Zim’s loss, SA’s gain

Zimbabwe has effectively outsourced its economy to South Africa, sending workers south of the Limpopo to mop up skilled jobs and receiving $500-million a year in return.

Estimates vary, but it is thought Zimbabwean migrants in South Africa number between 800 000 and three million. They span the spectrum of skills and income levels, from highly paid professionals to poorer domestic and restaurant workers.

There is also considerable cross-border trade at an informal level, as Zimbabweans shop for groceries and tradeable goods in South Africa. A study conducted by the ComMark Trust last year found that between R15-billion and R20-billion was pumped into South Africa’s economy by other African traders who bought goods here for sale at home.

Although the trade has meant that border towns such as Musina are booming, most shoppers prefer Johannesburg, where goods are cheaper and there is more choice. This has boosted local manufacturing and retail, encouraging local businesses to be set up to support these shoppers.

A recent study conducted by Unisa associate professor Daniel Makina found that 62% of 4 654 Zimbab­weans sampled had completed secondary school; 10% had a post-secondary school diploma, 3% were artisans, 15% held a professional qualification such as teaching or nursing and 4% had a university degree. Makina’s results are noteworthy, as his subjects live in the comparatively low-income areas of Hillbrow, Berea and Yeoville in Johannesburg.


But, despite South Africa’s desperate skills shortage, many Zimbab­weans feel they are not employed at levels commensurate with their qualifications. Most work in the automotive industry or the hospitality sector, said Makina, earning less than R2 000 a month. The majority appear to be illegal immigrants: of those who participated in the survey, 57% want refugee status and 36% want work permits.

Makina’s study found the average monthly remittance of the 4 654 Zimbabweans surveyed was R290.

Luke Zunga, a Zimbabwean author and businessman, said this means about $500-million is sent back every year from South Africa. A Harare-based economist who asked not to be named said that globally about $1-billion is sent to Zimbabwe a year, although it is difficult to quantify informal transfers. Zunga said ways should be found to formalise these remittances, as the amount available on the black market could help sustain the economy.

Most of the money from South Africa is sent informally using taxi and bus drivers, traders and friends. It finds itself on the black market where the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, when in need of money, has to buy it at a premium. In addition to cash, many also send clothing and groceries to their families.

The Zimbabwean government has a two-pronged scheme, known as Homelink, which is meant to attract foreign currency into the formal system. It has met with a lukewarm reception. Homelink disburses money in local currency to Zim­babweans abroad who want to acquire property. This money is repaid in its foreign currency equiva­lent. The scheme also works as a money transfer agency. Recipients receive money at what the bank calls the diaspora rates. On Wednesday the rate was around Z$35 000 to the rand, while the black market rate was Z$110 000.

The Harare economist said remittances coming from abroad could not sufficiently plug the holes left by declining exports. He said Zimbab­we needed $40-million for fuel and $15million for electricity a month. All in all, the government alone might need in excess of $2billion annually.

Although a significant amount of money is coming in, it is in the parallel market. Bringing it into the formal market is inflationary, as the Reserve Bank prints money in order to buy foreign exchange.

Black market money could present a headache for the Zimbabwean finance sector, but earning it in the first place can be a challenge. Researcher Sally Peberdy, from the South African Migration Project, said the waiting list for passports in Zimbabwe runs into years, not months. Others complain that Zimbabweans face more onerous conditions when applying for visitors’ permits to South Africa than other SADC nationals.

Government appears reluctant to employ Zimbabwean teachers and nurses, despite the shortage. One researcher said it appeared government did not want to be seen as poaching skills from other African countries.

Working for home

‘Please hold on a moment, I cannot speak now,” says Gibbs Chaponda. ‘I am in the bank”.

Chaponda* is depositing money into a friend’s South African bank account. The friend will get the bank details of the intended recipient of the money in Harare and will pay her at the prevailing black market exchange rate (1:110 000) on Tuesday in Zimbabwean dollars.

Chaponda is a fitter machinist, now based in Steelport, who worked on the gold mines in Zimbabwe before he left in 2004. He now works as a maintenance fitter in a smelting operation. As he is building a house in Zimbabwe, he sends up to R20 000 a year.

Prince Chinyemba* is not so fortunate. He has an IT diploma, but works as a salesman in a hardware shop in KwaZulu-Natal. ‘What I do now has nothing to do with what I did at school,” he says. ‘But it’s about survival.”

Chinyemba sends about R800 a month to his parents in Zimbabwe.

‘I don’t like it here, but Zimbabwe is worse.” He came to South Africa last year.

Just about everyone interviewed by the Mail & Guardian did not want to be identified.

Hillary Moyo* is an investment administrator with a leading financial services institution in Johannesburg. He holds a bachelor of commerce degree in finance with a background in investment management. ‘My position is not consistent with my expertise, but that’s a familiar story for every second Zimbabwean,” he says.

‘I send home about R1 000 a month. This is mostly in the form of groceries or money or sometimes a combination of both.” He has siblings at home in Zimbabwe and tries ‘to keep everyone afloat”. This includes his parents, his grandmother and some of his extended family members.

A former security guard and waiter, Moyo bemoans the crisis that nearly snuffed out his dream of a corporate career. ‘Being in South Africa is not a dream come true. It was never a dream. I was educated at considerable cost to my community and the Zimbabwean government — and Zimbabwe is not recouping much benefit.”

South Africa’s tourism and hospitality industry could boast the most educated workforce on the continent. Nhlanhla Ndebele* has a marketing qualification, but has worked as a waiter since coming to South Africa in 2002. He sends about R600 every month to his siblings and parents in Tsholotsho in rural Matebeleland.

Vusa Moyo* is one of many in the IT workforce who has left Zimbabwe, where he used to work for a financial house. Now a project manager at a local bank, he says that Zimbabwe ‘lost out” to South Africa in the technology race.

‘When I left, the banking industry was becoming really developed and sophisticated. But when things imploded, multitudes of professionals fled. Most of the guys fitted in well, as we were not that far behind the South Africans.” This, he says, is the same scenario in many of the industries — mining, banking and tourism — that were mature. He sends about R30 000 a year to his relatives in Bulawayo.

Raphael Muhoni* was working as a geographic information systems (GIS) specialist. His former colleagues earn about Z$16million (R150) a month, worlds away from the R15 000 he earns in Johannesburg, where he works as a GIS analyst with a company that deals in industrial minerals, chrome sand, pigments and ferro-alloys.

Simanga is a single mother who works as a waitress. She uses her earnings to take care of her adolescent son and commute to Bulawayo to monitor the progress of the three-bedroom house she is building.

Afak Chiutila, a stock controller at a local company, has a diploma in purchasing and supply and is part of the generation that had it good before the economy imploded. ‘I am not that happy because I enjoyed it before the economy went down.” He sends about R8 000 a year to his family.

A father of three, Zvikomborero Nyakudzi lives with his wife and family in Johannesburg, where he runs a biomedical research consultancy. He sends R30 000 worth of groceries and cash to his parents and siblings in Zimbabwe each year. ‘We are here to further our education and better our lives. We are buying properties in Zimbabwe, which we hope to return to when things normalise,” he says. — Percy Zvomuya

* Not their real names

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Percy Zvomuya
Percy Zvomuya is a writer and critic who has written for numerous publications, including Chimurenga, the Mail & Guardian, Moto in Zimbabwe, the Sunday Times and the London Review of Books blog. He is a co-founder of Johannesburg-based writing collective The Con and, in 2014, was one of the judges for the Caine Prize for African Writing.
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