By Byron Mutingwende
Terry Taona sits under the cool shade of the mango tree at his parents’ house in the Westlea Suburb of Harare, reading newspapers just after his return from South Africa where he had been an economic refugee for more than eight years.
“I left Harare to South Africa in January 2008, just two months before Zimbabwe’s harmonised elections of that time. Despite the then volatile political situation in the run-up to those elections, together with my friend John, we had begrudgingly left the country chiefly due to the biting economic hardships in the country in anticipation of green pastures in South Africa,” Taona said, pulling hard on his locally made Everest cigarette.
Taona revealed that he had left the country in a huff without the relevant travel documentation – by then a passport was beyond the affordability of many Zimbabweans who had been impoverished by the harsh economic environment.
“Most families could barely afford a single decent meal in Zimbabwe due to the galloping hyper-inflation that had been astronomical since 2006, a year after the infamous Operation Murambatsvina of 2005 that had seen hundreds of thousands of people losing their accommodation and backyard businesses in most towns and cities, let alone a passport,” Taona said, staring into the sky.
The lanky lad said that he had joined thousands of other youths who dodged Zimbabwe into South Africa through the Beitbridge Border post by bribing immigration officials who had connections with transporters commonly known as Amalayitshas.
According to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), more people are on the move today than at any other time in recorded history: 1 billion people – comprising a seventh of humanity.
IOM notes that a number of factors are contributing to an increase in migration. These are among others: climate change, natural and man-made catastrophes, conflict, the demographic trends of an ageing undustrialised population, an exponentially expanding youth population in the developing world and the widening North-South social and economic disparities.
In Johannesburg, South Africa, Taona’s hopes dissipated as soon as reality dawned on him that he had to grapple with finding accommodation and food first before he could gather the time and energy to look for employment.
“We went to Soweto – a cosmopolitan high density, shanty residential area in Johannesburg. The crime on the streets is frightening. I witnessed one youth drawing a gun from his pocket and pointed it to an elderly coloured lady before demanding her handbag and phone to which she sheepishly obliged. All this happened in the full-glare of the public who pretended not to have seen any anything. My heart pounded as I feared that my satchel, my only possession then, in which I had tucked the wallet with a few R100 bills would be taken in similar fashion,” Taona said.
The man added that he was lucky to escape that fate and had to go to a dingy flat, which he had to share with the other 10 youthful men from Somalia, Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Ghana for a R50 monthly rental.
He said that he had to carry his satchel with the few clothes he carried from Zimbabwe while looking for employment which, albeit, never came his way for more than a month.
“Finally, despite my degree in media and sociology, I finally agreed to go and work as a construction assistant of one of the guys from Zimbabwe who ran a tiling company in Johannesburg.
“I had no choice except to learn the tiling because that became my job for survival. After three moths, I managed to move to a better apartment but since then I have been in the construction sector up to last month when I returned home after I had successfully applied online for a job as a programmes officer at one of the civil society organisations in Harare,” Taona said.
Taona is among the estimated 3 million Zimbabweans living in the Diaspora. While a few people migrated for studying and greener pastures, many settled for menial jobs because back home, the economy has been on a tailspin for more than a decade. There was a bit of stability and economic rebound during the government of national unity that ran the country from 2009 to 2013 but this has since taken a nosedive after Zanu (PF) won the disputed 2013 elections. The situation has not been made any better by the devastating El-Nino drought that hit Southern Africa in 2015. Most Zimbabweans are now resorting to leaving the country to the Diaspora again to try and dodge the economic hardships on home-soil.
In his solidarity message at the film screening event, which will brought together a wide range of stakeholders in Zimbabwe, as part of a series of advocacy activities along the 65thanniversary of IOM, Clemence Vusani from the ministry of labour said that the government supports policy implementation related to providing care and support to migrants.
The film, which highlighted migration as a theme was meant to stimulate debate, and to help to change the perception of migrants in a positive way.
“Over the years, we realized that Zimbabwe has become a transit and destination country for refugees, asylum seekers and migrants primarily fleeing poverty, conflict, human rights abuses and serious economic challenges from other countries. Zimbabwe has not been spared as some of its people have moved to neighbouring countries to look for greener pastures,” Vusani said.
Vusani said that along the path of looking for greener pastures, some Zimbabweans had fallen victim to human trafficking.
In 2016, a total of 121 Zimbabwean women were trafficked to Kuwait. Through coordinated efforts, the Zimbabwean government facilitated the safe return of the women and working with IOM and other organisatioons, plans were underway to come up with income generating projects for the women.
“Our people have faced deportation as a result of not bearing official documentation. It is very unfortunate that part of the deported persons include children and in some instances unaccompanied. What relieves though as government is that after realizing the vulnerability of the deported persons, we have managed to set up mechanisms to ensure the safe return of the deported persons,” Vusani said.
IOM Chief of Mission to Zimbabwe, Lily Sanga, said the UN agency has grown from a focus on migrant and refugee resettlement to become the world’s leading inter-governmental organization dedicated to the well-being, safety and engagement of migrants.
“2016 has been a landmark year for migration. IOM and UN Member States grasped a historic opportunity to bring IOM into the UN system, giving a much-needed voice to migrants in the international community. And on 19 September, the United Nations hosted the first ever summit on refugees and migrants,” Sanga said.
Winston Matabela, the Director of Zimbabwe Community Development Trust (ZCDT) hailed efforts by IOM and its partners in addressing problems arising from the movement of persons across national borders.
Matablela thanked them for providing food aid to vulnerable communities, training selected beneficiaries in good agricultural practices, providing skills training in disciplines such as carpentry, building, welding, poultry, sewing, motor mechanics and hairdressing among others.