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Migration Policy Series

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The movement of people across political boundaries has generated considerable debate in Southern Africa. There is a compelling need for Southern African countries to harmonise regional migration policies and to ensure the freer movement of people across the region. However, it must be noted that disparities in levels of development are still evident in the economies of the region. There are fears in countries such as South Africa and Botswana that the freer movement of people will flood them with migrants from the less developed countries. There are also concerns in all the countries of SADC that freer movement will not be well received by citizens, leading to intolerance and xenophobia.

As Southern Africa moves towards a more globalised future, there is need for African governments to have the best information on which to make policy decisions. Migration policy is not static but undergoes constant modification as a country’s experiences with and perceptions of migrants change. Immigration policy is often a divisive issue on domestic political agendas. In times of economic recession, immigrants are unjustifiably blamed for high unemployment rates, increasing crime, and land and housing shortages. Politicians often give high priority to migration issues, sometimes alienating ethnic groups and substantially affecting immigration programmes. Immigrantsin pursuit of work have often become pariah citizens in a global order in which, paradoxically, old borders are rapidly dissolving.

Rising xenophobia and violence against foreigners are sobering and sad reminders of the negative effects of globalisation. National governments have also been blamed for fuelling xenophobia by perpetuating stereotypes against foreigners, describing them as a ‘flood’ and stereotyping them as criminals. Invariably the way the government treats foreigners also determines the attitude of the local population towards the foreigner. This has also set the tone for a negative representation of foreigners in local newspapers. For example, it has been shown that antiimmigrant sentiments are widespread in South African print media which can also have an impact on the way the local population view foreigners. This has also set the tone for a negative representation of foreigners by officials in local media.

The Southern African Migration Project (SAMP) conducts basic research for policy-making on the dynamics of international migration to and within the SADC region. SAMP maintains that a well-informed policy- maker or migration manager is more likely to appreciate the viability of different policy choices and to develop policies that are workable, democratic and consistent with principles of good governance and regional cooperation. Policies based on outdated or misleading information will not only fail but have damaging consequences. From a human rights standpoint, such decisions could violate constitutional guarantees and exacerbate hostility towards non-citizens.

SAMP is also committed to conducting such research at a regional scale. Research results from one country, such as Zimbabwe, can be compared with those from the other SADC states. This helps to highlight similarities and differences in national migration regimes but also helps define areas of potential cooperation and harmonization between states. SAMP therefore believes that the collection of reliable and accurate data on the dimensions, causes, impacts and trends in migration is an essential first step. Only then can there be informed debate and movement forward on regional harmonization.

Within the Southern African region, Zimbabwe’s migration history is unusual. Historically, countries were either recipient or sending countries for migrants. Zimbabwe was always in the unusual position of being both. Over the years, many Zimbabweans went to work, primarily in South Africa. SAMP research shows, for example, that almost a quarter of adult Zimbabweans have parents and grandparents who have worked in South Africa at some point in their lives. On the other hand, Zimbabwe was a recipient of labour migrants from countries such as Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique. At the time of the 1951 census, there were 246,000 foreign Africans in Zimbabwe (40% of them from Mozambique). Zimbabwe was a source, a destination and a corridor.

Since independence, Zimbabwe has experienced considerable shifts in the inherited colonial migration pattern:

  • Internal rural-urban migration and urbanization has increased dramatically, although the true extent of this trend will not be evident until the results of the latest census are available.
  • Zimbabwe has become a far more significant exporter of migrant labour as economic conditions in Zimbabwe have deteriorated. Zimbabwe, unlike Mozambique and the BLS countries, has no international bilateral treaty facilitating such movements. As a result, there are only limited opportunities for Zimbabweans to work legally in South Africa. Significant undocumented migration began in the late 1980s and has increased ever since.
  • Zimbabwe is no longer a major recipient of migrant labour except, perhaps, along the border with Mozambique.
  • The volume of ordinary cross-border traffic between Zimbabwe and its neighbours has escalated dramatically over the last decade. Many more Zimbabweans are looking outside the country for the means of livelihood. In a 1997 SAMP survey, Zimbabweans were asked the purpose of their last visit to South Africa. Over 70% had an economic purpose for migrating with 29% going to work or look for work and 42% going to trade or to shop.

Documentation and analysis of these trends and their importance for policy-makers has been relatively limited. As a result, in 1996 the Southern African Migration Project (SAMP) entered into a partnership with the Department of Geography at the University of Zimbabwe to generate the research data that is urgently needed. This publication presents some of the results of that partnership.

The first chapter provides a general overview of post-independence migration to and from Zimbabwe based on official and other published information sources. The author, Professor Lovemore Zinyama, begins by pointing out that Zimbabweans are a nation of migrants although international migration accounts for only a very small proportion of the total Zimbabwean population movements in any one year. Less than 5% of the total population is estimated to be non-Zimbabwean. In terms of immigration to Zimbabwe, Zinyama notes the shift in sources from Britain and the rest of Europe during the colonial era, to a much wider global catchment dominated by the African continent after independence. A second major shift has been in government policy away from active encouragement of permanent residence to the granting of timelimited residence and employment permits to expatriates. These trends are well documented although both have slowed in the late 1990s. Zimbabwe has also continued to be a recipient of undocumented migrants from its neighbours.

The main shift identified by Zinyama is in patterns of migration from the country. Zimbabwe has become a significant brain exporter. The process has occurred in two waves; immediately after independence when skilled whites fled south and more recently, in the 1990s, with growing numbers of black Zimbabweans leaving in search of other pastures. The latter process has in some sense been slowed by the post- 1994 hostility of the South African government towards skilled immigrants from Africa. However, skilled Zimbabweans are now globally marketable and are leaving the country in growing numbers. The 2001 SAMP survey reported by Dr Dan Tevera in Chapter 3 asked a sample of urban Zimbabweans how much consideration they had given to leaving Zimbabwe. Seventy six percent of the respondents reported having considered leaving Zimbabwe, a sign of the times perhaps. The Zimbabwean brain drain is the subject of a forthcoming SAMP policy paper.

Parallel with a growth in cross-border informal trading, there are indications that undocumented and unauthorized cross-border migration from Zimbabwe into neighbouring countries has increased markedly since the 1980s. Zinyama identifies two categories of undocumented migrant. The first are Zimbabweans who enter neighbouring countries, mostly Botswana and South Africa, through official exit ports, but then over-stay. The second category comprises those who leave Zimbabwe without valid travel documents and do not use official exit points. This includes individual “border hoppers” and those relying on trafficking syndicates. The numbers are impossible to ascertain with any degree of accuracy although surveys can and do provide important insights into the intentions, behaviours and strategies of the migrants.

The second chapter in this publication provides important verification of this claim. As the author points out, the types, patterns, causes and impacts of the various forms of regional cross-border migration are complex and little understood. For instance, little is known as yet about who travels outside the country, why and how often. A great deal more is now known because of a SAMP public opinion survey amongst migrants conducted in 5 Southern African countries. The results of that regional survey have been exhaustively detailed and analysed in other SAMP publications. Here we include a paper by Lovemore Zinyama which focuses on the migration behaviour of Zimbabweans, as revealed in their answers to the standardized survey.

Zinyama argues that in the last decade there has been a qualitative shift in the nature of migration between South Africa and Zimbabwe, accompanying changes in the political and economic conditions of both countries. Migration of young single men for work has continued and even grown. But economic crisis and decline in Zimbabwe have prompted a diversification of household survival strategies. Cross-border migration has become one in a basket of such strategies for many. Formerly, only young single men would migrate for economic reasons. Now growing numbers of women have joined the migration stream. Informal cross-border trade has become dominated by women seeking to supplement their family incomes, to clothe and educate their children. Money obtained while in South Africa is used to purchase goods for importation back to Zimbabwe and subsequent resale of those known to be in short supply at home. More recently, female Zimbabwean crossborder traders have been going to Mozambique, Zambia and even as far afield as Tanzania to purchase and bring home second-hand clothing and goods for resale.

The new Zimbabwean migrant is typically a middle-aged family person who uses cross-border migration as one strategy for the survival of her/his family, particularly where this is an urban household. The majority of these people are engaged in a purpose-specific circulatory migration process, but one in which they are only spending very short periods of time in South Africa. In the second chapter, Zinyama provides a detailed demographic and behavioural profile of these new and old migrants from the SAMP survey. In addition, he shows that the migrants have become the target of extreme hostility from South Africans, particularly since 1994. Levels of intolerance are at an alltime high in South Africa, leading to the charge that South Africa is the most xenophobic population in the world. Zimbabweans (and Mozambicans) have been the usual targets of xenophobic sentiment and action on the ground. All Zimbabweans have come to be stereotyped as a social, economic and criminal threat to South Africans. These are clearly stereotypes with little basis in fact or appreciation of the benefits of increased trade and economic interaction between South Africa and Zimbabwe.

Apologists for the xenophobic tendencies of South Africans have argued that South Africans are not unique, that similar views and attitudes are found throughout the SADC. Even if true, this does not exonerate South Africans. It simply means that the task of public and official education is that much greater. SAMP therefore set out to test this hypothesis, and to provide SADC governments with baseline information on their own citizens’ attitudes to migration, immigration and refugees. In 2001, SAMP implemented the National Immigration Policy Survey (NIPS) in five SADC countries, including Zimbabwe. The results of the Zimbabwean NIPS are reported in the third chapter by Dan Tevera.

The survey showed that, in general, ordinary Zimbabweans are more tolerant and welcoming than South Africans, have a greater appreciation of the benefits of migration to their country and have a much more developed understanding of the necessity for refugee protection. However, there is certainly no room for complacency. In the South African case, levels of hostility were high regardless of the race, age, education, economic status or gender of the respondent. In Zimbabwe, marked differences emerged around the variable of economic and employment status.

Of the random sample of urban adults, 38% were engaged in formal employment and 18.5% in informal sector activities. A further 43.2% were unemployed. The answers to questions designed to test attitudes and knowledge consistently broke down along the employed/unemployed divide. They also broke down along the middle-class/poor divide. In other words, Zimbabweans fit the more classical profile in which middle-class, educated and economically-secure people are likely to be more tolerant and accepting of outsiders than the poor and unemployed. This would be a cause for concern given Zimbabwe’s economic crisis and the growth of poverty and unemployment. However, there is little evidence that Zimbabweans explicitly blame migrants and immigrants for this state of affairs (again in stark contrast to South Africans).

Zimbabwean migration patterns are currently in a state of flux. It is commonly assumed that the country’s economic and political conditions over the last decade and more recently are influencing out-migration. However, it would be incorrect to suggest that the correlation is simple or direct. More skilled Zimbabweans are leaving but not all are able to do so and many choose to stay, hoping for a turnaround. The unemployed and retrenched are more restless and mobile and South Africa and Botswana are a definite draw card. However, as the South Africans have yet to appreciate, most are circular migrants and would much prefer that Zimbabweans had the same legal mechanisms of access to the South African labour market as do Mozambicans, Batswana, Swazi and Basotho. It is ironic that apartheid-era labour agreements, still in force, shut out Zimbabweans but welcome the others. Zimbabwe needs to seek a general bilateral labour agreement with South Africa, as well as working within the structures of SADC to encourage greater cross-border mobility in the region as a whole.

The other major shift of the last decade, requiring a rational policy response on the part of both governments, is the massive growth of informal cross-border trade. Zimbabwe sits at the center of regional informal trade networks. Yet, despite the passage of a SADC Free Trade Protocol, there is still no framework in place for legal informal traders. They are shut out once again in the new South African Immigration Act. This is a gap which urgently requires attention, not least because it discriminates unfairly against women migrants. It is also obstructive of the new emphasis on trade and regional cooperation in SADC. The benefits of freer trade should not be confined to large companies, but to ordinary people as well.