SINCE the July 31 general elections last year which again ushered in Zanu PF majority rule amid rigging accusations, Zimbabwe has been experiencing an upsurge in emigration as citizens flee a resurgent economic meltdown which has seen companies closing and retrenchments scaling alarming levels, resulting in thousands losing their jobs fuelling unemployment and poverty.
South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, Mozambique, the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States, among other countries, have for more than a decade become a sanctuary for Zimbabwe’s economic refugees and the trend is rising again after a reprieve during the coalition government era between 2009 and 2013.
A fortnight ago Zimbabwean and South African police retrieved bodies of 15 suspected border-jumpers who drowned while illegally crossing the crocodile infested Limpopo River which speaks to their desperation.
The bodies were found three kilometres east of the Old Limpopo Bridge in a cave inhabited by crocodiles.
Some of the bodies had missing limbs. Fourteen of the bodies were positively identified as Zimbabweans at Musina government mortuary in South Africa.
Economic problems and grim prospects remain a push factor for the hordes of Zimbabweans leaving the country.
There has been a substantial increase in the number of people leaving the country since President Robert Mugabe and Zanu PF came back to power, including through unofficial means.
A Beitbridge border immigration officer stationed at the South Africa-Zimbabwe border said this seek the number of Zimbabweans crossing into South Africa has almost doubled, although officials in Harare and Pretoria might be in denial.
“Our (South African) government commended the July 31 2013 election outcome in Zimbabwe anticipating better economic fortunes for Zimbabwe, but surprisingly more than two months after those polls we started recording over 700 Zimbabweans daily passing through the border into South Africa,” a South African immigration officer also said on condition of anonymity.
According to the officer, before the elections the figure was around 400.
But Assistant Regional Immigration Officer Francis Mabika refused to confirm the human flight saying: “We do not ask citizens where they are heading to and at the moment we cannot divulge how many people have left the country because there has been a constant movement of people in and outside Zimbabwe.”
Zimbabwe, which continues to struggle with deep-seated economic problems, has a large population outside the country mostly driven out by the social and economic difficulties. Although there are no accurate figures millions of Zimbabweans are said to have sought refuge in South Africa alone, making this Africa’s most extraordinary exodus from a country not in open conflict.
Since 2011 Botswana has deported more than 62 000 illegal immigrants from Zimbabwe. Botswana Labour and Home Affairs minister Edwin Batshu recently said in that country’s parliament that a total of 62 351 foreigners had been declared illegal immigrants and deported.
This was in stark contrast to 72 from South Africa; 20 from Nigeria and Zambia apiece, 16 Kenya and India each, with Uganda, Malawi, Namibia and Pakistan accounting for just 14 deportees.
South Africa deported more than 28 000 Zimbabweans through Beitbridge Border Post during the first half of 2013, mostly economic refuges.
The neighbouring country’s Home Affairs Department resumed the deportation of undocumented Zimbabweans on October 7 2011 after a two-year moratorium introduced through the Zimbabwe Documentation Process in April 2009 to allow undocumented locals living in that country a chance to formalise their stay by applying for residence and work permits.
Only 275 000 Zimbabweans applied to be regularised.
There is panic among Zimbabweans in South Africa after Pretoria recently indicated that it was tightening the permit system after cabinet approved new immigration measures.
However, this week the South African government urged Zimbabweans who acquired permits through the 2009 special dispensation to renew the documents as they are about to expire. South Africa’s ambassador to Zimbabwe Vusi Mavimbela was quoted as saying there was no reason reason for Zimbabweans panic.
During the inclusive government era there was relative economic stability although the economy did not grow at the expected rate due to liquidity problems, lack of implementation of agreed reforms, policy inconsistency and squabbling among coalition partners, among other factors.
The liquidity crunch has gradually worsened to become a serious economic impediment.
Bankers sad that close to US$1 billion was funnelled from Zimbabwe’s banking sector to offshore accounts in the run-up to the elections as political uncertainty gripped the economy, worsening liquidity conditions.
As a result the economy is reeling from a liquidity crunch and companies have collapsed while others have downsized leaving thousands of workers jobless.
Analysts say Zimbabweans’ renewed exodus to neighbouring countries is largely because of the worsening economic climate.
Okay Machisa, director of Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights), said the renewed exodus is a sign people are looking for an alternative.
“Zimbabweans are worried by the resurgent economic meltdown to which there have been no answers so far,” Machisa said adding: “There are disturbing company closures and the retrenched have to seek for a way to survive elsewhere including abroad because the country has no solution.”
Zimbabwe environmental lawyers association (Zela) finance officer Mukasiri Sibanda said the increasing emigration is a result of people deserting a sinking ship.
He also said “nothing notable is really changing in Zimbabwe; rather, life is becoming tougher since Zanu PF controversially romped to victory in the last elections. Some of the Zimbabweans who had begun to trickle back home are now heading back to neighbouring countries.”
“Zimbabwe is a sinking ship and no able-bodied individual can feel comfortable in such an environment and circumstances,” Sibanda said.
“Many are making an effort to swim to the shores although there is no guarantee they will escape safely. The social indicators show a decline because there are no jobs, hospitals lack drugs, water and sanitation is not improving and corruption is taking its toll hence the need to escape such a ship,” he said.
He added: “There are so many uncertainties and unanswered questions with respect to politics and direction of the economy.
It seems the Zanu PF government has no clue as to how to stop the downward spiral of the economy nine months after its controversial victory.”