If deposed Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe is indeed forced into exile in South Africa, as has been proposed, he will be escaping to a less fortunate circumstance than you’d imagine.
While he may avoid jail, public humiliation, or worse in South Africa, he would be fleeing to a country maintained, in many respects, by the people he drove out. They are South Africa’s nannies, cleaners, and Uber drivers. Its shopkeepers, financiers, secretaries, teachers, and business professionals. His wife, Grace Mugabe, is wanted in South Africa on charges of assault, which she recently escaped under the cover of diplomatic immunity. What charges might Robert Mugabe face?
Perhaps most ironically, he would arrive the same way thousands of Zimbabweans have before him: as a political asylum seeker, trying to escape the consequences of his 37-year-old rule.
Thousands of Zimbabweans have fled to South Africa in droves over the last two decades, seeking a better life from their home country’s shrinking job opportunities and increasingly intolerant government. For many, this wasn’t a welcome choice. South Africa is deeply intolerant of migrants and refugees, and its bureaucratic indecision over what to do with Zimbabweans has been bewildering.
This influx has only perpetuated xenophobic attitudes. While there are undoubtedly many thousands of Zimbabweans living in South Africa, the exact number is in dispute. Estimates of as high as three million have been cited, but poor data collection makes it almost to impossible to know that number for sure. These overinflated numbers have contributed to apathy amongst officials over how to best deal with the situation.
One figure that isn’t in dispute, however, is the staggering amount of money Zimbabweans send home from South Africa and other countries— $180 million in the first quarter of this year alone.
Mugabe’s removal to South Africa might be a welcome relief for many of the Zimbabweans who live there, signaling there might soon be an opportunity for them to return home. But it wouldn’t behoove him to take an Uber anytime soon.