Janet Zhou Human Rights Activist
The majority of these, our brothers and our sisters, are at the same time subsidising the South African middle-income economy and households as maids, waiters, and skilled labourers, mostly in insecure and exploitative conditions.
It is the reasonable prospects of finding a job that compels the majority of Zimbabwean migrants to risk arriving illegally in South Africa, either through dangerous crossings or after paying hefty bribes.
The characterisation of the Zimbabwean migrants therefore is mainly economic.
South Africa has been viewed as the land of opportunity for Zimbabweans who have reeled in the triple burden of extreme poverty, unemployment, and inequalities.
The underclass has been left hopeless while wealth transfers into private hands through grand corruption and economic mismanagement, and impunity continues unabated in the once inherited jewel of Africa.
The push factors remain largely unaddressed.
The major push factors for Zimbabwean diaspora have been bad governance, human rights violations, structural violence and policy disillusionments; since independence these have had serious ripple effects on the economy and ultimately livelihoods.
Migration and South Africa
Viewing the pull factors of economic opportunities in South Africa has meant strained relationships and the erosion of “Ubuntu” to welcome refugees, whether political or economic.
This change of attitude in South Africa has been aired from high officials as recently commented by the SA Minister of Home Affairs:
“People keep blaming the immigration services of SA as if when one country creates a crisis, the country closest to it must respond by building the requisite capacity to deal with that crisis.
That’s the logic here. There’s also this belief that SA has abundant resources for everybody.
That’s nonsense. No country has the capacity to accommodate everyone who has problems in the country they come from.
In other words when more and more people come, we must be able to hire more and our resources must expand. That’s not on.”
At the community level in particular, those stricken by the poverty, unemployment and inequalities prevalent in South Africa have viewed the foreign migrants as rivals in the pull factors that have attracted cheap migrant labour to farms, restaurants, mines, informal sector/vending, commercial sex work, middle to upper class homes and industries.
The rivalry has been expressed in violent xenophobic attacks which the South African authorities have taken a long time to accept and address.
The South African response has been inept despite the existence of the Sadc Protocol on Facilitation of the Movement of Persons (2005).
The protocol requires Sadc to develop policies aimed at the progressive elimination of obstacles to the free movement of capital and labour, goods and services and of the people of the region generally amongst Member States.
The ineptness is founded on the systemic nature of the South African political and economic model.
The same relates to the push factors in Zimbabwe.
Without addressing those underlying issues, the migrants in South Africa and Zimbabweans in particular, given their numbers, find themselves between a rock and a hard place.
The perfect implementation of existing normative frameworks guaranteeing migrant rights in South Africa is insufficient to protect migrant rights without radical measures to dismantle the primitive accumulation underpinning neoliberal capitalist systems in South Africa and Zimbabwe.
The same system is being regionalised all over Sadc and the growing internal displacements in countries like Mozambique and Zimbabwe to pave way for mega-business projects attest to this worrisome trend.
There are reasons why the progressive COMESA Protocol on the free movement of persons, labour, services, the right of establishment and residence (2001), or the Sadc or Ecowas equivalents, have had limited effect.
The reasons lie in the fact that the migrant labour system has had a historical and contemporary contribution to the South African economy as a supply of relatively cheap labour.
And behind the human suffering embedded in the migrant labour system are millions of profits for predominantly white owned farms, restaurants, mines and factories. The system is where the problem lies.
The economics behind migration
Throughout the history of colonialism, racist capitalist development and the present neo-liberal capitalist orders in Southern Africa, the obligation to support the reproduction of the next generation of workers through decent wages and living conditions, has been predominantly outsourced.
Likewise for the majority of migrant workers, capital and government will assume no responsibility for their retirement, social security and health, naturally as they expected to return back across the border as migrant streams continue to circulate.
But back across the border the burdens of reproduction and social care remain disproportionately implanted on the shoulders of already marginalised women and poor farmers in rural areas where the majority of migrant workers derive from.
The scars of labour migratory systems are particularly evident in dry and climate impacted reserves where entire generations of young people have fled leaving remaining communities without the labour to sustain local economies especially in farming.
Of course, the “Reserves” were deliberately created by the colonial system to compel Africans to choose wage labour over traditional farming in un-arable lands in the first place.
What becomes clearer is that as long as the pull and push factors of migration serve the ruling political elite and business at both ends, border controls and management is made porous to facilitate that movement of undocumented labour migrants.
South Africa and Zimbabwe have been by far the major beneficiaries of the transnational system of labour migration since Wenela.
Zimbabwe has remained a permanent source of cheap proletariat labour for the South African economy.
This is true of the vast majority of Zimbabwean migrants in low skilled wage labour as it is for highly skilled professional workers in South Africa’s industrialised economy.
Prior to land reform in 2000, commercial agriculture in Zimbabwe benefited from the migration of Malawians and Mozambicans in the labour forces of white-owned commercial farms.
- Zhou is a human rights activist. These weekly New Horizon articles, published in the Zimbabwe Independent, are co-ordinated by Lovemore Kadenge, an independent consultant, past president of the Zimbabwe Economics Society and past president of the Chartered Governance and Accountancy Institute in Zimbabwe (CGI Zimbabwe). — firstname.lastname@example.org or mobile: +263 772 382 852.