Zimbabweans head for Mozambique after meltdown
Taurai Chimombe queues up patiently for the chance to land a job as a mineworker in Mozambique—a far cry from his dreams of running his own business back home in his Zimbabwean homeland.
“As long as I’ve got a contract I will be here,” says the 24-year-old.
“We have suffered so much thinking the situation would improve but there is no hope right now.”
When Chimombe was growing up in the eastern Zimbabwean city of Mutare, neighbouring Mozambique was seen as a poor relation, synonymous with poverty and misery as a result of a civil war which raged from independence in 1976 until 1992.
Zimbabwe by contrast was seen in the first decade and a half after independence in 1980 as a regional model, with its citizens enjoying a standard of living envied by all of its neighbours.
Now the fate of the nations has been well and truly reversed with Zimbabwe racked by an inflation rate of 165 000%—the highest in the world—and an unemployment rate of about 80%.
Chimombe initially enrolled for a course in Mutare as a trainee mechanic but he later decided to drop out of college after deciding there was little prospect of landing work at the end.
“I just heard from my friends that it is easier to get a job in Mozambique especially if you can speak English,” said Chimombe.
In the past, it was Mozambicans who used to walk across the border to Zimbabwe in order to shield themselves from gunfire and look for food after thousands were displaced by the guerrilla war that ended in 1992.
Nowadays hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans are believed to be in Mozambique, although exact numbers are impossible to quantify as many only stay only a few weeks at a time to to earn money before heading back home.
‘We cannot close our borders’
Eduardo Koloma, the Mozambican Deputy Foreign Minister, said there was no question of trying to close the border to Zimbabwe.
“We have a lot of Zimbabweans entering the country, some settling in the country while others come in search of jobs,” said Koloma. “We cannot close our borders, our people interact so much.”
Mozambique’s Manica is a favourite destination for Zimbabweans because of the common language—Shona—which both groups often use in preference to their official languages of English and Portuguese.
The two groups also share the same culture.
“Most people understand the situation of the Zimbabweans and this has resulted in people interacting without problems,” said Isabel da Melucha Luis, a 20-year Mozambican student who lives in Manica.
“They are our brothers, we depend on each other,” said Armando Julio, a police officer, who refused to call them Zimbabweans refugees.
Most of the Zimbabweans are illegal immigrants who have either overstayed their visas or entered the country without documentation.
Immigration department estimates an average of 400 Zimbabweans who pass through the border on a daily basis either to buy food or look for jobs.
“The numbers have steadily gone up after the March 29 elections ...,” one immigration official said, putting the latest figure on above 500 per day.
Simon Mutasa, a teacher from Mutare, about 20km east of the border into Mozambique, says he crosses over every weekend to sell old newspapers, used by vendors to wrap their products.
“I do not make a lot of money from selling the old newspapers but it keeps me going until the end of the month,” said Mutasa as he balances two bags laden with old newspapers at Machipanda border post.
While the Zimbabwean economic crisis has managed to put smiles on Mozambican traders in the Manica town, local residents are wary that the increase in price of basic food products could lead to a food crisis.
“Prices of products such as rice and cooking oil have almost doubled since the end of March as more Zimbabweans come here seeking to buy stuffs,” said Pedro Dias, a taxi driver opening in Manica.
In 1983, at the height of Mozambique’s civil war, there was a widespread food crisis which swept throughout the country and those who had enough money resorted to buying basic food stuffs from South Africa and Zimbabwe.
“But this time the difference will be that food will be available in the market and people cannot afford the price,” Dias said.
In addition to those in Mozambique, it is estimated that about three million Zimbabweans have left the economic meltdown in their homeland, most of whom have crossed into neighbouring South Africa, Botswana and Zambia.