to do that.
The diaspora investment is the one that is most likely going to create an economic revival. Firstly if enough people in the diaspora are convinced that Zimbabwe is now safe, free and governed well, they will return with their critical skills. There are so many brilliant Zimbabweans working for top tech firms and fortune 500 companies who have the skills to restructure the Zimbabwean economy. They were chased away by the Zanu PF which did not want ‘clever blacks’ questioning its methods. More than skills though the diaspora has income it could use to create jobs and economic demand that the country is lacking. The building of new homes could begin in earnest again, creating demand for cement, electricians, plumbers, painters etc. This kind of purchasing power and job creation is likely to really be the key to stimulating the Zimbabwean economy.
However this diaspora investment injection is unlikely to happen in the wake of last week's electoral process. The MDC has clear grounds for contesting the Presidential race results where a runoff was avoided by about 300 000 votes. The result is too narrow to ignore the bias of the ZEC, the concerns about V11 form irregularities and the stuffing of ballot boxes in some rural areas. Furthermore the confidence of the diaspora in a reformed Zimbabwe is totally removed when considering the actions of the President and his military backers. Mnangagwa ordered the army to respond to a civilian protest, something they are not empowered to do in law, in addition he instructed that army to use live ammunition. over 10 people have been confirmed dead and 100’s injured. It was 2008 all over again. Why would the engineer in the UK return to a military state when they can live in the UK. The reports of abuse in the township of political activists and MDC members by a retaliatory army are consistent and another red flag for anyone in the diaspora.
When all is said and done, this election has been like every other one and more Zimbabweans in the Diaspora are writing the country off for good. They are now assimilating into the nations they only intended to visit for a short while.
There is no new dawn only new darkness. Welcome to the age of the Crocodile.