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Foreigners strike gold as Diasporans sing the blues

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 By Kundai Marunya 

“ONE man’s food is another man’s poison,” is an adage, or rather a cliché that best describes the immigration situation in Zimbabwe. 

In Zimbabwe it seems to be a case of ‘One man’s dry patch is another man’s greener pasture’ or is it ‘One man’s dirt is another man’s gold?’ 

What then happens when one realises that the grass is not greener abroad as often touted? 

Or that home has good enough green pastures such that if one examines them a discerning eye he/she can strike gold in a pile of dirt? 

After all, it is that very economy thousands of Zimbabweans are leaving for the Diaspora that attracts foreign nationals from as far afield as India, the UK, China, Russia and, closer to home, the DRC, Tanzania and the neighbouring Mozambique. 

Zimbabweans have been leaving the country en masse, most of them sheepishly flocking to the Diaspora, only to face long working hours, doing menial jobs to finance an extremely high cost of living. 

According to a snap survey by The Patriot, most Zimbabweans are attracted by offers of fat pay packets for care work, which includes taking care of the elderly, cleaning up after them and washing their dirty linen. 

A reality of the high cost of living only dawns on them on arrival as they are faced with astronomic rentals and high cost of living, which subsequently erodes a sizeable chunk of their income. 

The majority of the Diaspora workers are already groaning under an unbearable debt burden, having borrowed from family and friends to meet the costs of airfares and visa applications. The idea is to pay back the loans as soon as possible, but this is easier said than done. Living in the UK does not come cheap and with overdue loans hanging over their heads, many Zimbabweans in the Diaspora often find themselves falling on even harder times than they faced at home. 

As a result, the majority of migrant workers are forced to live in overcrowded hostels with little or no privacy and under the most deplorable conditions just to keep their Diaspora dream alive. 

Some end up sharing accommodation, crammed in small spaces so as to save, in a bid to meet financial demands that also include taking care of their dependants back home. 

They work long hours, taking on two or even three o jobs to supplement their incomes, resulting in exhaustion and sleep deprivation, and exposing themselves to long-term health complications. 

Sean Makanyanga, who recently returned home after a five-year stint in UK, said life in the Diaspora was not a stroll in the park. 

“Not everyone in the UK has a good life. In fact, most foreign nationals barely manage to survive,” said Makanyanga. 

“Life out there is exhausting. I had to come back home and rethink investments that can generate me a decent income. 

“It is way cheaper to live in Zimbabwe. Even though the salaries and wages seem significantly lower that those offered abraod, you can accomplish something with that little you get here.” 

Makanyanga said the long working hours and harsh environment pushed him to the brink of mental exhaustion. 

“It is way different than being home where you have robust supportive family structures,” he said. 

“If I had been told the truth before leaving the country, I would have stayed put and used the money I spent on airfares, etc, as capital to invest in an income-generating project.” 

Many who have migrated to the Diaspora find themselves in distressful career changes – some from promising white collar careers to menial jobs. 

Foreign nationals migrating to Zimbabwe are singing a different tune; seeing great potential in the country and tapping into vast opportunities available. 

For the business-savvy Nigerians, it is the lucrative synthetic hair industry that satisfies their quest. 

They import the widely popular Brazilian and Indian hairs, weaves, wigs and other synthetic hair extensions from Asia. 

Tanzanians and Congolese are dominant in ‘tuckshops’ that have become extremely popular in Harare, especially in Mbare and the Central Business District. 

They deal in groceries which they sell at affordable prices, thereby countering inflated prices in supermarkets. 

“On a good day I make US$100 000 in sales,” said a Congolese businessman who preferred anonymity. 

“There are, of course, various operational costs. But, generally, there is good business in Harare, that is why you see many foreign nationals coming in to open shops.” 

Congolese nationals have also struck gold in hairdressing and barbering. 

Asian nationals of Indian origin are flocking to the country to claim a stake in the lucrative borehole drilling industry. 

They come in as both entrepreneurs and technicians, making a tidy profit in the process. In some cases they import drilling machines which they hire out to locals operating in various parts of the country. 

It was billionaire tycoon Ravi Jaipuria who ended Delta Beverages’ monopoly in the fizzy drinks bottling industry when he set up Varun Beverages which now produces the Pepsi range of drinks. 

This has gone a long way in pushing down the prices of local soft drinks by a remarkable 50 percent. 

Elsewhere, in the extractive industry to be more precise, the Chinese have proved to be the game-changer in the country’s lithium and quarry stone mining industry. 

In partnership with locals, Chinese nationals are the brains behind lithium mining giants such as Shengxiang Lithium Processing Plant and Prospectus Lithium Zimbabwe (both in Goromonzi) as well as Bikita Minerals. 

But that is not all. The Chinese are also the driving force behind Dinson Iron and Steel plant that is taking shape at Manhize near Mvuma, which upon completion will be Africa’s biggest steel plant. 

To put the icing on the cake, Chinese entrepreneurs has also ventured into the recycling of plastic waste, which is used in the manufacture of affordable household plasticware. 

They are literally turning mountains of garbage into cash, selling buckets, cups, plates, bins, utensils as well as agricultural equipment, including irrigation pipes. 

This is a lucrative industry that any local can engage in, if one is willing to invest the necessary time and money. 

The local production of plasticware has gone a long way in providing a solution to the country’s waste management problems, while creating employment, even for those bold enough to salvage for recyclable plastic in rubbish dumps across the length and breadth of the country. 

According to investment guru, John Vengesa, there are innumerable investment opportunities throughout the country if one is astute enough to look around. 

“You can invest in a lot of things in this country, making your contribution in building the economy,” he says. 

“There are opportunities everywhere, in different sectors, some that do not even require a high capital outlay.” 

The founder of Marib Africa, a private equity investment vehicle, Vengesa encourages would-be emigrants to conduct a thorough search for opportunities at home before going to the Diaspora. 

“If you look hard enough, and talk to the right people on investment advice, you will find that there are many lucrative ventures that can be tapped into locally,” says Vengesa. 

Zimbabwe is a destination of choice for many foreigners looking to turn their financial fortunes around. 

Those with less capital to invest, like some Mozambicans, have turned to vending. 

The Second Republic’s mantra, ‘Zimbabwe is open for business’, has been embraced by foreigners while locals prefer modern-day slavery in foreign lands. 

It is time Zimbabweans wake up from their neo-colonial slumber and refocus their energies on finding lasting economic solutions. 

As Deputy Finance Minister Kudakwashe Mnangagwa rightly put it, Zimbabwe needs agile young people to fight for economic empowerment. 

“We have been through two revolutions; the first one was to gain our independence as a country while the second revolution was to actually gain control of our resources,” said Honourable Mnangagwa in his speech to the youth. 

“Now I would say we are going through an economic revolution which calls for a different type of agility, mental stamina and resilience. 

We, as the youth, have to stay strong and avoid manipulation that may come as a result of those powers that may not be entirely happy with the direction Zimbabwe is taking. 

It is time for youths to carry the mantle and stay strong for future generations just as our forefathers did.” 

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