AT the centre of the immigration crisis that has been making headlines for the past few days in South Africa is the failure by the Zimbabwean government to provide better living standards for its citizens.
This truth must rise above propaganda churned out by State-controlled media, supporters and apologists of the new dispensation.
Irregular migrants arrested along the Beitbridge Border Post have been referred to as criminal elements that need to be dealt with ruthlessly.
These people are not predisposed to criminality as suggested by those wanting to absolve themselves of responsibility for the plight of migrants.
They are fathers, mothers, and children in search of hope for a better future that is free from want.
It boggles the mind that Zimbabwe is a country at peace, but it matches countries at war in producing migrants.
A high unemployment rate, poor relations between the government and civil servants, and a collapsed public healthcare system have led to citizens seeking greener pastures elsewhere.
For some professionals, especially those in the medical field, migrating to Europe, Canada, Australia or South Africa is easy as their skills are in demand and employers are prepared to pay top dollar and assist them in relocating.
On the contrary, those without qualifications have limited options at their disposal should they wish to migrate. Many from the latter group have crossed the border to South Africa where they have illegally taken residence.
In 2009, the Cabinet of South Africa approved the Dispensation of Zimbabweans Project to regularise undocumented Zimbabweans and reduce pressure on its asylum system that had become populated with individuals fleeing political persecution and economic mismanagement by Zanu PF.
It was an appreciated gesture of goodwill that has unfortunately come to an end with the Home Affairs minister Aaron Mostoaledi having recently announced that the special exemption permit would not be renewed.
A grace period of only 12 months was given to allow permit holders to regularise their stay under other visas.
The sad reality is that the majority of the exemption permit holders do not meet the requirements of the other visas and they will have to voluntarily return home or risk deportation.
Some will decide to stay and play hide and seek with the police and Department of Home Affairs officials. However, access to basic rights will be difficult.
Negative comments have been passed concerning fellow countrymen caught illegally crossing the border with South Africa and those affected by the termination of the exemption permit I have alluded to.
Indeed, freedom of speech is fundamental in a democracy, but in this case, it should be guided by empathy. With a rising tide of xenophobia, anti-migrant sentiment, and ultra-nationalism in some parts of the world, in the coming years, more Zimbabweans might find their way home.
United, the people of Zimbabwe should work towards a durable solution to the woes they face. That durable solution involves peacefully demanding a decent standard of living from the government and making an informed decision in the 2023 elections.
- Tatenda Kaponda graduated from the University of Cape Town, South Africa. He is a Canon Collins and Mandela Rhodes scholar.