The Collateral Damage of Poor Governance

When a government fails to conduct its duties as the principal center of authority in a State, the consequences are often borne, not by the residents alone, but by other States and regions. The governance of both Rhodesia and Zimbabwe over the past century is a prime example. In the case of Rhodesia the consequences were a decade of armed conflict and political isolation that not only disrupted normal life in the country, but drew all regional States into its maws with serious consequences for those countries and populations.

In Zimbabwe, the past 35 years of maladministration and conflicts caused by poor decisions and policies has had a profound impact on the Zimbabwean community but the collateral damage we have inflicted on neighboring States goes often unrecorded.

At Independence in 1980, Zimbabwe assumed control of a population that was growing very rapidly – about 3,5 per cent per annum and doubling our national population every 20 years. Had this rate of population growth been maintained, our population would have reached 30 million this year. In fact it is probably 13 million and somehow we have to explain why population growth has been so low over the past 35 years.

For a start, death rates have risen and life expectancy has declined from 60 years to about 37 years. The main reason is Aids which is thought to have caused the deaths of about 150 000 people a year. This can be associated with Malaria and Tuberculosis deaths which are thought to be in excess of 50 000 a year. Add that to malnutrition and poor social security systems, lower productivity in agriculture and it is quite easy to see how the death rate has risen threefold in the past 35 years.

Looking at this factor – it perhaps explains a 10 million reduction in population; this still leaves 7 million unexplained. This must reflect our growing Diaspora and I am constantly amazed at the lengths that people will go to when estimating the numbers in different countries. South Africa in particular, consistently understates their estimates of the numbers of Zimbabweans living in their country. I personally cannot see how it can be less than 4 million. In 2008 no less than 1,2 million people crossed into South Africa, fleeing the economic collapse and outbreaks of disease and massive food shortages.

The collateral effects on South Africa are difficult to measure. Some 600 000 have migrated officially and are in SA legally, they comprise an elite comprising professionals, managers and technicians. South Africa benefits from this flow of migrants and had they not come in from a place like Zimbabwe, it is likely that the skills shortage would have been much worse than it is. But the rest go into an underworld and are beggars, prostitutes and thieves. They are also waiters and forecourt attendants, domestic workers and farm laborers.

They move into vast areas of slum dwellings, sleeping in small rooms rented from slum landlords. They are exploited by everyone, employers who get an employee who will not complain when abused or underpaid, police who will take a bribe to let you lose when caught in an illegal migrant swoop, criminal elements who draw them into gangs and use them as expendable agents of violence.

Every month these millions of people will faithfully send money home by any means that is available – an envelope with a bus driver, an electronic transfer. If they transfer just $50 a month each, they are sending $200 million a month to Zimbabwe – equal to half the State budget and double the income of all urban councils. In fact this is one of our largest inward financial transfers and we could not have survived without these funds.

But it means that one in every 5 jobs in South Africa is held by a migrant worker from Zimbabwe and all native residents understand this and resent their presence. Xenophobia is totally understandable, all that is surprising is that it breaks out so infrequently and is so limited in scope.

But migration is only one symptom of collateral damage – when Zimbabwe comes up for mention on the global news services, it’s always negative and the impact on all regional States is a serious factor. When Ebola broke out in West Africa, many thousands of kilometers from us here in Zimbabwe, we were immediately affected by tourist cancellations on a significant scale. The question of the rule of law and secure property rights as underpinnings for foreign investment is led by the example of Zimbabwe and its farm policies and indigenisation.

I have got no doubt that the “contagion” effect in Africa has meant that all African States that are trying to do better, observing the rule of law and treating investors with respect and discipline, are directly suffering from the impact that a single rogue State like Zimbabwe can have. It’s no wonder and completely understandable when the President of Botswana cannot constrain himself at a SADC summit in Harare and stands up in complete frustration and tells the Chairman that he is the cause of great suffering and lower growth rates in all other countries and then walks out and flies home, still seething.

For Zimbabwe, the reality is that since 1995, the migrant route has offered Zimbabweans their only way to either advance themselves or to provide for their families “at home”. To get to their target countries they have subjected themselves to immeasurable hardships and trouble. This does not end when they reach their target countries. Once there they have to learn strange languages, customs and find work and somewhere to live. Millions live lives that mean a daily struggle to survive and provide their very basic needs. When they die, it’s usually not a coffin on a plane but a paupers funeral in a strange land, far away from home and loved ones.

For us at “home” it means the lifeline of the cash transfer and perhaps an annual visit by a son or a brother with a second hand truck or car loaded to the skies with goods and second hand things that make life in a country where the quality of life has not changed for 45 years and incomes and employment have plummeted since 1997 a little easier. But it also means that the majority of our game changers and innovators, managers and essential professionals are no longer living here and are not available to drive the process of political and economic change.

The truth is we have all become victims of a criminal elite, that has entrenched and enriched itself to the detriment of everyone who lives in this part of Africa. It is past the time when our neighbors should wake up to the reality of the collateral damage being inflicted on their own countries and help us achieve change without recourse to violence.

Eddie Cross
Cape Town 5th June 2015