Guest Column

Zuma, help Zimbabwe help you

2017-03-07 10:54

Whitlaw Mugwiji

According to Africa Check, the number of Zimbabweans living in South Africa cannot be substantiated. The official figures have loads of discrepancies and data widely circulated in different publications is quite unreliable with estimates ranging from 1 to 2 million. However, all those publications agree that Zimbabweans constitute the largest group of foreigners living in South Africa.

Every Zimbabwean has a relative or a friend living either legally or illegally in South Africa. Hence, when xenophobia rears its ugly head in Africa’s largest economy, it’s natural for Zimbabweans to be very worried.

I am sure we all know migration across the Limpopo river from both sides began time immemorial. However, the magnitude of this one-sided migration from Zimbabwe to South Africa is centred on the political crisis bedevilling our country.

Yes, that very same crisis that Thabo Mbeki once famously denied when answering a question on Zimbabwe. "What crisis, there is no crisis in Zimbabwe," he thundered unashamedly. Comrade sir, you must at least now acknowledge that there is a crisis in Zimbabwe, which has led our people to your country in droves.

Migration of such magnitude was bound to create social challenges to any nation, let alone a nation already experiencing challenges with unemployment, poverty and income inequality. We have seen the marginalised scapegoating foreigners in the United States and many other European countries. The immigrant is always the easy target. He/she is guilty for either perpetuating crime or simply stealing jobs.

What is rather unfortunate in the South African case is that people chose to express their frustrations through violence, by destroying other people’s livelihoods and property. They set houses on fire and looted shops in parts of Johannesburg and Pretoria. With the previous violence against immigrants in mind, we are at least happy that no life was lost.

Lack of political will to tackle the real problems

There is clearly a lack of political will in South Africa to deal boldly with the underlying causes of poverty and income inequality. Therefore, Herman Mashaba’s careless utterances against foreigners were hardly surprising. What surprised me though, was that the DA, which acts like the paragon of virtue in the South African body politic, decided to take no action against its mayor for his xenophobic utterances.

But I should not have been surprised, politics takes precedence over principle. Those responsible for xenophobia are obviously dissatisfied citizens and it would not make political sense to criticise potential voters.

The South African president did a much better job issuing a statement, calling on all South Africans not to blame all foreigners for crime, however he appeared to endorse the view that illegal immigration was threatening South African jobs.

In agreement to that belief was Mario Khumalo who registered an explicitly xenophobic political party called South African First. He is promising to expel all foreigners once he gets into power. Not wanting to be left behind, the government has moved swiftly, adopting measures to flush out immigrants without proper documentation. There is certainly a rise in the anti-foreigner sentiments and the sooner the immigrant gets used to this the better. This is South Africa’s new norm.

Whilst this trend is a cause for concern, the immigrant must note that a majority of South Africans are decent human beings. It is just unfortunate that those at the bottom of the ladder, facing the brunt of economic challenges are being misled into believing that all their problems will disappear once immigrants leave.

Help us help you

Without sounding ungrateful to South Africa which has housed so many Zimbabweans and other migrants from across the continent, we expect the South African government to candidly tell the Harare administration that its actions are having a negative impact on South Africa and other neighbouring countries. You have a moral obligation to help us salvage this situation. If not for the sake of the ordinary Zimbabweans, then for your own country’ sake, have the courage to speak truth to power. Tell your revolutionary comrade the truth, he has reduced the once bread basket of Africa into a basket case.

All we are pleading for is for you to help us help you resolve this immigration headache. Whilst we acknowledge that our nation has been a major contributor to this problem, we strongly believe that your administration can do much more for the people of Zimbabwe. Your country has leverage over Zimbabwe and we are not asking you to exercise that power irresponsibly, but to guarantee the people of Zimbabwe free and fair elections next year. For as long as Mugabe continues to steal elections, Zimbabweans will continue trekking down South with or without proper documentation.

And to all of us Zimbabweans living in the diaspora, occasions like these attacks on immigrants must remind us that we are simply strangers in foreign lands. We must do whatever can to rebuild our country, rebuild a Zimbabwe we can all be proud to live in. And for those in the near diaspora, it’s the little things like sacrificing time and money to go back home to register as voters that will make a huge difference next year.

Comarade Jacob Zuma, help us help you.  

- Whitlaw Mugwiji is a Zimbawean political analyst for Khuluma Afrika.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

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