AS Zimbabweans brace for crucial general elections next Wednesday, they will be joined by more than three million of their compatriots living abroad in the hope of a free and fair vote given that their futures are intrinsically tied to the outcome of the polls.
The last 13 years have seen a mass exodus of Zimbabweans to countries such as South Africa, the United Kingdom (UK), Australia and United States as economic and political refugees after the country’s political and economic crisis deteriorated at an alarming rate.
However, the hope is that a credible, free and fair elections may see a reversal of this migration. Ezra Sibanda, a former popular disc jockey on Radio 2 and an aspiring MDC-T MP for Vungu in the Midlands who was resident in the UK for more than a decade, said the desire among the diaspora to return is strong. “Everyone wants to come home,” said Sibanda.
“It’s not going to be about feeling pressure or being forced to return. The desire is there. Some are doctors, lawyers and politicians who want nothing more than to bring the experience they got overseas home,” he said.
Sibanda said this is different from a few years ago, especially 2009 when Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai embarked on a world tour pleading with Zimbabweans to return home and help rebuild the country but was met with open hostility in the UK.
“That was then” Sibanda said. “The attitude among Zimbabweans abroad has changed. In 2009 there was no new constitution and things were looking bleak. The way things are now; Zimbabweans are free to return.” However, some remain unconvinced. Ephraim Tapa, the founder and president of Restoration of Human Rights in Zimbabwe (ROHR), a UK-based rights organisation, said from what he has seen and experienced is that Zimbabweans do not want to come home, at least under current circumstances.
“The general feeling here is that elections so far have never been free and fair,” said Tapa.
“We have almost resigned ourselves to that fact (that elections will not be free and fair). Without the promised reforms, how can they be?”
Tapa said the decision to return is not about desire and a longing for home, but about opportunities.
“What are the programmes put in place to attract people in the diaspora? These are the things a new government would have to implement to rebuild Zimbabwe. For now, the situation as it stands is not conducive to that kind of confidence,” said Tapa.
With unemployment at around 85% and the economy still limping from the decade-long meltdown, both Sibanda and Tapa are agreed that the return of Zimbabwe’s exiles hinges on peaceful, free and fair elections.
“If the elections aren’t free and fair no one would risk coming back. It all depends on that,” Sibanda said.