By Sij Ncube
Continual weakening of the South African rand against the US dollar has been identified as the major deterrent restricting Zimbabwean citizens living in South Africa from travelling back home to celebrate the festive season with their families.
The rand weakened to a six-year low of R11.7225 to the dollar this month after a subdued year during which the South African currency traded characteristically softer against the United States dollar.
This festive season has seen fewer South African migrants flooding the country towards the close of the year especially to Bulawayo where they are popularly referred to as injiva in recognition of yesteryear times when they would revive business in the country with the then all powerful rand.
With the Zimbabwean economy operating with higher prices amid a crippling liquidity crunch as compared to the neighbouring economy, some sectors believe the situation has confined Injiva to South Africa.
According to a 2015 budget review by accounting firm Grant Thornton, the poverty datum line for an individual in South Africa is USD 52.40 which is approximately half that of Zimbabwe pegged at USD 100.58.
Some people living in South Africa who did not travel home for the holidays revealed that they were discouraged by the possibility to fail and meet expectations associated with people coming from the proverbial greener pastures.
One such South African immigrant, Themba Mhlanga said many of his counterparts including himself were not coming to Zimbabwe for the holiday.
“I haven’t really grasped everybody’s reasons for not coming back but personally the prices back home would be unsustainable,” he said.
“Look at hosting friends and family for a good time for example, here (SA) you can buy a six pack of hunters with 50rand but in Zim you would need to fork out close to 100 rands and that’s just a basic example,” he said.
“You can also focus on other contributing factors like bus companies who have now hiked their fares and I believe most people would prefer to send money thus avoiding such daylight robbery because at the end of the day we work here for families at home and so the economic comparison of the benefit between sending cash and going home is paramount,” he added.
Mhlanga’s analysis seems plausible considering that this time of previous years, Bulawayo and surrounding districts, especially Tsholotsho in Matabeleland North, Kezi and Bululima-Mangwe in Matabeleland South would be awash with South African-registered cars. The injiva would by now be driving around the city, playing loud music and drinking imported beer, but this year even Bulawayo is still considerably quiet.
In previous years especially before dollarization it was possible to sustain a holiday on as little as ZAR 1000 which was approximately equivalent to USD100 which could be exchanged for the local currency and give residents immense buying power.
Present day reality however presents a situation where even USD1000 could struggle to make ends meet over the holidays particularly for tourists from across the Limpopo.
Despite the seemingly gloomy picture, Johannesburg based financial services consultant Nobukosi Kufa nee Ndebele maintained that the decision to travel back home was emotional rather than financial.
“I do not think people could be stopped from going home because they cannot buy as much as they did earlier. For some people, Christmas is not Christmas without going home.
“Personally I am not travelling but I have brought my parents here to spend time with us and I usually avoid coming home during universal holidays like these because of the hassles at the boarder but for other people I believe they will always go home as a tradition regardless of any impediments,” she said.
“I also think there is a need to consider the blue collar and white collar comparison where the blue collar has realised there is more business during holidays and thus opportunities to get temporary employment. This would mean they can decide to work over the busy festive season and travel later,” she added.
A brief survey of cross boarder operators in Bulawayo however revealed that this year there was an influx of people resorting to send groceries with them and private transporters popularly known as omalayitsha.