MANY people think that South Africa is a land of milk and honey, a place where dreams come true. But those dreams never come true for most people who make it into South Africa.
Most young people have good college qualifications and good work experience, but when they arrive in South Africa they end up working with picks as construction workers.
In Durban, a good friend of mine I first met in Maputo two years ago is digging the roads. He is a qualified teacher and desperately wants to get a job in education. All the CVs and the references are there, but the last time I saw him he was digging a pavement in the city centre.
In this part of the world, people have historically migrated from north to south ever since diamonds and gold were discovered on the rand some two centuries ago.
When Zimbabwe gained Independence in 1980 and for the next 20 years it enjoyed a stable period of growth that created a reasonably well-educated middle class of skilled professionals. This middle class consisted of teachers, technicians, nurses, drivers, government workers and so on.
However by 1999 Zimbabwe’s fortunes were turning: production declined, unemployment spiralled, political instability rocked the country and the north-south migration between Zimbabwe and South Africa rose to new highs.
So while many Zimbabweans trek down south for a variety of reasons but mainly a better standard of life, the reality is far different.
In Zimbabwe this north-south migration that has depleted the country’s once admired middle class is described as a brain drain; A haemorrhage bleeding the country of its vitality.
One of the good things to come out of the migration of Zimbabweans to other parts of the world is the experience of living in another country. Countries that have a significant segment of their population that has lived in other countries testify to higher economic growth, development and entrepreneurship among the young.
A good example of the merits of international exposure is the American Peace Corps programme. Every year the programme encourages its young people to spend some years in other countries before they settle down to life in business or government.
Migration has given a segment of the Zimbabwean population experience and exposure on the international scene. As the migration patterns that have characterised the gradual depletion of Zimbabwe’s middle class and the collapse of the agriculture sector as epitomised by tobacco, the current migration patterns also indicate the rise of a new diaspora economic class that repatriates foreign currency back home.
Apart from repatriating foreign currency this new section also compensates financially for the monetary vacuum created by the collapse of tobacco production, for instance, which used to account for significant foreign currency earnings for Zimbabwe.
So maybe the migration patterns that have characterised Zimbabwe over the past 10 years, not only in relation to South Africa and neighbouring countries but others far afield, should not necessarily be seen in the context of disadvantages but as opportunities.
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