Political, social and economic crisis in Zimbabwe have resulted in a significant increase in migration since 2003 and the rise of a Zimbabwean diaspora. The 2018 elections, however, are a moment when things can begin to change for the better.
By Tendaishe Tlou
The social, economic and political crisis in Zimbabwe has long been in the spotlight, however the dynamics around the actual problem has changed since the controversial 2002 land reform programme, sanctions in 2003 and the accompanying eco-political decomposition. This has seen a significant increase in migration since 2003 and rise of a Zimbabwean diaspora. As the Zimbabwean crisis escalated, so there were incidences of violent xenophobic attacks directed towards foreigners, especially in South Africa and to some extent Botswana. However, notable and positive outcomes of the crisis in Zimbabwe include the dollarization of the economy and, most importantly, the drafting of a new and people-driven constitution in 2013; a landmark achievement. Nevertheless, progress in Zimbabwe has been inconsistent. Fortunately, the 2018 elections provide an opportune moment to hold the government to account and to mobilise support for solidarity and transparency.
Since 1980, the government of Zimbabwe has a long and unchecked history of failing to uphold its own constitution. The 1980 Lancaster House Constitution was amended 19 times. The new 2013 Constitution is yet to be fully implemented and the government is reluctant to align itself with the laws of the land. Citizens’ basic human rights, enshrined in the Constitution, are not been protected, whilst there remains a general reluctance to facilitate inclusive participatory governance. Economic decay and acute human rights abuses have forced many Zimbabweans, especially skilled and unskilled youths, to legally and illegally migrate to neighbouring countries such as Namibia, Tanzania, DR Congo, but mostly to South Africa and Botswana (there are some 0.5m illegal immigrants from Zimbabwe in South Africa). Past elections in 2000, 2002, 2005 and 2008 were marred by violence, intimidation and allegations of rigging. Studies have indicated that the perpetrators of violence have mainly been youths, while politicians remained the big beneficiaries of the electoral process.
There has been increased police brutality in clamping down protests and demonstrations claiming rights and freedoms, especially the freedom of association and expression. This has further paralysed democratic progress and has intensified the fear of the state. As a result, Zimbabweans are leaving their country in pursuit of greener pastures, peace and prosperity. A commitment to constitutionalism has been lacking and vast human rights abuses have been on the rise.
Empirical evidence shows that when there is an on-going conflict within a country, or if people constantly live under fear, the easiest option is leaving that country, which most Zimbabweans have opted to do. The majority of people who are displaced or forced to migrate due to internal conflict are civilians, not the elite or middle class who benefit from the system. Ordinary Zimbabweans are the ones who are directly-affected and bear the brunt of violence which also has deep seated implications on the economic stability of Zimbabwe. On the one hand, millions of artisans, teachers and researchers among other academics have left; a massive brain-drain and loss of experienced personnel. On the other, millions of Zimbabweans who are also unskilled have also left and are seeking greener pastures in informal sectors of SADC countries such as farms, restaurants, construction, and shops, which has brewed a bitter ‘war’ with nationals, especially in South Africa, where we have seen xenophobia.
Xenophobia, South Africa and the SADC region
In 2005, the world witnessed the degeneration of migrants-nationals relationship into a vicious confrontation in South Africa. In June 2015 and February, 2017 another spate of xenophobic violence broke out in Pretoria and Johannesburg leaving many foreign nationals homeless, stranded and displayed. Most Zimbabweans living in South Africa left Zimbabwe due to political persecution, and those who left are quite reluctant to come back because of fear.
However, 2018 can be described as a watershed moment for Zimbabwe because of the uncertainty surrounding the elections. Usually, Diasporans look to elections as a moment when things can change for the better. For those fatigued by staying in a foreign country, it is a moment which brings hope of going back home. Nonetheless, if the impending election is mishandled, it means that the Zimbabwean crisis will be here until 2023 and most hopes for the Diasporans will be dampened. If nothing changes in 2018, more Zimbabweans will migrate to foreign countries, especially the youth who are educated and constantly in search of new opportunities. Zimbabwe’s neighbouring countries will be laden with the responsibility to take care of immigrants, followed by more xenophobic violence and an aggravated refugee crisis. Ultimately, the SADC region is rocked with more violence and robbed of its skilled labour to other countries, which will stall development.
Recommendations for a way forward
- The SADC bloc should put in place an effective monitoring and evaluation mechanism and take it upon itself to monitor the Zimbabwe 2018 elections diligently, without fear or favour. Otherwise, it is SADC member nations which will incur the refugee crisis and xenophobic violence. It is high time that SADC Heads of States show solidarity for the people of Zimbabwe not fellow Presidents. SADC can learn and follow in the footsteps of ECOWAS which isolated and forced the former Gambian and Ivory Coast Presidents to step down after refusing to cede power after an electoral defeat, something which could have been done in Zimbabwe in 2008.
- The international community should push for the long overdue electoral and security sector reforms in Zimbabwe which have been stalled since the GNU in 2009. If there are no the much needed electoral reforms in Zimbabwe, the 2018 election might as well be declared a disaster. To the citizens of Zimbabwe, it is still not clear what the Biometric Voter Registration is, how it will be implemented and the time frame in which it will be operational. Those living in the rural areas fear that their fingerprints will be collected and used for other things such as surveillance for who they voted for. Therefore, it is the role of international bodies such as the UN, E.U and the government of Zimbabwe to demystify such issues and influence all stakeholders in Zimbabwe to play their roles in the implementation of structural electoral and security reforms before the 2018 elections.
- The youth should register and vote in their numbers so that they exercise their rights but most importantly secure ‘A future they want’. Youths should not be repeatedly used as tools of violence but should play a crucial role in deciding who they want to rule the country and making the leadership accountable, but peacefully of course.
- The Diaspora must return home to register and vote. It is of utmost importance that the Diaspora also plays its part in exercising their voting rights and ensuring that they also eliminate public engagement apathy from people living outside Zimbabwe. Every vote counts.
Tendaishe Tlou is a freelance researcher and writer specialising in Human rights, Environment security, International law/relations, Peace and Governance issues. He is in possession of a BSc (Honours) Degree in Peace and Governance with and a Post-graduate Certificate in Applied Conflict Transformation. He is also an affiliate member of and article contributor to the Drums of Change, Young African Leaders Forum (YALF), Zimbabwe Solidarity Forum (ZSF) and the Global Coalition for Conflict Transformation. These are his own opinions; no other person/organisation should be implicated in his arguments.
The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect those of TransConflict.