Zimbabwe’s political leaders are throwing away a unique opportunity to document their nationals in South Africa so that they can establish the skills they have lost and the potential revenue they can earn and are instead wasting time talking about elections which no one really wants.
Though South Africa may have its own reasons for documenting Zimbabweans living in the country, the exercise has given Zimbabwe a unique opportunity to find out exactly how many Zimbabweans are in South Africa and what they are doing.
Instead of talking about elections, which the government does not have money for, Zimbabwe should throw all its resources into the exercise because it will provide useful information that will give an accurate picture of which skills the country has lost.
Most importantly, it will give the government the exact number of nationals living in South Africa. For years a figure of three million has been touted but even the International Office of Migration cannot explain how this figure was reached.
A Zimbabwean economist said Zimbabwe should actively be involved in this exercise and should speed up the issuing of documents to its national because this will not only provide it with revenue, but will also enable the government to classify its citizens according to their skills.
“They should behave the way former Yugoslav President (Josip Broz) Tito did. Once he knew how many Yugoslavs were out of the country and what they were doing, he went all out to protect them because they were a source of revenue,” the economist said.
It is now widely accepted that it was remittances from abroad that saved Zimbabwe from total collapse.
According to the World Bank, remittances by Zimbabweans outside the country are between $360 million and $1 billion a year. The bank says, however, the figure could be even higher because Zimbabwe does not keep records of the remittances.
A study of remittances from South Africa alone said Zimbabweans were on average each sending R3 000 to their families a year.
Zimbabwe budgeted for $810 million under its vote of credit, expecting to get money from donors but only got a quarter of this, almost half the minimum that Zimbabweans send home each year.
Although South Africa was under pressure to deal with Zimbabweans after the soccer World Cup, it could not expel the Zimbabweans because they are playing a key role in South Africa especially in the local government and education sectors.
“This is the time for the government to act. Instead of going about asking people to return home, because they left on their own anyway and decide when to return, the government should document them so that it knows how much revenue to expect from them even if it will not be coming directly to the government,” the economist said.
“What the government should be concerned about is whether Zimbabweans are safe wherever they are because they will bring money to the country one way or the other and will only return when they want.”
Finance Minister Tendai Biti acknowledged the important of Zimbabweans abroad when he launched a $50 million diaspora bond in his mid-term budget. It is not yet clear whether this was successful or not.