Xenophobia: The Morning After the Zimbabwe Crisis.


The crumbling of Zimbabwe’s economy with no seeming end in sight has seen a mass exodus of its citizens into neighbouring African countries and a number of western capitals. The mass emigration of Zimbabweans had far reaching socio-economic ramifications in the recipient countries. The country that has borne the brunt of the Zimbabwean Diaspora is South Africa, where an estimated 3 million Zimbabweans are thought to be living and eking for a living. Other neighbouring countries such as Botswana, Namibia, Mozambique and Zambia have also had a fair share of the burden of housing Zimbabwean immigrants, sometimes having some societal insurrection here and there. But it is in South Africa, where these societal insurrections have been so stark and gruesomely violent, leading to the loss of human lives as the fight between black South Africans and African foreigners intensify. The fact that the xeno-insurrection have been starker in South Africa is no accident at all, but a consequent of the economic history of Southern Africa. The regional economy was structured in a way that it had two centers of commerce with a very limited labour capacity. With the collapse of the Zimbabwean economy, this meant the South African economy became the destination of choice for Zimbabweans who are in search of both a political and economic sanctuary. Therefore, the xeno-insurrections in South Africa have to be read as a morning after the Zimbabwe crisis.


Guy Mhone’s Warnings: Lest We Forget


Guy Mhone, the late Malawian political economist, warned about the limitations of Southern Africa’s economy, in particular, its economics of enclavity with low labour absorptive capacity. If we are to understand, the current Xenophobia/Afrophobia violence; Mhone cautions us to return to political economy and seek the answers. Mhone argues that, the Southern African Economy was built on the basis of a capitalist economy with two centres of commerce but very limited labour absorptive capacities. In Southern Africa, there emerged two islands of prosperity amidst a sea of poverty: Salisbury (Zimbabwe) and Johannesburg (South Africa). These two centres of commerce were symbolised by the Rhodesia Native Labour Board (RNLB) and the Witwatersrand Native Labour Association (WNLA), which were responsible for the recruitment and regulation of access to labour. The goal was to aid the accumulation of capital and service European interests and not those of Africans. Therefore, labour migration patterns became fashioned around mining, commercial agriculture and industrialisation whose development and survival strongly linked to these two main centres of commerce. Labour to service capital came as far as Nyasaland (now Malawi), Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia), Lesotho, Mozambique and at times Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe).


Hugh Masekela’s song ‘Stimela’, captures this history well:


There is a train that comes from Namibia and Malawi,

There is a train that comes from Zambia and Zimbabwe,

There is a train that comes from Angola and Mozambique,

From Lesotho, from Botswana, from Swaziland,

From all the hinterland of Southern and Central Africa.

This train carries young and old, African men

Who are conscripted to come and work on contract.

In the golden mineral mines of Johannesburg

And its surrounding metropolis…


These labour migration patterns continued after Zimbabwe achieved its independence in 1980 and even after the fall of apartheid in South Africa in 1994. Hence the famous cliché “we gave them the politics and remained with the banks”. Even for the South African blacks they have largely been proscribed to the Bantustan economies despite apartheid having “fallen” down 25 years ago, and only a limited number have been assimilated into the mainstream as workers and managers, and not owners of Capital. Therefore, Southern Africa’s economy, including, South Africa’s have remained unreformed and largely colonial despite the initiation of economic indigenisation policies and a black economic empowerment programme.


Neo-liberal Global Structural Adjustment and Fall of the Jewel of Africa


Pursuant to Mhone’s thesis, in a book, Crisis, Identity and Migration in Post-Colonial Southern Africa, co-edited with colleagues; Magidimisha, Chipungu, Khalema and Chimedza, we argue that the current ‘xeno-insurrections’ are a result of the political economy of enclavity in Southern Africa”. We further contend that this became further “exacerbated by the neo-liberal global structural adjustment programme and economic crisis in Zimbabwe”. The implementation of structural adjustment programme (SAP) in Zimbabwe after 1990, introduced a privatisation programme and open market economics that led to the de-industrialisation of the economy. The resultant was inducement of a crisis that bred into multiple crises that got worsened by the intervention in the unbudgeted Democratic Republic of Congo war, payment of ZWD50. 000.00 (equivalent to US$4,000.00) compensation to Zimbabwe’s liberation war fighters, (war veterans). This further got complicated after the inception of the Fast Track Land Reform Settlement Programme that compulsorily acquired white owned farms to settle historical injustice questions. At independence Zimbabwe was claimed to be a relatively industrialised country, but unbeknown or known to many was that this industrialisation was agro-based and with the attack on commercial agriculture by Fast Track Land Reform, so went down the economy.


The political and economic crisis that ensued saw Zimbabwe turning from a breadbasket to a basket case, thus losing the ‘Jewel of Africa’ status coined by then Tanzanian President, Julius Kambarage Nyerere. This meant the fall of the second center of commerce, leaving only Johannesburg to deal with the excess labour in Southern Africa. The end result was increased migration beyond the Limpopo River as Harare crumbled. Furthermore, in the same book, we argue that, “A confluence of social, economic and geo-political factors linked to migration continue to shape and inform belonging, citizenship and identities of communities in Southern Africa”. It is at this juncture, that the current xeno-insurrections have to be read as a consequence of the unreformed colonial and apartheid colonial economy that continues to exclude black people, but also got exacerbated by global neo-liberal structural adjustment programmes and eventual collapse of the Zimbabwean economy. Professor Francis Nyamnjoh in his article, Insiders and Outsiders: Citizenship and Xenophobia in Contemporary Southern Africa, also argues that contemporary migration patterns are ‘transnational’. Therefore, the current explosive concoction of social conflict being witnessed in South Africa are a confluence of the unresolved historical questions of the ‘unfinished business of independence’ and continued crisis in Zimbabwe.


The Unwanted Millions of Zimbabweans but Where to?


In April 2008, after a dispute over the announcement of the 2008 presidential elections results, after meeting President Mugabe, and quizzed by the media on the Zimbabwe crisis, President Thabo Mbeki had this to say:


"There is no crisis in Zimbabwe"…”I wouldn't describe that as a crisis. It's a normal electoral process in Zimbabwe. We have to wait for ZEC (Zimbabwe Electoral Commission) to release (the results),"…


What followed after was a bloody presidential election run-off campaign on the 27th of June 2008, where MDC candidate Morgan Tsvangirai had to withdraw after an orgy of terror was meted against his supporters by state security agencies and the army. This all happened under the watchful eye of South Africa and the region. Earlier on in 2002 President Mbeki, had ignored Justice Sisi Khampempe’s report on the 2002 presidential elections that raised alarm bells on the role of the security forces and violence it had unleashed on opposition supporters. In the same period, in August 2002, State Security Minister, Didymus Mutasa was even blunt with opposition supporters and was quoted saying:


"We would be better off with only six million people, with our own people who support the liberation struggle. We don't want all these extra people."


Indeed, true to its words, the government hounded its citizens out of the country, precipitating both a regional and international humanitarian and political crisis. This got no censure from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) or African Union (AU) as they became complicity, but the net effect was that the Zimbabwean crisis deepened.


A number of western capitals had also taken in the unwanted Zimbabweans but soon got weary and started to tighten the noose. This made South Africa the top destination followed by Botswana and Namibia, but with Johannesburg being the center of commerce and industry it became the new Eldorado. The emigration to South Africa intensified from 2005 as migration patterns of Zimbabwean migrants shifted from seeing South Africa as a place of temporary to permanent residence. Jonathan Crush, Abel Chikanda and Godfrey Tawodzera in their article, The Third Wave: Mixed Migration from Zimbabwe to South Africa argue:


The third wave (roughly from 2005 onwards) has seen a major shift away from circular, temporary migration of individual working-age adults towards greater permanence and more family and child migration to South Africa. Zimbabwean migrants no longer see South Africa as a place of temporary economic opportunity for survival but rather as a place to stay and build a future for themselves and their families.


To further get a grasp of the figures, in 2010 South Africa came up with a special exemption to regularise undocumented Zimbabweans and the department of Home Affairs received 294,511 applications. 242,731 were granted and 51,780 were either rejected or not finalised. The figures above represent more than half a million and any society experiencing such a significant number is bound to experience seismic shifts and rupture. Given that the Zimbabwe crisis is continuing unabated, South Africa will be the natural and easy destination for Zimbabwean migrants, given its proximity, a willing and corrupt border management agency and South African Police Services. However, this is a subject for another day and a voluminous treatise on its own.


Dr. Blade is Right, But!


At the 14th congress of the South African Clothing and Textile Workers Union, Dr. Blade Nzimande, South African Communist Party Secretary General fell short of hitting the nail on the head:


But, the fact of the matter is, we must stand up. African leaders must get their act together, such that they don't disappoint their country and people have to leave. As SA we cannot be able to absorb the result of all the problems that are made by leaders who want to loot their country and do not care about their own.


It would have been more poignant to say ‘Zimbabwean leaders’ rather than hiding behind the generic ‘African leaders’. What fell short in that speech was, calling a spade a spade and acknowledge the effects of the Zimbabwean crisis on the South African society. Resolving xenophobia may mean that it is time South Africa and SADC call out their Zimbabwean counterparts to sort out their mess. But this may be difficult as the official stance of the African National Congress (ANC) and South African government has been to ‘see and hear no evil’ of the Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (ZANU PF) because they consider them to be liberation comrades. President Mbeki at a memorial lecture for the late President Mugabe in Durban had this to say:


That is why many people of the world didn’t want him. For us, he was a fellow combatant and a leader who would never ever abandon our struggle for liberation… Blair said he did not get rid of Mugabe because it wasn’t practical since surrounding African countries showed lingering support for him and would have opposed any action… And indeed, we opposed it strenuously, because we are saying, the Zimbabwean people have a right to determine their own destiny.


Yes, the Zimbabwean people had to determine their destiny, but whenever they tried doing so they have been bludgeoned and terrorised, with South Africa preferring to downplay the issues. As long as the Zimbabwe crisis remains unresolved, South Africa will remain an automatic destination and the ‘trainloads’, ‘busloads’ and ‘footloads’, will keep coming. So, Dr. Nzimande whilst your calls are correct, your government’s foreign policy has not sought to promote stability in the so called ‘African countries’ (read Zimbabwe) and the old law adage is instructive: You cannot have your cake and at the same time eat it. It’s either we resolve the Zimbabwe crisis and reduce the burden on South Africa and the region, or the circus continues.


Tamuka Charles Chirimambowa is a (PhD Fellow University of Johannesburg)

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