Note:  This article was first published on April 7 in the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph:

(by David Blair, April 8, 2008, Johannesburg – As he lays out a selection of giraffes and elephants made of wire and beads, Obert Gomba seems indistinguishable from any other street vendor in South Africa.

Yet Mr Gomba and millions of others like him provide the single most important explanation for how President Robert Mugabe has managed to hold power despite the catastrophe overwhelming Zimbabwe’s economy.

Mr Gomba is a Zimbabwean migrant who fled his collapsing homeland for neighbouring South Africa five years ago. Of Zimbabwe’s 12 million people, at least three million now live abroad, according to an official estimate from Mr Mugabe’s regime.

advertisementAt a stroke, this mass exodus on a scale usually created only by civil war has deprived Morgan Tsvangirai, the opposition leader, of hundreds of thousands of votes. Without this outflow of people, Mr Tsvangirai would almost certainly have won a clear outright victory in the first round of the presidential election, instead of the 49.1 per cent of the vote his party estimates he received.

“It’s obvious who I would have voted for,” said Mr Gomba. “I would have backed Tsvangirai. If Mugabe goes then we can get back home. Life is better back home.”

Mr Gomba now earns a meagre living as a street vendor in Johannesburg. Perhaps two million Zimbabweans are thought to have settled in South Africa, stirring great resentment among the host population.

“Some South Africans are OK, but others say ‘you Zimbabweans, we don’t want you here, you are taking our jobs’,” said Mr Gomba. “There are some places where it’s not safe for us to stay.”

After South Africa, Britain is the most popular refuge for Zimbabwean migrants fleeing their worthless currency and inflation exceeding 100,000 per cent. At least 500,000 now live in Britain, according to a recent estimate from Paul Boateng, the British High Commissioner in South Africa.

By sending money and food to their relatives, this immense diaspora keeps Zimbabwe’s economy alive.

Every month, Mr Gomba sends about £50 and a few bags of groceries to his wife, Charity, and their two sons in the Zimbabwean town of Chitungwiza.

Bus drivers plying the route between Johannesburg and Harare have now become trusted couriers. In return for 20 per cent commission, they take envelopes full of cash and bags stuffed with food from Mr Gomba and his fellow migrants and hand them to their families in Zimbabwe.

“Without this, my wife would not survive,” said Mr Gomba. “Things are very tough for her.”

Migrants living in Britain pay for groceries, generators and furniture over the internet using websites like Their relatives then collect these items in Zimbabwe.

Despite the destruction wrought by his regime, Mr Mugabe can rest assured that Zimbabwe’s economy will be saved from total collapse by this support from the diaspora.

Hostile voters have left the country, while money and goods pour back in. Mr Gomba acknowledged that all this helped Mr Mugabe. “It’s true,” he said. “But what can we do?”

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1. a) What is the population of Zimbabwe?
b) What percent of the population currently lives outside of Zimbabwe?
c) For what reason have the majority of these Zimbabweans left their country?

2. a) Of the Zimbabweans who left, how many are believed to be living in South Africa?
b) What problem has this created?

3. a) What is the second most popular refuge for Zimbabwean migrants?
b) How many now live in this country?

4. a) Define diaspora as used in paragraph 9.
b) Describe how the diaspora is able to help relatives still living in Zimbabwe.

5. Explain the two ways the Zimbabwean immigrants (who oppose President Robert Mugabe) have helped him to stay in office.



  • Zimbabwe’s economy has declined rapidly since Mr. Mugabe began his policy in 2000 to confiscate formerly white owned farms. This has decimated agricultural production in what used to be southern Africa’s breadbasket.  Robert Mugabe’s gross mismanagement and corruption wrecked the once prosperous economy [of Zimbabwe]. (
  • Zimbabwe [has become one] of the world’s most repressive states – the result of a significant decline in both political rights and civil liberties for Zimbabweans.
  • The government of long-time president Robert Mugabe persisted in cracking down on independent media, civil society, and political opponents.
  • Beginning in May 2005, the government ordered the destruction of tens of thousands of shanty dwellings and street stalls in urban townships across the country. The implementation of this policy…left an estimated 700,000 people homeless, deprived of their livelihood, or both, and adversely affected some 2.4 million additional people. 
  • The country’s economic crisis worsened, with rampant inflation, massive unemployment, near expulsion from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and potentially severe shortages of basic foodstuffs. (from


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