IMMIGRANTS from the region, mainly Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique, contributed immensely to this country’s development and ensured that it became one of the most successful countries on the continent before it was ruined by inept leadership, poor policies and a narrow national project based on repression and exclusion of others — systematic marginalisation of other citizens and cultures.
This article was inspired by an opinion piece that appeared in the Zimbabwe Independent edition of April 30 2016.
The writer, Enock Muchinjo, who says he is of Malawian stock, narrates his personal experiences and observations with regards to the contribution made by immigrants of Malawian, Zambian and Mozambican origin to sport in Zimbabwe, particularly the country’s number one game, football. Muchinjo rightly points out that most prominent soccer teams were formed around mining towns and townships dominated by immigrants. Such teams, which became dominant in the past include Rio Tonto, Mangura, Hwange, Ziscosteel, Lancashire Steel and Eiffel Flats, among others.
Even Dynamos and other big teams have always been dominated by immigrants because they were the first to settle in townships and thus exposure to urban life and associated sports, particularly football. Highlanders also has had great players of immigrant origin.
Post-1923, mining took root as a key economic activity in Rhodesia following the referendum in August of the same year that confirmed the country as a sovereign state from South Africa.
This fresh focus on economic development driven by mining gave rise to increased demand for mining labour. As such there was an influx of migrant labour, mainly from Malawi and Zambia, which climaxed during the 10 years of the existence of the federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. The federation included Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi. The federation, also known as the Central African Federation, lasted between 1953 and 1963.
Hence, the bulk of immigrants in Zimbabwe today are from Malawi and Zambia. Mozambican immigrants are also there in large numbers. These formed the earlier urban dwellers, mainly in Harare and mining towns around the country. Bulawayo has its own fair share of residents or citizens who are descendants of immigrants from the region. Former Zambian president Rupiah Banda was born in a mining town around Gwanda in Matabeleland South, hence he is also Ndebele-speaking.
As revealed by the insightful WikiLeaks diplomatic cables quoting details of a US envoy’s meeting with Malawian Charge d’Affaires, Veronica Chidothe-Tasosa, on December 4 2010 at the Malawian embassy in Harare, the main function of Malawi’s mission in Zimbabwe is to look after the more than two million Malawians who reside in the country. Many of them work in agriculture and mining sectors and are descendants of people who relocated to Zimbabwe from the then Nyasaland when the region was under British colonial rule.
Chidothe-Tasosa told the US envoy that there are so many Malawians in Zimbabwe such that on the road in cities like Harare “every five people you meet, one is likely to be Malawian”.
Because of Malawi’s rules on citizenship, those who are born outside the country and did not establish a physical presence in the country before they reached the age of 22 are not entitled to nationality.
At the height of mass exodus by Zimbabweans to the United Kingdom post-2000, a lot of Zimbabweans of Malawian origin used their Malawian lineage to obtain Malawian passports which they used to travel to Britain and other countries. The major advantage that they enjoyed was that Malawian passport holders did not require a visa to enter the UK as the country is a member of the Commonwealth.
Zimbabwe and Malawi thus share a special bond. The late Malawian dictator Kamuzu Banda’s mistress, Cecilia Tamanda Kadzamira, is of Malawi origin. Kadzamira, who is also Shona-speaking, was fondly referred to as “Mama”, or “Mother-of-the-Nation” — the Grace Mugabe sort of thing.
She was born in Rhodesia and lived in Old Highfields in Harare where she attended school at Mbizi Primary. After her secondary education, she enrolled at the then Salisbury Central Hospital as a cadet nurse where she qualified and was briefly posted to Old Highfields Clinic. When her father, John Kadzamira, returned home to Malawi, as many other such families did, she joined Banda at his Limbe medical practice as a staff nurse.
The late Malawian president Bingu wa Mutharika was also married to a woman from Zimbabwe.
Malawi’s former Information minister Patricia Kaliati did not mince her words when challenged on the inappropriateness of a road in Malawi being named after President Robert Mugabe. She said if some countries had problems with Mugabe, that was their funeral. Malawi, she declared, had every right to choose its friends.
“Zimbabwe has been a friend of Malawi for a long time, and it is playing host to over five million Malawians,” she said. “If we quarrel with Mugabe, where will these Malawians go?”
Consequently, if what Kaliati said is true, it means one person out of every three Zimbabweans in this country is of Malawian origin. This might be a bit exaggerated, but it indicates that Zimbabweans with regional roots certainly number several millions.
Hence, what Muchinjo observed in his article about local football being dominated by descendants of regional immigrants is not surprising. Most famous footballers in Zimbabwe are progenies of immigrants. As Muchinjo said, your Joel Shambos, Shacky Tauros and Moses Chungas, among many others, are such sportsmen. They contributed a lot and made this country a good footballing nation, even if Zimbabwe has basically failed to make an impact in the region and Africa in football terms. It is way behind Zambia and South Africa in regional football terms.
However, it’s not only football where immigrants are prominent and excelled. They have also done well in music (nearly every serious sungura musician in Zimbabwe, for instance, Alick Macheso, Nicholas Zacharia or Sulumani Chimbetu, is of Malawian origin), business and politics. That is why even some chief rulers of this country are descendants of immigrants. It’s a shame most businessmen and politicians are not proud of their roots — at least in public — compared to musicians and ordinary people who celebrate their ancestries, backgrounds and cultures.
The history of labour immigrants in the region dates back to the 19th Century mainly following the development of the sugar plantations of Natal region in South Africa, the discovery of diamonds at Kimberley in 1870 and gold on the Witwatersrand in 1886, as well as the growth of agriculture in the country.
In this regional migration matrix, Zimbabwe received immigrants and also sent out some, while it was also a transit zone. During the colonial era, the labour shortfall in Zimbabwe and South Africa was mainly bridged by recruiting workers from Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique. Rhodesian mine and farm-owners preferred migrant labour compared to locals.
Regional migrant labour dominated the Rhodesian economy mainly after 1923, although between 1903 and 1933, a government agency, the Rhodesia Native Labour Bureau, recruited foreign labour and supplied an average of 13 000 workers to employers each year.
According to a research done by Alois Mlambo, by 1912, there were 10 000 Malawian workers in Zimbabwe, accounting for 35% of the country’s entire African mine labour force of 48 000.
The colonial state assisted employers to secure labour by concluding agreements with Mozambique, Zambia and Malawi.
These included the Tete Agreement of 1913 with Mozambique and the Tripartite Labour Agreement of 1937 with Malawi and Zambia. Malawian labour migration was boosted by the introduction of a free transport service for migrant workers in 1927.
This, combined with prior movements triggered by the Mfecane upheavals during Zulu King Shaka’s reign in the 19th Century and some other waves of migration decades and even centuries before that, made Zimbabwe what is it today.
Mfecane — which means times of trouble in Nguni languages — triggered migration northwards from South Africa across Lesotho, Swaziland, Botswana, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi, all the way to Tanzania.
That is why Zimbabwe is a melting pot and a diverse country, and for that reason we must all be proud of our history and roots. There is no need for people to hide where they come and try to suppress others from expressing themselves and showing pride in their history, languages and cultures.
History tells us dictators of foreign origins usually want to divide people along race, ethnic and tribal lines — the divide-and-rule strategy — to perpetuate their reign. Sadly, people sometimes buy into such a cheap propaganda model and fall into the trap to become willing tools or instruments of identity and hate politics, while only helping the dictator and his or her cronies to remain in power.
But then dictators often target immigrants — they blame “outsiders” or foreign forces — when they fail and become unpopular. Zimbabwe’s recent history and experience shows this. People have been described as “totemless” and have had their homes bulldozed down through a scorched-earth policy in an act of crude political retribution.
Some Zimbabweans of with immigrant roots were in the past decade disenfranchised and denied the right to vote.
Farmer workers from around the region were displaced and thrown into the streets or bushes. Some had their IDs and passports seized or were denied renewals of travel documents. There are many examples of such ethnic discrimination and xenophobic tendencies in this country.
Yet some voters with that background continue supporting purveyors of this poisonous ethnic politics for self-interest even if they are also victims of the same.
Instead of demonising descendants of immigrants — ironically by some in power with similar backgrounds even if they want to hide that from the public — we must preach unity and build a multi-cultural democratic nation. Cultural diversity, pluralism and freedom are critical to building a progressive country. But Zimbabwe is still largely a federation of tribes in many respects despite decades and even centuries of integration, thanks to unscrupulous politicians and their gullible supporters. Ethnic balkanisation and institutionalised marginalisation of other groups is still very rife.
Descendants of immigrants are Zimbabweans like any other citizens here. They contributed a lot to this country and no one should be allowed to express a condescending or supremacist attitude towards them. Even the whole Zimbabwean nation-building project should be overhauled to discard the colonial-like mentality and primitive mindset that some people and their histories, cultures and languages are more important than others. There is no such thing in a reasonably democratic and civilised country, especially in a globalising world where national boundaries are shrinking and becoming increasingly less important in defining one’s identity, culture and socialisation, as well as situation in life.
Mabhena is Manala Holdings CEO. He usually contributes to different media platforms on political economy and nation-building issues.