FRANCISTOWN, Botswana — Although the alarm bells might be ringing that there is no paradise across the border, Zimbabweans are still steadily flocking into neighbouring countries for salvation.
BY TONDERAYI MATONHO
Many believe the situation in these foreign lands cannot be as bad as back home. They have adopted a better-die-trying attitude.
Experts say Zimbabwe’s steeply sliding economy is again driving locals to South Africa and Botswana, as they fear that the Zimbabwean government has no solution to the problems facing the country.
Although there are increasing reports of Zimbabweans, who are facing discrimination in health and other social services, they also do not see the massive investments needed in the same sectors coming to their country any time soon to normalise the situation.
With conservative figures showing that nearly two million Zimbabwean migrants are currently in South Africa and thousands others in Botswana seeking better fortunes, it is not surprising that these governments have begun to mount pressure against migrants by intensifying localisation policies, excluding migrants from health care services, for instance.
According to the Centre for Development and Enterprise, a think-tank informing South African governance policy, “whatever the prospects of political settlement in Zimbabwe, recovery will be a long and difficult haul and cross border migration is set to remain a challenge to South African and regional policy makers”.
In the midst of this persistent negative scenario, the Zimbabwe government continues to abuse its national resources while social and health care services and infrastructure collapse.
Zimbabwe’s per capita allocation towards health is one of the lowest in the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) whose average spending per person is $146.
“The [Zimbabwe] per capita allocation stands at $21 down from $24 in 2016, South Africa is $650, Zambia $90 and Angola $200,” according to Community Working Group on Health executive director, Itai Rusike.
Figures showing recent patterns of regional migration, from the Zimbabwe’s Department of Social Services and the International Organisation on Migration, indicate marginal signs of decline.
A recent returnee from Botswana, Dominic Katumba of Kadoma, said: “Treatment of migrants, whether seeking HIV drugs or general treatment, is often discriminatory in Botswana’s health care system and those seeking healthcare are subjected to abuse.”
Months after his arrival in Botswana in 2008, the young father and former school teacher in rural Zimbabwe, discovered he could not access anti-retroviral medication from local health care institutions.
He was simply told to seek the drugs in his home country. He came back disillusioned.
Katumba, just like many other migrant Zimbabweans, living with HIV, arrived in Botswana, as a migrant worker seeking a new life and work opportunities.
During a recent trip to Francistown, NewsDay Weekender came across Chris Munatsi, a documented long time migrant worker in Johannesburg, who was on a short visit to Botswana.
“My pregnant wife was recently denied admission at a local hospital as we are migrants and was immediately turned away. While at the same time a local citizen in the same condition was admitted,” he said.
“We thought Francistown had better services than at home where the health delivery system had collapsed. Despite the exclusion, the fees are too high and we had no choice but to catch the next bus home to Bulawayo.”
According to Botswana’s Migration Policy Institute (MPI) the government has moved to fortify exclusion measures and heighten punishment for illegal migrants, including the sick, while pushing for the silent diplomacy policy towards the Harare administration.
“This in order to stem the influx of undocumented migrants, particularly Zimbabweans,” the institute said.
“With a declining need to encourage and promote the inward migration of skilled foreigners, coinciding with increasing levels of xenophobia among the population, the Gem of Africa, seems set to become the exclusive domain of the Batswana”.
According to Rebecca Shaeffer, a fellow in the health and human rights division of Human Rights Watch, “Discrimination against foreigners is institutionalised in South Africa’s health care system.”
The African Union (AU) has mooted the free movement of African people in the region to help regional economic integration.
Former AU Commission chairperson, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma last year said the continent was moving towards integration and a single African passport.
“Generally, the free movement of people has more advantages than disadvantages. If people are free to move, they come in and leave. If they know they can’t come back at their will, they end up staying,” she said at an AU Summit in Durban in June 2016.