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Citizens voting with their feet

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ZIMBABWE, the biggest exporter of economic refugees in southern Africa, is once again in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons.

 The epic drama emanating from South Africa’s initial refusal to renew the special permits of Zimbabwean nationals based in the regional economic powerhouse has brought to the fore the sorry state of affairs in this country.

According to the latest reports, the South African government has since granted a reprieve — to allow the Zimbabweans to use the permits until the end of 2022 while regularising their stay. Some of the affected Zimbabweans brewed a shocker when they sought to drag the South African government to court in a futile bid to have the permits renewed.

 It was an ill-advised move. You do not force the hand of a sovereign state through misplaced self-deceit. We must read the signs of the times. There is a growing sentiment in South Africa and in the rest of the neighbourhood that Zimbabwe’s economic crisis has dragged on for far too long.

Make no mistake, people have travelled up and down in this part of the world since the beginning of time. The movement of people from one country to another is nothing new. What is new is the sheer magnitude of undocumented Zimbabweans who are skipping borders and placing a strain on neighbouring nations.

Undocumented immigrants pose serious security, economic and social headaches for a host country. What has obviously accentuated the problem is that South Africa — whose GDP has been overtaken by Nigeria and Egypt in recent years — is reeling under record unemployment.

The unemployment rate hit a new record high of 34.9% in the third quarter of 2021, heightening the scramble for jobs. Misguided South African politicians who wrongly thought Zimbabwe’s economic crisis is solely foreign problem are discovering it actually has domestic ramifications.

In last year’s election in that country, undocumented immigrants came in for heated discussion, with many South Africans openly demanding a solution to the issue. Unlike in the past when it was viewed as a peripheral topic raised by the lunatic fringe, there is growing acceptance that this matter can no longer be ignored.

 Hopefully, the people of Africa can begin discussing the Zimbabwean crisis from a better informed perspective. Too many Africans have swallowed — hook, line and sinker — Zanu PF propaganda on the real causes of the mass exodus. It has nothing to do with Western sanctions, but everything to do with bad governance, leadership failure and corruption-induced poverty.

There is no better evidence of the catastrophic failings of President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government than the mass exodus of economic refugees. Citizens are fleeing his misrule. But the people of Zimbabwe must also introspect.

 Running away from the man-made crisis may provide temporary relief, but a sustainable solution is needed. This can only happen through the return to legitimacy via a free, fair and democratic election. Anything else is wishful thinking.

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