AN estimated 70 percent of Zimbabwe’s working population, or 3,4 million people, have left the country to escape its political and economic crisis, a regional church group said on Friday.
About 1,2 million are believed to be in South Africa, making them one of the largest groups of foreigners in the country, the SA-registered Solidarity Peace Trust said in a report.
“An estimated 25 to 30 percent of Zimbabwe’s population has left the nation. Out of five million potentially productive adults, 3,4 million are outside Zimbabwe. This is a staggering 60 to 70 percent of productive adults,” the report said.
Zimbabwe is mired in its worst crisis since independence in 1980, with unemployment estimated at 70 percent and inflation in triple digits.
Critics say the seizure of white-owned commercial farms has badly hit the agricultural sector, and accuse the government of cracking down on political opposition.
“The loss of skills has impacted on health and education in Zimbabwe . . . many professionals such as teachers, nurses, policemen and artisans have been driven out by political events and are living like vagrants in South Africa,” the report said.
Catholic Bishop Kevin Dowling, of Rustenberg, said he feared the exodus from Zimbabwe could accelerate ahead of parliamentary elections next March.
If Zimbabwe approves a bill to ban foreign human rights groups and block overseas funding for local activists, the crackdown on opposition could gain momentum and drive even more people away, he said.
“The climate of oppression could be ratcheted up with impunity, and there is a possibility we will get more refugees.”
The report urged SA to make it easier for Zimbabwean fugitives to gain asylum in the country.