The Human Cost of Migration 

Last year something close to 150 million people without documents or money tried to migrate from their home countries to other countries where they thought they might find shelter and a means of earning a living. We see the pictures on our television screens and sometimes the image of the body of a small boy on a beach in sneakers brings it home just what horrors people who undertake such journeys, face.

Source: The Human Cost of Migration – The Zimbabwean

Eddie Cross

We live in a very unequal world where the gap between the haves and the have nots grows wider every year. I remember so clearly my first visit to Europe and my impression that there were no poor people. I was wrong of course, there were poor people everywhere but in a country where the Poverty Datum Line is US$15 000 per annum, everything is relative. Where I come from poor people subsist on a tiny fraction of that sum and often go to bed hungry.

I am an African and it was a shock for even me to visit India for a Bankers Conference, to see the absolute poverty. To visit major Cities and see the streets closed off at night to allow hundreds of thousands of people sleep on the road. The streets covered in what looked like bundles of rags. Where the Municipality had a truck on standby in the morning to haul away those bundles that did not move when the sun came up. Africans place a high regard for dignity in death and for my colleagues this was an unforgettable experience.

So when your own country goes through tough times – like so often have been experienced in Zimbabwe in the past 40 years, families and individuals take hard decisions on what to do. One of my business ventures was a small supermarket and bakery at the border town of Beitbridge. Because of its location we had first-hand experience of the terrors that face migrants. My standing instruction to the staff was that no hungry person was to be turned away, they were taken to a stock room at the back and fed a meal and given something to drink.

A young man heard he could get something to eat there and he presented himself one morning and I was there at the time. I was puzzled – he was very young, about 18 I thought, came from the Binga District near the Zambezi. I sat him down and asked what his story was and he told me that he had been sent by his family to find a job in South Africa and then send money home to help his parents and siblings. He had travelled to the border by bus and then joined a group who waded through the Limpopo River about 20 kilometres downstream from the Border Post.

They all knew what they were doing was illegal and dangerous – gangs of thieves in South Africa preyed on the migrants and often they were joined by the Police and even army units deployed to stop the flow of migrants – that year I estimated 500 000 people had fled the country for greener pastures in South Africa and Botswana. He survived, walked 60 kilometres to the main road and got a lift into Johannesburg with a long distance driver. He had no money, no friends, could not speak any local language and very quickly he was picked up and taken to a refugee centre outside the City where hundreds of others were located. After a week they were herded onto a train, the doors locked and they were taken back to Zimbabwe – the train discharging its passengers onto the station at Beitbridge under the watchful eyes of the Zimbabwean Police and Army. He had not eaten for two days.

I gave him money to get back to Binga, his home district and wished him well. I have no doubt he would walk back down the River and try his luck once more. Had he got a job – any sort of job, he would have had to find a place to live in the sprawling shanty towns of Johannesburg and then send home to his family at least half of everything he earned. If he could not get a job he probably would have joined a gang and would be involved in crime. He would not see anything wrong with that – he was feeding his family, paying school fees and medical expenses – even food.

I asked a local friend to take me down the River to see where people were crossing. We drove along a road that ran close to the River and after a few kilometres came across a path down to the River through thick bush. It was not a path as such – more like a road, created by thousands of feet walking. On the other bank we could clearly see the South African fence – but it had been cut and wide spaces created for people trying to emigrate.

Sometime later, during the wet season I was told of an incident where 60 people were trying to cross the River and formed a line holding on to each other as they waded through the water. In the middle of the line was a young woman with a baby, trying to get to South Africa to visit her husband. The River was running strongly and she missed her step and fell, throwing her baby to the man in front of her. She was swept away. On the bank they gathered to consider what to do. No one was prepared to take on a small baby in such circumstances and I am told they threw the baby into the water to follow its mother.

Anyone who knows Zimbabweans will appreciate the agony of that decision for those people, but they felt they had no choice. I visited a squatter camp outside Johannesburg at the height of the flood of refugees to South Africa. It was a squalid place, tiny tin shacks packed with people and mainly single men. We could hear Shona being spoken. We talked with local activists and they described the often terrible conditions in such camps.

But it is not only the poor that flee from poorly governed countries, often it is the very best – American Universities come out to Zimbabwe every year to identify top students and offer them opportunities. My Granddaughter won a prestigious science prize against 30 000 students in southern Africa and was promptly offered opportunities abroad. Young people from well to do families get their passports and immediately make plans to go abroad. My son addressed a class of A level students at a local High School – out of 120 kids only 2 said they intended to stay.

So Africa loses its best to the West. Migration is also qualitative and we are the poorer because of this.

But perhaps the greatest damage will be the collapse of the African family. We have a saying that it takes a Village to raise a child. Where would we be as a continent without the extended families of Africa? In December this past year a couple returned from Australia for Christmas – then went back to Australia where they were now citizens. They left their three children with a Grandmother in their up market home in Harare. Students studying abroad talk of hunger and terrible living conditions, constant problems with the authorities and racial prejudice. Those who make it, prefer to stay and just send home a few dollars each month as a sop to their consciences. Eventually they are lost permanently to their foreign places of work. Even someone like me, feels like a stranger in those countries, goodness knows how deeply others feel the same thing.

A colleague was in London once and on Oxford Street when he saw a lone man who looked like a Zimbabwean on the opposite side of the street. He took a chance and shouted “Iwe” (hey you!). He stopped, looked around for where that had come from and they spent a marvellous day together, both lonely, lost Africans in a strange place, He was a student, he was there for a conference on agriculture, he was black, my colleague was white. It made no difference they were Zimbabweans.

Our job, if we are going to find solutions to these problems, is to get our countries working again. It is a choice and never easy. I choose to stay at home and work for a better future for all Zimbabweans. There can be no higher calling.


  • comment-avatar
    Ndebele 1 year ago

    Indeed the call form home is very strong. But we do also need to remember that leaving he country is a choice – and many of those who have chosen or been forces to leave the country of their birth were threatened with execution by Zanu, had everything they owned stolen by Zanu or chose not to become a Zanu Mujiba to survive I in the country. As we celebrate the 40th Anniversary of Independence which Zanu constantly reminds us that they did for the people – we can reflect on say David Stevens and Martin Olds who were murdered by Zanu some 20 years ago to the day. So, 20 years after Independence Zanu was still murdering people and 40 years after Independence they have chosen to send the troops into Bulawayo again. The 25 000 civilians Butchered in Matabeleland is well documented and the list has kept growing. Against these odds – we could hardly think that them staying behind to murdered by Zanu was necessarily a better choice than leaving? The only problem with so many people having left the country now is that Zanu thinks that the diaspora should prop up their genocidal governance and remit hard currency for the Regime to steal in exchange for Zanu Toilet paper? The issue for the diaspora at least  Is that the author has been a Mujiba peddling false hoods about Zanu creating a wonderful currency that will be the strongest in Africa! We trust that you jest! In the last week – Zanu have had to back track. We can go one further and go to google earth and look at the state of the land on the previously commercial farms that Zanu stole – that caused the socio economic collapse of the country for the majority – not the chefs. Very quickly we can see that the land has been cultivated to death and trees flattened and that it is not a regenerative agriculture as espoused by the NRB. Thus – the Zanu policy has created a starving nation that has actually changed the climate through the slash and burn agriculture that was the norm in the country 200 years ago. 200 years ago there were about 500 000 people in the country but today there could be over 15 million. Slash and Burn and a remitting Diasporara seem to be the Zanu plan – with a sham currency to steal the remitted funds for  A Gono/ED/Magudya/Mthuli piece of toilet paper that can buy nothing? Sadly, for an economist with a background in the AMA, the DMB and the CSC – we expect a better grasp of the root of the problem. Put simply it is a sound agricultural policy that understands the value of pride of ownership and its flow on effect of a cool moist soil carbon sponge. We are doing it all over the world now – and Zanu and its megaphone economist – thinks that Zimbabwe is immune to a healthy soil, a democracy and a servant leadership governance. Ironically it has now been proved that desertification causes climate change and drought – not the reverse. Supporting Zanu murder, mayhem on the land as well as usury with the printing press is to be a part of the problem and it is fascinating that the author has chosen to defend Zanu in his sunset years?    

    • comment-avatar
      Makaranga 1 year ago

      A few hours ago there was an international webinar called Great Works of Our Time. It is a global initiative drawing ideas, concepts and the energy of those people giving them – to the world. Ironically – the opening words were from the Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and the “We are sorry” speech he made to the persecuted in that country from 1788. The speech was significant in that he was very clear on the apology being unconditional and sincere – but that also it was a time to move froward and not be trapped by the past injustice. Zanu could probably not even consider being a part of Great Works of Our Time because they are so focused on being the Patrons of Great Heists of All Time. The webinar was about self determination and sharing of ideas and bing free to restore the cool moist soil carbon sponge that man has systematically pillaged for hundreds of years – globally – and this has created climate change. All pretty simple stuff – and there are ex Zimbabweans driving it all over the world in various capacities – but they all know that Zimbabwe is a no go area because Zanu will want control to tax it, steal it or if it fails to do those – then kill it or simply destroy it. What point would there be to take such technology to Zimbabwe when you know that Zanu will abuse it to kill and starve more people? What point is there in going back to your home country where only Zanu Journo Mujibas are deemed Essential Services? What point is there in trying to fix a country that zanu is hell bent on destroying as we speak? Jill Baker whose father dedicated his life to indigenous peoples’ education – twigged 35 years ago that it was going to be a long haul when ED himself said “we will not have complete power over the people until they come begging on their hands and knees for food from us – we do not have power until then.” Thus jumping on to the Zanu Gravy Train has to come at some moral cost? Just ask the Makamba family how Zanu treated them in their hour of need – ask the Tongagara family or the Nkomo family or the Mujuru family. – or the families of the 25 000 Matabele victims. Then we start to get context and perspective of the Smith – Mugabe battle’s real cost to the country over the last 60 years.