ONE of the hottest discussion topics this week was whether Zimbabweans can continue flocking to South Africa for economic refuge or return home to confront the issues that have ruined their country.
Some vocal South Africans are causing discomfort by boldly speaking out and telling the Zimbabweans that they will not solve problems by fleeing to other countries. Those opposed to this line of thinking are arguing that it is a manifestation of xenophobia and Afrophobia. Tensions are rising on both sides of the debate.
For a long time, some South Africans have attributed the frighteningly high crime rate in their country to Zimbabweans, particularly in the Gauteng region. Violent crime — ranging from muggings, mall robberies to cash-in-transit heists — are blamed on foreigners, although empirically speaking the proportion of crimes committed by foreigners is a drop in the ocean.
Other insidious crimes attributed to outsiders include drug peddling, human trafficking and electronic payment fraud. Although the Zimbabwean crisis is often viewed through the lens of economic malaise, it is essentially a political problem.
That also explains why Zimbabweans have not forgotten how the then South African president, Thabo Mbeki, announced in 2008 that there was “no crisis” in Zimbabwe. This was after the 29 March elections, in which long-time despot Robert Mugabe was defeated by opposition MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai.
For weeks on end, the electoral commission did not announce the results — for obvious reasons. When the cooked results were finally announced, the country was coralled into a bloody run-off election. Mugabe deployed the military, murdering scores of opposition supporters. There is no bigger crisis than the slaughter of innocents.
It was clear back then that the “quiet diplomacy” stance of South Africa’s governing ANC was problematic. Former liberation parties in this part of the world are quick to conveniently argue that they have a responsibility to close ranks and defend the gains of the anti-colonial struggle.
What they do not realise is that the cause of liberation has been given a bad name by murderous, corrupt and incompetent regimes which hide behind the finger while destroying their own countries.
We must ask ourselves why Zimbabwe is the largest exporter of economic refugees in this region. There is a big difference between producing skilled human capital which other countries can tap into and churning out millions of poverty-stricken citizens who flood other nations, causing serious headaches for neighbouring states.
Lest we forget, at Independence in 1980 Zimbabwe had the second most developed economy after South Africa. Remarkably, between 1980 and 2000, this country’s gross domestic product did not grow at all.
Those who falsely claim that it is the Western sanctions which have ruined the economy cannot explain why the pre-2000 GDP did not expand. The answer is simple and straightforward: economic mismanagement. A corrupt and parasitic elite has squandered the promise of national Independence.
There was a false dawn four years ago when the military toppled Mugabe. The entire country erupted in euphoric scenes, with long-suffering Zimbabweans gleefully embracing soldiers and posing for photographs next to army tanks.
For most people, those memories are now a painful reminder of the catastrophic dangers of a society’s collective naivety. The coup did not benefit ordinary citizens but preserved Zanu PF, a party clearly incapable of reform.
This country desperately needs economic, social and political institutions that work in the best interests of citizens.
The rising tide of discontent across the country shows that President Emmerson Mnangagwa has failed to foster a stable, balanced and focused system of government.
It is the yearning for freedom, democratic participation and economic prosperity that is driving hordes of people to other countries because there is a glaring democratic deficit back home. Zimbabwe’s best brains are now outside the country.
We cannot all flee to other nations. When Zimbabweans have suffered enough, they will stop running away, confront the elephant in the room and embark on the tough but necessary task of rebuilding the only country we call home.