Thousands of Zimbabwean households are feeling the effects of lost remittances from family members forcibly returned from neighbouring South Africa since that country resumed deportations of undocumented Zimbabwean migrants in October 2011.
Makaita Gwati, 60, from rural Chirumhanzi, about 90km from the provincial capital of Masvingo in southeastern Zimbabwe, relied on the income her son and daughter sent from South Africa to support the rest of the family, until both were deported in November last year.
“I counted on them for money to buy food and other essential items, but now that they are here and they can’t find jobs, I don’t know how we will survive,” Gwati told IRIN.
In the last two years, Chirumhanzi has experienced poor rainfall and Gwati has harvested little from her plot of land, forcing her to buy food to feed her family. The remittances from South Africa had also helped support her five grandchildren and pay for medical costs.
“I am worried that given my poor state of health, there is no more money to send me to hospital. As I speak, the [grand]children’s school fees have not been paid and we have been forced to have one meal a day,” she said.
I counted on them for money to buy food and other essential items, but now that they are here and they can’t find jobs, I don’t know how we will surviveZimbabwe suffered a decade-long economic crisis characterized by a near collapse of industry, hyperinflation, critical shortages of commodities, poor social services and the migration of millions of Zimbabweans to neighbouring countries and other parts of the world.
The formation of a coalition government and the adoption of multiple currencies to replace the weak Zimbabwean dollar in early 2009 set the economy on a recovery path, but levels of unemployment are still high and large numbers of Zimbabweans continue to try their luck in South Africa.
In April 2009, the South African government announced a moratorium on deportations of undocumented Zimbabwean migrants and the following year gave them the opportunity to regularize their stay by applying for work and study permits through the Zimbabwe Documentation Project (ZDP). The International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates that 1-1.5 million Zimbabwean migrants are living in South Africa, but only 275,000 had applied to be regularized through the ZDP by the 31 December 2010 deadline.
IOM, WFP assistance
Since the deportations resumed in October 2011, IOM has helped nearly 10,000 deportees passing through the reception and support centre it mans at the Beitbridge border post with food, medical care and free transport home.
According to Felon Murapa, a communications officer with IOM, the organization is prepared to provide similar assistance to as many as 4,000 returnees a month.
The bigger problem for both the government and the donor community will be finding ways to provide longer-term assistance to poor households that depended on remittances from breadwinners who had sought economic refuge in South Africa.
UN World Food Programme (WFP) country director Felix Bamezon described remittances as “an important source of income for vulnerable people, particularly those affected by seasonal food shortages… Most returnees are coming to food insecure hosts or homes and this will certainly put a strain on the already burdened homes,” he said.
A 2010 Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe report indicated that Zimbabweans in the diaspora remitted more than US$263 million through formal means alone; most migrants in nearby countries, however, opt to send money through informal channels such as friends and relatives.
Starting in February, WFP will collaborate with IOM to provide food commodities to deportees coming through the Beitbridge reception centre.
WFP will also include deportees and their dependants in its ongoing programme targeting vulnerable households with food during periods of severe hunger.
Pregnant and breastfeeding returnees may also benefit from WFP’s health and nutrition programme, but the increased numbers of people needing help are likely to strain the organization’s limited resources.