Confronted by a bleak future due to deteriorating political and socio-economic climate, James Zuze quit his job as a teacher in 2007. The move was greeted with condemnation by those close to him.
Blinded by hope in search of greener pastures, Zuze was not deterred by what his kith and kin said, instead he proceeded to South Africa.
Plunging into the unknown zone, the former mathematics teacher says, was not easy.
“Going to South Africa was the greatest risk I have ever taken in my life considering I quit my profession and left for a place I had no clue of. It was a difficult experience because I used to sleep on the streets.
“I had no relative who could offer me accommodation let alone finances to return home.
However, things began to take shape when I started to work as a security guard and the thoughts of returning home quickly vanished” he said.
Zuze is among the millions of Zimbabweans who left the country at the height of the economic meltdown in 2007.
The condemnation that comes with leaving the country far outweighs the success stories that have come with migration to foreign lands.
For Zuze, crossing to South Africa was a blessing in disguise as he managed to study and attain an Accounting degree with the University of Johannesburg.
Today he says “Those who criticized my move have also taken the same route and their families are now well off than before.”
But what really motivates people to leave the country? , considering that many are doing menial jobs in neighbouring countries?
Tamuka Chirimambowa, a Development studies Lecturer at the University of Johannesburg says there was no underlying principle in making decisions to leave the country.
“We cannot analyse from an individual’s decision because they are in their own world. However the economy in South Africa is far much better because of the purchasing power of the Rand.
“For example,100 Rands buys you more in South Africa whereas in Zimbabwe you do not get the same value, social services in South Africa are still functional in their dilapidated state and as little as 20 Rands can cover medical services” said Chirimambowa.
Thousands of Zimbabweans are doing menial jobs which they cannot afford to do whilst in their native country but because of poor wages one will be forced to leave the country.
Chirimambowa said the jobs should however, be ladders to success.
“It is not all rosy in South Africa but menial jobs are a ladder to success as some Zimbabweans are now employed in the South African government as engineers after studying at various varsities unlike in the country where you remain a domestic worker.
“Migration for many is an entry point to survive so despite the conditions it is an eye opener, the taste of the pudding is in the eating” he said.
Despite the challenges bedeviling the country many families have survived through support from family members in South Africa and other countries.
“I have two sons in South Africa who have been supportive of the family and they have managed to acquire a residential stand which is a milestone for them though as a parent you would have loved them to be near” said 57-year old Gogo Mutero of Budiriro.
Some have managed to form clubs that are meant to assist fellow Zimbabweans in times of bereavement by assisting with repatriation and other funeral costs.
“Many of us have been in South Africa for over a decade and we have come to know some challenges that are faced by our countrymen and women so we decided to form clubs that assist in repatriation of deceased Zimbabweans,
“We know that not all of us are gainfully employed but we will do everything in our power to have our colleagues ferried home for a decent burial,” said Thomas Gumbo.
A visit to road port bus terminus and the sight of long winding queues at a local financial agent bears testimony that migration has opened opportunities for better livelihoods for most Zimbabweans as relatives collect parcels and money at these points.
“Those working in South Africa send money and parcels to their loved ones through our drivers and conductors (for a fee) and they safely receive their goods. A lot of people in South Africa have been supporting their families which is something crucial.” said an inspector whose buses ply the Harare-Johannesburg route.
A woman who was collecting money at a financial agent said: “My husband works in South Africa so I am here to collect money so that I pay school fees for my kids before schools open.”
Whilst success stories have been realised by some, some have found the going tough.
“I went to South Africa in 2016 with the hope of getting employment and without any relative that side for the first three days I slept at a Church in central Johannesburg until I hooked up with a fellow Zimbabwean who took me to his house.
“As I was adjusting to the new life I discovered that the guy was a criminal and I moved back to the streets pondering for the next move and with the little cash in my pocket starting to dwindle, I worked at a night club as a doorman earning 500 Rands, and because of the salary and the working conditions I managed to raise bus fare and returned home after just three months” says Romeo Mutasa.
The recent pronouncement by the South African Government to extend permits for Zimbabweans working in that country comes as a huge sigh of relief to many Zimbabweans who were uncertain of their future.
Though many in the country are feeling the pinch of the economic meltdown, for people like James Zuze the meltdown has been a stepping stone to a better life.