By Matthew Takaona
There are many social lessons to be drawn from the experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The one I find compelling is to do with the merits and demerits of disconnecting with one’s country when one goes into the Diaspora.
This is more so in the light of the chilling racial segregation against blacks that has exploded in China as that populous country recovers from the devastating effects of COVID-19.
Millions of Zimbabweans left the country for various destinations around the World since the turn of the millennium. Reasons for migration are not many; key push factors are either political or economic.
And when most of those set off on the sojourn it was to stay in the host countries for three to five years, get enough money to buy a house, start a small business back home and return.
Everyone had hoped that the political and economic turbulence that started off in 1999 would end quickly. Time went by; months turned into years, years into decades and the problems at home worsened.
With the passage of time, many have since had a change of heart, they will not come back home anymore.
They are bringing up families in foreign lands, buying houses and making huge investments in the Diaspora. To make it crystal clear that they have turned their backs on their country, they have even bought graves in the foreign lands.
This trend where Zimbabweans are seeking permanent citizenship abroad is growing but the pandemic in addition to other phenomenon that have come before it like xenophobia in South Africa has clearly demonstrated that there is no security in a foreign land.
It may be true that the world has become a global village but even in a village everyone has his or her own house.
One of the big lessons for Zimbabweans from this pandemic is that in whatever we do or wherever we go, we must keep an active interest in the national affairs of our country not only because one day we may need to go back but also because of many other important reasons. There is no permanent home outside one’s country and history has proved this time and again.
Whites for example lived in Zimbabwe for more than five generations but it took Mugabe less than 10 years to dispossess them of everything they accumulated and remind them that their home is England. Right now, blacks are getting the same grim reminder from our all weather friend that Africa and not China is their home just as the Indians got the same message from Idi Amini of Uganda and Jews in Germany at the time of Hitler.
Zimbabwe’s total lack of preparedness for COVID-19 is clear proof of our collective failure as a nation to manage our affairs.
The COVID-19 pandemic is a clarion call on the Diaspora to organise and participate in rebuilding Zimbabwe. Whatever they do, wherever they go, however long they stay outside the country, Zimbabwe will forever remain home. There seems to be a big lapse in the thinking among the Diaspora that the problems at home are only for those inside the country. No! They affect us all.
Fela Durotoye, a prominent Nigerian public speaker once remarked to his Nigerian countrymen, “Ordinary citizens of a great nation will forever be treated better than successful citizens of a failed country. Individual success in the midst of collective failure will always be despised.
“You are not judged by real how great you have become, there is a national identity tied to you and it’s like a cover that before people see you they see that identity. Whether that identity is for good or bad, it’s the covering you have. Not only is that identity at the cover but it’s at the heart. If your nation is a failed nation you have the heart of pain and the covering of failure, covering all that success.
“And it occurred to me that it was not enough that I could begin to pursue or continue to pursue my success, I need to start pursuing Nigerian success”.
To many, the statement by Durotoye exposes and epitomises Zimbabweans.
Zimbabwe is Sub-Saharan Africa’s most educated nation exporting millions in skills to the First World including nurses, doctors, engineers etc but it stands up high in shame as a potentially failed nation.
But how could this be on a country that is also endowed with massive mineral and agricultural wealth?
There is a theory that says Zimbabweans even in the Diaspora are individualistic. They rarely relate to the level of community or nation. Zimbabweans find pride in individual success and outdoing each other. Their horizon of success is limited to individual and family level.
The COVID-19 breakout threatens to expose the nation for all its failings. In particular, the biggest threat that the pandemic has on Zimbabwe is to seal the country’s all well known status as a failed nation.
Indeed failed because hospitals have no drugs or they are closed, there are no ambulances, there is no oxygen. COVID-19 will expose more than meets the eye.
No Zimbabwean wherever they are will be spared the big shame that COVID-19 can bring on the country. Hospitals are just shells to the extent that administrators appeal to donors for money to buy tyres for ambulances.
The pandemic is a loud and clear call for a rethink to our collective responsibility and commitment to our country. It is a strong warning to move away from our laissez-faire attitude that has left Zimbabwe on the precipe.
The wake-up call is more to the diasporans who have sat on the fence all along.
The call is for us to do something together today or we will all perish tomorrow.
Diaporans have the financial muscle to make this country tick again. A recent report by the Insurance and Pensions Commissions (IPEC) chairman Albert Nduna says Zimbabweans in the Diaspora earn US$30 billion every year. Investing just 33% of that back into the country will see a big boom in the economy.
The cream of this country in any field is obviously found in the Diaspora. The call to the diasporans is please stand up, come forward, be counted and rebuild your country.
The Government on its part must stop looking at the Diaspora as enemies of Zanu PF and therefore of the State. Rather the Government must see opportunities in the Diaspora; opportunities for foreign currency earnings, for investment capacity, for networking and for knowledge and skills transfer from the First World back into Zimbabwe.
There is no resource currently (diamonds and gold included) that is as precious to Zimbabwe as its men and women in the Diaspora.
The Government has an obligation to support the reorganisation of the Diaspora to participate in national programmes.
Matthew Takaona is a Consultant for Masvingo Mirror newspaper and former Chairperson of Radio VOP Board of Trustees.