It was just after losing the Constitutional Referendum held on February 12 and 13, 2000 that the current government went full throttle to rip apart what used to be a solid economy. They feared a looming major political defeat in the 2002 presidential election, judging by the outcome of the referendum.
So, they unleashed a reign of terror led by armed war veterans and youths causing violence, destruction and dismantling the commercial farming sector that was historically the mainstay of the economy.
Signs of an increasingly fragile economy were pulpable as early as mid-1990s, characterised by the major fall of the Zimbabwe dollar on November 14, 1997 — a day referred to as “Black Friday”, the labour movement-led mass industrial actions and the farm invasion by the people of Svosve in Mashonaland East.
The chaotic and violent land reform became the straw that broke the camel’s back sending millions of young people scouring for employment and economic opportunities overseas and into neighbouring countries. The economy on which they based their hopes and dreams was in a tailspin and was eventually decimated by Zanu PF.
Two decades after these events unfolded, it is still not clear how many millions of Zimbabweans are in the diaspora and neither has the economy improved nor the politics changed. Things are getting worse and more skilled young people are fleeing the country. Hopes for a diaspora return continue to diminish. This is a huge loss to the country.
During the early years of the mass exodus, mainly between the year 2000 and 2008, the majority of diasporas were still hoping to return once the situation improved. The same parents who sacrificed their assets to send their children to better schools, sacrificed more to buy tickets to enable the same children to fly overseas for greener pastures. The British pound and the US dollars were selling favourably on the local market so the little earned and remitted in the diaspora made a huge difference back home then. Some families recouped what they sacrificed while others were fed on empty promises. It is not easy out there.
In those 20 years, the losses are unquantifiable. Some shelved their educational qualifications to take whatever was on the overseas job market. A few more swallowed their pride and left high sounding, but less paying jobs in Zimbabwe to either return to study or take menial jobs just to sustain a respectable lifestyle in the diaspora.
Others reconfigured themselves from different professions into nurses mainly in England, a profession that absorbed a huge lot from Zimbabwe and other Third World countries. In doing so, families were left behind, separated and others eventually destroyed.
Some froze their plans, while others witnessed their savings back home being eroded by inflation. An unstable political and economic situation also meant a lot more has changed.
The local monetary environment has become increasingly flaccid and the remittances from meagre earnings in the diaspora no longer make sense as they used to between 2000 and 2008, putting some in a dilemma on whether to remit for investment back home or just for groceries. Either way, there are irreparable heartbreaks. The risk of losing investment and the lack of personal and family progress associated with it.
Our politics is giving no one any hope. This has thrust some in the diaspora into a major quandary mainly those who lived “temporary lives” with the hopes that one day they will return home.
This simply means instead of acquiring the necessary documentation to enable them to secure property, invest and take advantage of long-term opportunities in their countries of refuge, they had over the years remitted most of their earnings back home with a view to return one day. While there is no harm in investing back home, there is arguably greater gain in investing where one is settled, especially on account of not having guarantees of political and economic improvement back home.
The situation could be worse for refugee permit holders scattered across the globe, mainly whose status does not allow them to access gainful employment and have been surviving on host government or charity handouts.
While some of them can make ends meet, it is hard for them to make savings. This group is made up of both skilled and non-skilled people and again they also face various levels of dilemmas. Those who just recently crossed the border wish for the country to return to normalcy sooner than later so they can return and be economically productive.
But there is also another group of those who held asylum or refugee permits for decades who fear the embarrassing prospects of returning home empty-handed.
To understand their fears, one needs to picture this: There is a new crop of entrepreneurs in Zimbabwe who have mastered the art of “hustling” in a challenging economic environment. This generation of investors is largely made up of 30 year-olds, who were teenagers when the situation went on a tailspin in 2000. If the current state of the political and economic situation in the country continues, it will justify asylum or refugee permit holders’ continued stay in their country of refuge.
Whatever the case may be and no matter what justification one may give, these are crushed dreams. Let us hope for a better 2020 and beyond. We are tired of waiting in suspense.
Tapiwa Gomo is a development consultant based in Pretoria, South Africa. He writes here in his personal capacity.