The Question of Race


Discussion on migration focuses on the movement of the ethnic majorities in nations. While studies on migration of minorities will bring forth great insight to the cultural, social and political dynamics of these countries. Future migration studies that include insight into minority groups will aid efforts on dynamic awareness, re-engagement and return of migrant. Universal efforts of engagement through proactive transformation of institutional structures, good governance, communication and diversity management of racial, cultural, economic and political groups.


Diaspora, Politics, Migration, Culture, Reintegration, Engagements, Development, Economics, Reconciliation,

1. Introduction

The management of migration has historically been highly political and highly politicised, particularly throughout 20th Century. It has been intrinsically linked to deeply emotive issues such as nationalism, identity, race, political power, and economic control. Indeed, such issues continue to frame migration debates in contemporary Africa. 1

This paper seeks to highlight the race issue and the struggle of the racial minority that make up Zimbabweans in respect of the diaspora challenges.  Conversation and analysis of racial migration is still based on the pan African “struggle of the black”. To the common person the migration of Zimbabweans is limited to awareness of ones limited society. This biased view is generally carried on subconsciously by technocrats speaking and seeking to respond to the diaspora question. In the ordinary discussion of Diaspora issues in the Zimbabwean context; race conversation rarely reflects the racial makeup of the society.

2. Background 

Zimbabwe society is made up of different races, with the majority being a black population of mixed African decent tribal and ethnical decent. There has been limited research on the migration of the different races. The failure to take into account racial issues in diaspora discussion reflects a deeper social detachment by analysts and leaders to the needs of the common men. Limited conversation by diaspora bodies, government and non-governmental organisation on race in migration, has limited general diaspora connection and relations.

There are a number of different ethnic groups in Zimbabwe. According to government statistics, the Shona ethnic group makes up 82 percent of the population, Ndebele 14 percent, whites less than 1 percent, and other ethnic groups 3 percent. There is some tension between the white minority and other groups, between the Shona majority and the Ndebele minority, and among the various Shona subgroups (USSD 2008). The definition of a Zimbabwean also has political connotations (ibid.). (ICAR Population Guide, Zimbabweans in the UK, Rachel Humphris, July 2010)

In Diaspora-Engagement-and-Development-in-S.pdf, 1998, Anthias observes that Diasporic   communities enter into and affect social relationship of gender, race and class, and these communities are formed in relation to these mechanisms of social stratification[1].  Rogers (1984) states that broadening the return migration spectrum results in not only diverse return motivations but also various forms of resource mobilisation depending on migrants’ social locations and characteristics, including institutional, political and economic conditions in the home country, labour markets, the welfare system, the business and entrepreneurship sector, the time spent abroad, legal status, social class, gender, ethnicity and race, and sexual orientation (Gold, 2005: 260).

3. Challenges 

In Africa, South Africa is home to various research and academic initiatives related to migration, such as the African Centre for Migration and Society (ACMS), based at the University of the Witwatersrand in Gauteng. Researchers at this centre, formerly known as the Forced Migration Studies Programme, continue to produce important migration-related research with relevance in South Africa and much further afield.

  • Race and ethnic relations reveal levels of institutional tolerance and political attitudes of leaders and influencers.
  • Race relations in countries have great impact on the migration attitudes of government and interracial relations of migrants.
  • This write up seeks to highlight key questions and promote discourse in the area of racial migration study and relations on different forums.
  • It also seeks to promote intentional inter racial relations between Zimbabwean migrants.
  • Motivate Proactive research on race dynamic and migration culture in Zimbabwe.
3.1 Migration    

Human mobility is a crucial part of Africa’s history. Its prominence has gained momentum in global discourses and policy agendas of many governments. While migration and development have become the focus of many African governments, seeking to recoup their lost gains, individuals and families also view it as the surest means by which they can improve on their livelihood and survival strategies

The needs of migrants in Zimbabwe have become points of brinksmanship. The response of diaspora to government initiatives, to connect with the diaspora are hindered by its refusal to allow access to:

  • Refusal of Dual citizenships
  • Refusal of Voting rights
  • Challenges in access to passports and birth registrations
  • Perceived prejudiced political bias and corruption by government
  • Failure by government to meet local residents needs
3.2 The Community     

According to Mbiba Beacon, the Zimbabwean crisis has demonstrated that Zimbabwe’s social, economic and political spaces are not confined to the territorial or geographic space within Zimbabwean borders. In the present context, a global perspective is more helpful than a narrow outlook focusing only at Zimbabwe itself.  A consensus is that “all is not well in Zimbabwe” emerged soon after the Parliamentary elections of 2000 leading to increased use of “crisis”, “anarchy”, “meltdown”, “chaos”, “point of no return” and other doomsday terminologies.

However, there is less agreement on the nature of the crisis, its causes, starting point and what needs to be done to resolve it.

The initial migration of Zimbabwean was in part propelled after the Government land redistribution program. According to political analysts the economic challenges however were grounded on financial mismanagement and corruption. This cancer of corruption was initially identified as fatal by the professional and business community of Zimbabwe, who formed the first exodus. With this professional exodus followed increased socio-economic insecurity that a general exodus which peaked as political crisis increased.

The Land redistribution program was initially based on laudable ambition of economic restoration for the black majority and the fulfilment of the Lancaster House agreement for restitution of land. its implementation degenerated into land robbing (Repossession of farms: numerous instances of properties purchased post-independence by black and white targeted farmers), racial targeting, vandalism and on some occasion intimidation that would culminate in murder. The warning signs where there for the white farmers after the British government seeking to focus economic development of its country over honouring legal agreements made by its predecessors the conservative party.

This sprouting of anger, overflowed into the politicising of the Zimbabwean Identity in a manner that detached both black and white migrants. The question of the Zimbabwean identity was no longer inclusive. The failure of Zimbabweans and the government Ito separate the institutional identity of government, political parties and the identity of the country, has developed grave anxiety in migrants of all races.

Increased social detachment resulted in the presumption by government and the nongovernmental agencies, that migration challenges are only found by the majority black population. Has resulted in tragic loss in opportunity for reconciliation effort with the diaspora and greater Zimbabwean community.

  • According to the diaspora, its internal is divided primarily by income first, then secondary by race.
  • A returning resident who has spent time in Europe and the United Kingdom reflects on the challenges of the coloured community in Zimbabwe, caused by the dichotomy of identity and the real and perceived rejection by both blacks and white. This rejection is believed to be the underlying causes of many psychosocial problems such as depression, suicide and addition in the coloured community.
  • The lady also states: what is of interest in terms of the diaspora is that a number of the people able to trace and prove their western ancestry have chosen to migrate to Europe and the united Kingdom, and feel more a sense of belonging there than they ever did in their country of birth. This has created in some ways a further split with those coloureds who are unable to trace or prove their ancestry and hence remain without the advantages that should be by right be theirs.
  • Another lady Mrs F had to go to the United Kingdom to repatriate her brother who had fallen into the hands of human traffickers. As a white Zimbabwean it would be assumed that in a white country they are at home.
  • Nokthula Chibi has experienced great support from white Zimbabweans while in South Africa. She worked an accounted, her interaction with white Zimbabweans testified of sense of rejection and not belonging in the South African white community.
  • Majority of black Zimbabweans who work in the domestic industry work for former white Zimbabweans. This network also enables security in case of illegal migrants as they feel understood.

The suffering of the Zimbabwean minority in the diaspora must be addressed. When sensitivity of interracial lines is attained, social cohesion is generally not far off.

4 Historic State of Diaspora     
4.1 In the past    

Zimbabweans generally, suffer from deskilling when in the UK (Bloch: 2006). More so in darker races than others. In 2004, the Home Office published a Skills Audit of Refugees based on a survey of nearly 2,000 refugees who had been given a positive decision on their status between November 2002 and February 2003. The report found that of all groups surveyed, Zimbabweans had the highest level of education, previous work experience and levels of literacy and English language. 57% had worked as professionals, managers or in professional and technical occupations (Kirk: 2004). Furthermore, a study of 500 Zimbabweans found that 97% of Zimbabweans in the UK had a formal qualification and an above average level of education compared to the British population and other exile groups (Bloch: 2005). This is attributed to the selection bias within particular migration streams. (ICAR Population Guide, Zimbabweans in the UK, Rachel Humphris, July 2010)

Moreover, although the mobility of skilled personnel between developing countries is still under-researched and available empirical data rather sketchy, there appears to be an emerging phenomenon of an ‘internal brain drains’ (Oni, 2000).

For instance, there is some anecdotal evidence of skills migration from other Sub-Saharan (and in particular Anglophone) countries to South Africa. A further phenomenon in South Africa and other developing countries – again the evidence is only anecdotal at this stage – is that of an intra-country brain drain from academia to government and industry. Both of these developments are fuelled by the stagnant salaries in many higher education systems in Africa and, arguably, present a more serious, if not permanent, brain drain than the loss of the academic workforce to overseas higher education institutions. The reason for saying this is because it is highly unlikely that those who have gone to industry and government will return to academia. (Scientific Mobility and the African Diaspora Compiled by: Johann Mouton, Nelius Boshoff, Tembile Kulati and Frank Teng-Zeng Centre for Research on Science and Technology (CREST) University of Stellenbosch, South Africa James Martin Institute Working Paper 6 Project Deliverable # 4 April 2007).


According to beacon Mabiba: As political and diplomatic tensions between Harare and London worsened, the numbers of Zimbabweans refused entry into the UK increased. Zimbabwean experiences at the hands of immigration officers have been described by respondents as “traumatic”, “demeaning” “frustrating” and

“utter human rights abuse”. In the UK, one of the groups that made a lot of noise regarding ill-treatment of passengers was the Zimbabwe Association.

  • However, as an asylum-focused organisation, it did not articulate broader human rights issues, for example conditions experienced in the workplace or in attempts to access services, but sought to highlight alleged dangers faced by refused asylum seekers forced to return to Zimbabwe. 3
4.2 Current State of Diaspora   
  • The Network of Zimbabweans in the diaspora, results in personal connection based on nationhood.
  • It’s a pity that government is failing to use every opportunity to connect with this network in a non-partisan manner, especially during non-critical episodes (Cholera, Hurricane Idai, Corona Virus Covid 19).
  • There is some exception like a minority segment of Caucasian Zimbabweans mainly in Australia who follow the extreme racist principles under the “patriotic banner” of old Rhodesians.
  • But even racist Zimbabweans are part of the greater family, family is family even if one does not get along with them.

The Diaspora community as in certain communities build up Zimbabwean centres, most of these are biased in race and political bias. One community in Australia has been aided by the Regional government to build up a language school that trains the children in the vernacular languages of Shona and Ndebele. According to a community leader in the area Godfrey Matanda, during an interview with Youth Focus Diaspora Desk, the school is run without tribal bias.

  • He identified challenges of the diaspora including:
  • Social-relations with offspring abandoned of migrants from Zimbabwe.
  • These children sorer seek out the community as part of their identity.
  • Failure of ministry of foreign affairs to reach out/assist the diaspora, especially in times of their need.

Examples are of diaspora and minority community efforts: 

During all major national crisis, the minority groups and the disasters community have reached out to assist and sought to build Zimbabwe.

Two members of the diaspora where interviewed who attempted to enter into the mining industry.

  • A man of African descent, of the Shona tribe, who has become a naturalised Australian, found in his case that after the change in government in 2017, the platitudes of Zimbabwe is open for business did not include naturalised diaspora initiatives. He had a network of investors who he worked with on numerous projects in other countries, and had a good social and professional network within the country, having worked for Anglo American for two decades. Despite all this he spent the past 3 years traveling between Zimbabwe and Australia.
  • A Caucasian lady who had returned for her stay in New Zealand in response for the call, stated that her initial attempt to restart her mining operation on mines that had been closed after liquidity fall. Met corrupt opportunism in government and they enter into a legal battle of ownership which she won in 2020.

The Diaspora community and the minority communities have with determination and limited government support to attempted any connection sought to declare that they are part of Zimbabwe.

  • Jaquiline Anderson of Miracle Missions whose offices are at Harare, Presbyterian has lead fundraising and distribution in numerous social efforts especially during national calamities.
  • During the Covid-19 crisis, Aoife Connoll organised food distribution to old age homes and vulnerable members of the Zimbabwean community.
  • Churches in Zimbabwe aiding parents of diasporas (non-communicative children) with food and social assistance.
  • Local efforts in Zimbabwe to assist beyond the family network:
  • Adopt a child – act as non-resident foster parent of children whose parents are absent
  • Adopt a parent – community members developing network of elderly citizens, with children in the diaspora who they will consist care, follow-up and aid.
  • According to Mrs C Hurley during the resurfacing of national hyperinflation crisis with respect to the USD black-market rates, in the first weeks of 2020, there were two Caucasian elderly couples whose children had stopped all communication from the diaspora, who committed suicide in the North Suburbs of Zimbabwe in January 2020.
  • To ensure the care of these vulnerable members of society the Christian community as reached to assist.
  • Attempt by a community in Australia to follow up on children abundant by their Zimbabwean fathers.
  • For Success This limited attempts require social partnerships and governmental (Zimbabwean) input.
5. Conclusion     

It’s a known fact that most migrations that are triggered by crisis will have citizens willing to reconnect. Current interaction by the writer with members of the diaspora showed an increasing number preparing to be buried in their host countries. In traditional societies like Zimbabwe, such decisions represent a replanting of identity.

Prolonged failure of social interaction with the diaspora community will lead in increased detachment, bitterness and identity crisis in the migrant community.

Institutions government and businesses tend to follow the money, and do not act outside political or monetary gain. As government seeks to priorities economically beneficial efforts. It’s up to each Zimbabwean – the resident and diaspora community of Zimbabwe to reach out and build this new Identity that encompasses: the greater Zimbabwean community.

  • It is up to the development community to research and obtain quantitative data on social benefits of migration.
  • It is up to citizens to record and detail all social efforts on migration and diaspora engagement (regardless of limited impact).

This article does not seek to highlight minority groups over the rest of the Zimbabwean community, but to present the unrevealed stories. The hope of this writeup is to provoke nonpartisan social dialogue on migration, interracial and ethnic dynamics so as to build a better Zimbabwe.


Mandebvu, Gamuchirai SL would like to thank Cherie Hurly and Noma Madyiwa for taking the time to review this paper and highlight key points. She would like to thank Pinnet Mercy Consultancy for availing the platform for the research.


Miss Gamuchirai SL Mandebvu dedicate this paper to Yahweh – God and her mother, the two most influential forces in her life.


Diaspora Engagement and Development in South Asia Edited by Tan Tai Yong Director, Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore and MD Mizanur Rahman, 2013 Senior Research Fellow, Institute of South

Asian Studies, National University of Singapore Diaspora-Engagement-andDevelopment-in-S.pdf


Zimbabwe’s Global Citizens in ‘Harare North’: Overview and Implications for

Development © Beacon Mbiba London School of Economics and Political Science Department of Geography and Environment 2005 Peri-NET Working

Paper 14 The Urban and Peri- Urban Research Network (Peri-NET, Africa)

ICAR Population Guide, Zimbabweans in the UK, Rachel Humphries, July 2010)

Scientific Mobility and the African Diaspora Compiled by: Johann Mouton, Nelius Boshoff, Tembile Kulati and Frank T eng-Zeng Centre for Research on

Science and Technology (CREST) University of Stellenbosch, South Africa

James Martin Institute Working Paper 6 Project Deliverable # 4 April 2007Community and social Interviews

[1] Diaspora Engagement and Development in South Asia Edited by Tan Tai Yong Director, Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore and MD Mizanur Rahman, 2013 Senior Research Fellow, Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore Diaspora-Engagement-and-Development-in-S.pdf


GIO EDITOR Scalabrini Institute for Human Mobility in Africa – SIHMA Cape Town – South Africa 2014

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