Zimbabwe + 3 more

Finding Home in Uncertainty: Returnees, Reintegration, and Reconciliation: A Case Study of Refugees in Towns - Harare, Zimbabwe


Natasha Venables


Since its independence in 1980, Zimbabwe has had two waves of out-migration. The first occurred immediately after independence when many left to avoid the new government. A mass exodus began in 2000 as a result of the increasingly punitive actions of the liberator-turned-dictator, President Robert Mugabe. In the past 19 years, over three million Zimbabweans have fled, as a result of the persecution of some ethnic groups and individuals and the economic and political decline of the country. Some were victims of Murambatsvina; others, both black and white farm workers and owners, fled because of the farm invasions. In addition, there was the hatred caused by Gukurahundi, a massacre that was the Mugabe “regime’s first, and still unpunished genocide.” This history cries out for reintegration and reconciliation in the country if the return of the diaspora is to be successful. The Zimbabwean diaspora spans some 122 countries, with the most significant departure destinations being South Africa and the UK.

My interest in return migration to my homeland, Zimbabwe, stems from my desire to return home, knowledge of other people trickling back, and research that shows that most migrants have a desire to return home. The yearning for return increased after the “peaceful coup” in November 2017 when Robert Mugabe, president since independence in 1980, was ousted, and Zimbabweans thought the ongoing violence and economic chaos would abate and conditions would improve. Many believed Zimbabweans would now come home, especially after an encouraging message from the new president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, inviting people to return home. He promised the diaspora options for 99-year leases to farm again or to set up businesses and gave the impression that all Zimbabweans, regardless of ethnicity, race, or political persuasion, were welcome to come and help rebuild their country. Sadly, the violence that followed the August 2018 elections and further economic downturn destroyed the hopes for a mass return. Many Zimbabweans refer to the situation as “riding on the same bus, only the driver has changed.” The new leader has maintained the politics of fear and polarization, forcing people to seek safety and economic opportunities outside Zimbabwe. Yet significant numbers of people are still returning home.

In this report, I explore voluntary return to Zimbabwe and the reasons people go beyond their desire for economic security in search of belonging, identity, and home. I explore returnees’ impact on the city of Harare, and their experiences of reintegration through rediscovering their culture, recreating social ties, accessing jobs and citizenship, and developing a sense of belonging again. I explore how the home population interacts with returnees and how returnees learn to navigate life in Harare, which used to be familiar, but through time and distance has become foreign. The report concludes by overviewing the support needed to enable reintegration and reconciliation, which could increase the possibility of return that is sustainable over the long term.