HARARE – After a period of relative calm and stability that obtained in the country during and just after the government of national unity era, desperate Zimbabweans are once again stampeding out of the country, mainly to South Africa, as the country’s economic decline escalates.
Well-placed sources in Pretoria told the Daily News yesterday that South Africa had become very concerned again about developments in Zimbabwe, after witnessing an upsurge in both legal and illegal migration to the country from its troubled northern neighbour over the past few months.
“We are very worried (about Zimbabwe) because there has been a resurgence of the flood of people coming to our country since towards the end of last year, which we had thought was now a problem of the past.
“The difference this time, of course, is that none of the migrants are citing political violence, with virtually all of them saying they are just looking for opportunities to make a living and also look after their families because of the economic difficulties in Zimbabwe.
“The problem is that our people are also suffering from growing unemployment, particularly among the youths, which could, again, trigger the ugly spectre of xenophobia which we had to deal with a few years ago,” a Home Affairs official said.
Another official said while, traditionally, there were more people from Matabeleland trooping to South Africa, there were now “overwhelmingly more Shona-speaking people” pouring across the border to Mzansi in search of a better life.
“A colleague of mine was in fact making a joke the other day that our government might as well declare Shona the country’s 12th official language given that wherever one goes across the country these days, from Messina to Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town, one gets to meet Shona-speaking people everywhere,” he said.
But Zimbabwean border officials say it’s not only South Africa that is bearing the brunt of the country’s deepening economic crisis, as other neighbouring States such as Zambia, Botswana and Namibia are at the receiving end as well.
Immigration officials at Chirundu Border Post (between Zimbabwe and Zambia) and Plumtree (Zimbabwe and Botswana) told the Daily News that they were now dealing with more traffic since the beginning of this year — with many Zimbabweans crossing into the two neighbouring countries to work.
It has also been reported recently that Zimbabwean nurses are flocking to Namibia, whose health sector is said to be on a massive recruitment drive, and where nurses can expect to earn up to R30 000 a month.
This emigration is despite the fact that health watchdog; Citizens Health Watch (CHW), recently revealed that Zimbabwe was facing an acute shortage of specialist nursing skills such as midwives.
Zimbabwe is facing massive food shortages reminiscent of the 2008 hyper-inflationary era, as the country battles a worsening cash crisis that analysts blame on President Robert Mugabe and Zanu PF’s poor economic policies.
A survey conducted by the Daily News showed that the prices of many basic foodstuffs had recently risen by at least 20 percent, while supermarkets had begun imposing a limit on the quantity of basic goods that individuals can buy, as Zimbabwe’s economy continues to die.
For example, a two-litre bottle of cooking oil, which was going for an average of $2,99, is now retailing for up to $3,60 — while foreign cooking oil brands have vanished from the country’s supermarket shelves altogether.
United Refineries chief executive, Busisa Moyo, told the Daily News that cooking oil shortages that were being experienced in the country were due to delays in payments to raw material suppliers.
“We are very concerned about the issue because payments are not being prioritised and payments are not going through fast enough despite the fact that we are in the top 10 of the central bank’s Import Priority list,” he said.
Moyo also noted that cooking oil producers were anticipating a 30 percent slump from the current 8 000 to 10 000 metric tonnes being produced, due to the cash shortages.
Oil Expressers Association of Zimbabwe (OEAZ) president, Sylvester Mangani, echoed Moyo’s sentiments at a ministry of Industry meeting last week, saying the situation — if it continued unabated — would lead to a serious shortage of the commodity.
Disgruntled citizens interviewed by the newspaper said they were now resorting to hoarding most basic commodities in preparation for the looming food shortages.
Zimbabwe, which is battling an economic recession after failing to register significant growth since 2013 when Mugabe and Zanu PF romped to a hotly-disputed election victory, is in economic turmoil after the central bank introduced a raft of measures to deal with the cash shortages last month, including limiting daily cash withdrawals.
The May 4, 2016 measures that included a proposal to introduce bond notes have seen depositors embarking on panicky withdrawals, fearing a return of the discredited Zimbabwe dollar.
Analysts who have spoken to the Daily News have said the cash crunch manifested “the sad reality” that Zimbabwe’s economy was continuing on its catastrophic downward spiral — a consequence of the country’s decades-old political crisis that is widely blamed on Mugabe and Zanu PF.
In a surprising recent admission, a Zanu PF politburo member concurred that the country was “in dire straits” — a sentiment that flew in the face of official communiqués by both government and other governing party officials who incredulously continue to claim that all is well in the country despite obvious evidence to the contrary.
The bigwig also said “burying our heads in the sand like ostriches as we are doing” is not helping the country — adding that it “pained” him to see so many Zimbabweans suffering to the extent that they were doing.
“It is a fact that the economy is in a very bad shape, and that the poor are being particularly hard-hit. I think part of the way out of this is for all of us to admit that the country is in dire straits so that we can all sit down as Zimbabweans to find the requisite solutions.
“I feel pained to see so many of our people, particularly the poor in towns and rural areas having to make do with so little or nothing, and they have lived like this for so long.
“In fact, many young people who are under 25 years in our country don’t really know a good, normal life. It’s time for us to stop the denial.
“We need to rise above the culture of petty political fights that is now a permanent feature of Zimbabwean life,” the contrite politburo member said.
Most political and economic observers have warned that 2016 will, in all likelihood, be harder all-round compared to 2015, which was itself generally described as an annus horribilis (horrible year).
They said there was “little hope” that life would get better for most Zimbabweans, and that if anything, the country’s ailing economy would get sicker, while the deadly factional and succession wars ravaging Zanu PF would worsen.