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Understanding Remittances as a Form of Social Protection: An analysis of Kinships and Transnationalism amongst the Zimbabwean Diaspora


By Farai Michael Magunha

[Published in Leeds African Studies Bulletin 74 (December 2012), pp. 63-79]

Whilst the essence of migration in search of livelihoods implies that people are looking for a new place where they can begin to work towards a better life, often irrespective of the country in which that place is located, the continued sending of remittances by a migrant population to the country of origin long after migration suggests strong links with that country. Vertovec (2004) notes that researchers on migration have almost always recognised that migrants maintain various forms of contact with people and institutions in their places of origin, and that “many migrants today intensively conduct activities and maintain substantial commitments that link them with significant others (such as kin, co-villagers, political comrades, fellow members of religious groups) who dwell in nation states other than those in which the migrants themselves reside” (p970). In Vertovec (2001: p575) he also notes that “transnational connections have considerable economic, socio-cultural and political impacts on migrants, their families and collective groups, and the dual (or more) localities in which they variably dwell; the most significant economic impact of transnational migrant communities being found in the massive flow of remittances that migrants send to the families and communities in the countries of origin.”Results from a remittances survey of Zimbabweans living in Yorkshire indicates that all those surveyed remit to Zimbabwe or to Zimbabweans elsewhere, and that remittance activities are strengthening ties between Zimbabweans in the diaspora and those in Zimbabwe, and building new forms of family relations. The survey further indicated that current trends of remitting were essentially meant for daily subsistence of family and friends. A key research question of interest to me as a researcher is, an understanding of why Zimbabweans in the diaspora conduct activities and maintain substantial commitments that link them with their kith and kin left at home; and in particular, an understanding of what links, ties, or relationships oblige them to remit to those left behind thousands of miles away, that they occasionally visit, if only once or twice in five years, whilst others may not have visited at all?

Literature on remittances provides some varying theoretical frameworks that explain why migrants remit, the costs and effects of such remittances, the strategies used, and why. Most of these are centred on the family as the nucleus of remitting activities, although the motivating factors from which they are premised vary. Early studies on remittances by scholars like Johnson and Whitelaw (1974) consider altruism (the care of a migrant for those left behind) to be the motivating factor behind remittances. For these early scholars this appears to be the single notion underlying much of the remittance, and they go on to specify an altruistic utility function in which the migrant’s utility includes the consumption needs of the other members of the household.

More recent theories by scholars like Lucas and Stark (1985), Agarwal and Horowitz (2002), and Gubert (2002), are discussed by Chami et al (2005) in ‘Are immigrant remittances flows a source of capital for development?’ Chami et al argue that these are centred on the idea of self-interest as the motivating factor behind remittances, but nevertheless centre on the family. The family here is viewed as “a business or as a nexus of contracts that enables the members to enter into Pareto-improving arrangements,” (ibid: p65). Thus migrants will use other family members as their agents or financial intermediary, to look after their investments and any other interests whilst they are away, whilst there is also some compensation for the ‘agents.’ In some instances family members also “act as an insurance company that provides members with protection against income shocks by diversifying the sources of income,” or “…as a bank that finances migration for some members” (ibid: p78).

Chami et al (2005) further give a detailed and insightful analysis on why migrants remit. They categorize empirical literature on immigrant remittances into two main strands: the ‘endogenous migration’ approach, and the ‘portfolio’ approach. The endogenous migration approach is based on the economics of the family, which includes, but is not limited to, motivations based on altruism. The portfolio approach isolates the decision to remit from the decision to migrate, and likewise avoids issues of family ties. In this view, the migrant earns income and decides how to allocate savings between host country assets and home country assets. Remittances are a result of deciding to invest in home country assets. The portfolio view is therefore an informal theory of remittances that supports the view that remittances behave like other capital flows (ibid). Chami et al (2005) use the portfolio’ approach as the basis for their own theory that assumes remittances are compensatory transfers which should fluctuate counter cyclically. In essence, “this implies that remittances are not profit-driven, but are compensatory transfers, and should have a negative correlation with GDP growth” (ibid: p55). They argue that “the relationship between the migrant and the family is characterized by altruism, so that the utility of the migrant depends on the utility of his family members at home, implying that remittances will be sent in order to help the family avoid shortfalls created by a poor economy or simple bad luck” (ibid: p56).

As most theoretical frameworks for remittances that explain why migrants remit are centred on the family as the nucleus of remitting activities, the premise for my discussion of what obliges Zimbabweans to remit also embraces the family. However, trends of diversity of the recipients of remittances noted from the study of Zimbabweans living in Yorkshire suggest overwhelmingly that we should explore the concept of household in relation to the Zimbabwean family. Iken et al (1994: p14) define a household for a 1991 Namibian census as “a group of persons, related or unrelated, who live in the same housing unit and who share common catering arrangements”. This is synonymous with the Cambridge Dictionary definition that a household is “a group of people, often a family, who live together”.


Figure.1: Location of partner

It is my argument in this paper that the Zimbabwean household is essentially not typical of the usual household where people are living “in the same housing unit and sharing common catering arrangements”, as some members are living apart. Evidence from the study shows that a significant number of migrants initially found it difficult to migrate as complete family units. Thus, in some cases those who are married and have children either chose to migrate on their own, leaving partners and children in Zimbabwe or, in some cases, children were left in the care of parents or other close relatives. Results from the study indicate that 8.2% of those surveyed had their partners still living in Zimbabwe (Figure 1). The results further indicate that 17 out of 306 respondents had children aged 5 and under living in Zimbabwe, whilst 53 had children aged 6-16 living in Zimbabwe, and 31 had children aged 17 and above still living in Zimbabwe. Whilst some Zimbabweans were eventually able to reunite with their spouses and children in the UK, many others were unable to. Because of the need to support and maintain family members left at ‘home’ many Zimbabweans therefore continued to remit for their upkeep, especially as the cost of living and inflation in Zimbabwe kept going up on a daily basis.

It is further my argument that most African Zimbabweans are largely characterised by cultural and traditional obligations that have a bearing on the concepts of family and household; hence there is sometimes a vague distinction between the household and the family. These cultural and traditional obligations relate to the concepts of the extended family and that of hunhuism (humanity). Thus, whilst members may not live in the same housing unit and share common catering arrangements, the organisation of their economic production, consumption, inheritance, child rearing and shelter is common or shared amongst members; hence the family and household in the Zimbabwean setting are essentially synonymous. Evidence from our study shows that recipients of remittance go beyond the immediate family members, and include fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, nephews, nieces, cousins, grandparents, fathers-in-law, mothers-in-law, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, etc.

This premise of the family household is key to understanding what obliges Zimbabweans in the diaspora to remit, and will now be brought to bear on two underlying theories of migration; i) the political economy perspective and ii) the globalisation perspective. Given the social, economic and political situation in Zimbabwe in the years 2000 to 2010, a political economy perspective has relevance for analysis and understanding of what obliges Zimbabweans to remit, whilst a globalisation perspective is important due to recent debates about people, place, identity and displacement. “At its most basic ‘globalisation’ refers to the emergence of an extensive network of economic, cultural, social and political interconnections and processes which routinely transcend national boundaries” (Yeates, 2001: p4), and amply manifest in remittances sent from the diaspora to “significant others who dwell in nation states other than those in which the migrants themselves reside” (Vertovec 2004: p970). Evidence from this study estimates the value of remittances from the UK to Zimbabweans at home to be $960 million for calendar year 2007/8; hence need to explore how they can shape the possibility of realising developmental social policy that promotes universal social protection. This is important to analyse because social protection, “is concerned with preventing, managing, and overcoming situations that adversely affect people’s wellbeing and consists of policies and programs designed to reduce poverty and vulnerability… diminishing people’s exposure to risks, and enhancing their capacity to manage economic and social risks, such as unemployment, exclusion, sickness, disability and old age” (UNRISD,

A theoretical framework for remitting that considers a political economy approach and globalisation has its grounding in kinship and the traditions of the people of Zimbabwe, and requires an understanding and analysis of the links, ties, or relationships that bind them. This analysis begins with a premise of the family-household that is contextualised by the experiences and traditions of the people of Zimbabwe. According to Coles (1985), “A people is formed by physical propinquity, a native soil, a shared culture and civilisation, and conferred on it an identity”. Hence, identity or the sense of belonging is derived from traditions and culture, and a shared history that has formed common beliefs and values, which make “the link between people and land a profound one” (ibid). For Zimbabweans, part of these kinships and traditions are amply manifest in the concept of the extended family.

The extended family in Zimbabwe (particular in rural areas) includes members of the family who may be blood relatives, relatives through marriage, and/or people who come from the same village, have the same totem, family friends, and other non-relatives such as servants, that have common or shared “economic production, consumption, inheritance, child rearing, and shelter”. Paramount to this concept is the expectation that one should generally look after their kith and kin; hence children are generally expected to look after their elderly parents. Further, as the extended family includes any relatives other than members of a nuclear family, and importantly due to the fact that not all people considered kin have affinal or blood ties, it is not simply enough to consider the act of remitting as an ‘altruistic utility function’ (Chami et al, 2005: p57) in which the migrant is looking after members of his immediate household.

The concept of the extended family is also part of Zimbabwean culture and tradition generally referred to as Nhaka in Shona, that obliges those designated as family heads to look after nieces, nephews, siblings, cousins and other dependent family members, who might even include distant relatives and non-relatives. This is often exemplified in cases of death, where an eldest son might be expected to become the head of family upon his father’s death, and assume responsibilities of looking after the family; or where a younger brother might be expected to look after his dead brother’s family. Responsibilities of Nhaka are not solely to look after the family of which one is head, but to also lead the family and perform other traditional functions on family occasions.

Our survey to determine to whom respondents mainly remit indicates that migrants mainly remit to their fathers and mothers followed by children, partners and siblings. The significance of parents being main recipients is indicative of two possibilities; firstly, that in keeping with tradition, people are remitting for upkeep of elderly parents. The predominance of the father as the main recipient could be largely because the father is considered the head of the family in most African Zimbabwean families, and as such has overall responsibility for looking after the family. Secondly, this could be indicative of the fact that those that are remitting are doing so through their parents, to whom they have entrusted the running of their affairs in Zimbabwe, which in some cases has meant looking after their children. The answer to what obliges Zimbabweans to remit to kith and kin separated by distance and time therefore lies in a sense of home and belonging in the country of origin, that is explicated through bonds and kinship to those close and dearest, to whom they lend economic, social and political support in the form of remittances.

In African tradition, the principle of “caring for each other’s well-being…and a spirit of mutual support…” has long existed, and “is ideally expressed through an individual’s relationship with others, and theirs in turn through a recognition of the individual’s humanity” (Republic of South Africa, 1997: Chap2, sec. 24), first referred to by Mutwa (1964), and further espoused by other African scholars like Samkange (1980). Hunhuism or Unbuntuism is a term that “articulates a basic respect and compassion for others. As such, it is both a factual description and a rule of conduct or social ethic. It not only describes human beings as ‘being-with-others’, but also prescribes how we should relate to others, i.e. what ‘being-with-others’ should be all about” (Louw,

Hunhu in the African family context dictates that one shows an appreciation and respect for one’s parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts by giving them gifts, and providing for them. These could be in the form of money for their daily subsistence, buying them clothes, buying furniture for the family homestead, buying them a car, or even building of, and/or extension improvements to the family homestead; hence those in the diaspora send remittance to kith and kin for these purposes. In so doing, the giving son/daughter gets the praise and ‘adulation’ of the recipient elders and those that witness his/her benevolence; hence the saying ‘Ane hunhu’ (he/she has humanity). This puts pressure on those that are not doing the same, who may often be reproached for not emulating hunhu (the humanity) of Magunha’s child for example. Further, for those who are superstitious, there is the added pressure from the belief that when elders talk well of you it generally brings good luck, whilst their complaints about you bring bad luck. Whilst the dictates of hunhu (humanity) apply to all (i.e. those living in the diaspora and those living in the country of origin), those living in the diaspora also have added pressure arising from the belief that diasporans are better financially able to provide than those living in the home country, particularly given Zimbabwe’s recent economic woes, which will be discussed further on.

Another dimension of hunhuism is amply manifest in the expectation that those living in the same village or clan look after each other. In most village clans everybody is related as blood relatives, relatives through marriage, through sharing the same totem, as friends or other commonalities. As such, it is not uncommon for ‘relatives’ to turn up unannounced at the doorstep of those known to be better off (possibly because they receive remittances from a child or relative in the diaspora), conveniently just when they are about to have a meal. Humanity dictates that the host also offer them food no matter how little there is. Further, in the African village setting it is also not uncommon that a favoured relative, neighbour or friend who comes to visit is given a bit of something to take home (e.g. packet of sugar, salt, a bar of soap, or any other grocery item that the host might have a little excess of). This is usual when the host has just received some groceries from a visiting child or relative, or following the household grocery shopping (possibly soon after receiving money from the diaspora).

As the remitting benefactors do not essentially cater for these unannounced visits from relatives, nor the generosity of their beneficiaries, the increased numbers of people being catered for impacts on the available household resources. Whilst details of how the food or money was expended might not be fully disclosed to the benefactor, an obliging child operating on the dictates of hunhu might increase the amount or frequency of remitting. Some of these values may have changed in recent years with the harsh economic environment that prevailed Zimbabwe, where there were severe shortages of basic foodstuffs in the country, which might have made even the most giving people more prudent about sharing whatever scarce foodstuffs they might have had.

The concept of hunhuism is projected by Ranger (1995) in Are We Not Also Men, a collective biography of Thompson Samkange and two of his sons, which deals with the extended family. The biography examines how Thompson Samkange helped to educate many of his relatives from his extended family, including my own mother, who was his niece. Such are the moral obligations of hunhuism and the extended family in traditional African culture, which have long bound the fabric of Zimbabwean society for many generations,[2] and partly explain what obliges Zimbabweans to remit to kith and kin left at home.

The correlation between a political economy perspective and cultural norms/ traditions such as the extended family and hunhuism has implications for analysis and understanding of what obliges Zimbabweans to remit, given Zimbabwe’s recent social, economic and political misfortunes in the years 2000 to 2010. For years Zimbabwe was a major tobacco producer, with a mining industry producing gold and platinum. It was often dubbed the bread basket for surrounding countries, but the forced seizure of almost all white-owned commercial farms, with the stated aim of benefiting landless black Zimbabweans, led to sharp falls in production and precipitated the collapse of the country’s agro-based economy. The need to pay for substantial food imports intensified the impact of reduced foreign earnings, while the government’s policy choices in general prompted foreign banks to withdraw credit lines, which affected industries and mining operations, as well as forcing most aid donors to suspend their Zimbabwe operations. Further, balance of payments support was not available for nearly a decade because the IMF and World Bank disapproved of the government’s policies, and also because Zimbabwe is in arrears with its repayment commitments to these bodies. An article published by NewZimbabwe.Com reported that the IMF had said it was owed $89 million at the end of February 2009, The World Bank $600 million, and the African Development Bank $429 million as of the end of June last year (Dzirutwe, 2009: in NewZimbabwe.Com, 25 March). Consequently, the country has endured rampant inflation and critical food and fuel shortages.

At its peak, Zimbabwe’s inflation figures were calculated by the Cato Institute in Washington, in November 2008, based on exchange rate movements and market data, estimated to be “13.2 billion per cent a month […] overtaking 1994 Yugoslavia in the world rankings and putting it behind only Hungary in 1946 as the second worst in history” (Berger, 2008: in, 13 November). Wages could not keep up, and an article published on 16 July 2008 by The Zimbabwean reported that it had interviewed a number of civil servants who had expressed that it was now very difficult for them to survive due to inflation and escalating prices of commodities. “It is reliably understood that most civil servants are currently earning an average salary of Z$50 billion which can only buy a loaf of bread. This has made the lives of most of the civil servants miserable. A number of them are now relying on vending or crossing the border into South Africa to realize extra income for survival” (ibid). An IMF report on Zimbabwe’s economy is also quoted as saying that “poverty and unemployment have risen to catastrophic levels, with 70 per cent of the population in need of food assistance” (The Zimbabwe Guardian, 06 May 2009).

Trends noted from our survey indicated that current remitting was essentially meant for daily subsistence of family and friends. The survey indicated that 50.3% of total remittances in 2007 were for subsistence, compared to 33.4% for long term investments in capital projects like purchase of housing, land etc., 13.6% for educational support in school fees, and 2.6% for funerals and other family emergencies (Figure 2). Due to the deteriorating political economy of the country, where the buying power of wages was constantly eroded by inflation, Zimbabweans were remitting to support family and friends suffering from economic hardship, which fits with Chami et al’s (2005:p56) theory that “remittances will be sent in order to help the family avoid shortfalls created by a poor economy.”


Figure 2 Reasons for remitting in 2007 and amounts

Thousands of Zimbabweans in the diaspora were sending money every month to support relatives and friends to buy food and pay for household utilities. In our survey 71.2% respondents indicated that their main reason for remitting was, ‘The general upkeep of family direct household in Zimbabwe,’ and 4.4% in order to ‘To assist in the upkeep of elderly parents,’ or ‘To assist relatives suffering from economic hardships.’ This reflects the importance of remittances in the daily sustenance of people’s lives in Zimbabwe. Even among additional reasons for remitting, the same trend is prevalent with ‘Support for upkeep of elderly parents’ being the most prevalent additional reason for remitting, followed by ‘To assist relatives suffering from economic hardships.’ This trend is in sharp contrast to trends in previous years when those in the diaspora used to remit money to buy houses, for building projects, and export vehicles such as trucks and trailers. Those with family in the rural areas also remit money for purchase of farming implements, especially during the faming season, with added pressure during the last farming season (2006-7) arising due to rampant food shortages all over the country.

Waldinger and Fitzgerald (2004) note that transnationalism “produces a plethora of connections spanning home and host societies” (p1177). Indeed, in the case of Zimbabweans some of these connections extend to neighbouring countries. Results from our survey further indicate that Zimbabweans in Yorkshire were also remitting to Zimbabwe’s neighbouring countries. Whilst ultimate beneficiaries of the remittances were in Zimbabwe, the actual remittances were not necessarily sent directly to Zimbabwe, but to neighbouring countries, in particular South Africa and Botswana. Due to shortage of goods and services in Zimbabwe, some Zimbabweans chose to remit to neighbouring countries, to friends and relatives who either live in or travel to these countries, and in turn buy goods and services for onward delivery to relatives in Zimbabwe.

With prevalence of AIDS and HIV in Zimbabwe, there has been an increase in AIDS orphans. “With around one in seven adults living with HIV and an estimated 565 adults and children becoming infected every day (roughly one person every three minutes) Zimbabwe is experiencing one of the harshest AIDS epidemics in the world” ( Statistics given by Avert, an international Aids charity, estimated that between 2002 and 2006, the population of Zimbabwe had decreased by four million people, and that infant mortality had doubled since 1990, and average life expectancy for women, who are particularly affected by Zimbabwe’s AIDS epidemic, was 34 years - the lowest anywhere in the world. Avert further noted that WHO officials had admitted that since this figure was based on data dating from two years ago, the real number may be as low as 30. The report further noted that, according to UNICEF Zimbabwe had a higher number of orphans, in proportion to its population, than any other country in the world, most of which were AIDS orphans (

A combination of the prevalence of other diseases such as TB, cholera, malaria and long term illnesses like cancer, coupled with a collapsing health care infrastructure also increased the death rates in Zimbabwe. This is amply evidenced from a 2008/9 cholera outbreak, in which according to WHO statistics there were a total of 91,164 reported cases as of March 17, 2009, with 4,037 reported deaths since the start of the outbreak in August 2008 (Reuters, 26 March 2009). In keeping with the tradition of Nhaka a lot of the migrants are therefore remitting to look after orphans from their extended families.

In a country with a tense political and social climate, and a collapsing healthcare system and infrastructure, the authorities generally found it difficult to respond to the AIDS scourge and many other diseases such as TB and cholera. Medicines were generally in short supply, and those that were available were mostly beyond the reach of ordinary citizens whose wages had been eroded by inflation. Thus, the cost of antiretroviral drugs for those suffering from HIV and AIDS, as well as other long term ailments such as cancer, hypertension, TB etc., was generally prohibitive; hence those with relatives living in the diaspora rely on their kith and kin to send them money to buy these medicines or to send them actual medicines.

In an environment where there is a high incidence of death, and dwindling wages eroded by inflation, most people could barely afford funeral costs. Therefore, those in the diaspora played a significant role in assisting with burial of dead relatives back home. The survey indicates that 2.6 % of money being remitted is for funeral expenses, which include principal costs for the coffin, and undertakers’ fees. Further, in Zimbabwean culture when someone dies friends and relatives gather to mourn at the deceased’s home (usually for two to three days) until after burial, and this entails associated costs of feeding the mourners. There are also inherent transport costs of ferrying the mourners to the place of burial, which can be at the ancestral homestead in the rural areas, sometimes hundreds of miles away from the city where the deceased might have been working or residing.

Several respondents interviewed during in-depth interviews noted that they felt obliged to send money to assist in burial of dead relatives, as people back home simply could not afford it. In one interview a respondent described the desperation of the situation noting that “just the other day somebody phoned me, and their aunt had passed away, and so she had phoned home and she could hear people crying in the background. They told her they were waiting for her to send some money for the coffin… She literally broke down on the phone. It’s not like they have the money. They don’t have it. They are really desperately. If they can’t afford to buy food how can they afford a coffin?”(Excerpt from transcript of interview with Regina).

Further, there is the added pressure of expectations obliging certain members of the family to play a significant financial role at family occasions like deaths and weddings. For example, a son in-law is expected to buy the coffin and provide a beast for slaughter at the funeral of his in-laws. The description of in-laws ranges from the father-in-law, mother-in-law, brother-in-law and sister-in-law, and also includes children of the brother-in-law, irrespective of age. One of the interviewees noted that in the last five years he had sent money to pay for coffins and undertaker’s fees for five in-laws that had passed away since he migrated to the UK, which had cost him a combined total of nearly £3000.00. Whilst one is not necessarily obliged to do this for all in-laws, the desperate nature of the situation in Zimbabwe made it incumbent on those in the diaspora to pay for these funeral costs.

Where there are at least two or more people married in the same family and living in the diaspora, the burden of bearing funeral costs of deceased in-laws is at least shared; hence one of the findings of our study was that 38.2% of those interviewed felt that “Bringing family members to the UK is more important than remitting” (Table 1).

Table 1

Bringing family members to the UK is more important than remitting
Response Frequency Percentage Valid Percentage Cumulative Percentage
Didn't answer 70 22.9 22.9 22.9
Agree 117 38.2 38.2 61.1
Disagree 70 22.9 22.9 84.0
Unsure/ Don't know 48 15.7 15.7 99.7
Not applicable 1 .3 .3 100.0

Another explanation for what obliges Zimbabweans to remit is that Zimbabweans have a tradition of remitting that dates from the colonial period, when men lived in the towns where they worked, whilst women and children lived in the village or rural home often referred to as ‘kumusha’ (Shona) or ‘ekhaya’ (Ndebele). Men would occasionally visit their families in the village to bring them resources for their subsistence, or occasionally send money for family upkeep and pay for hut or poll taxes (to be paid in cash). The wife or one of the able bodied children would also occasionally visit their father, or brother in the city to get some money and other goods. For the husband and wife this might even be a time to conceive a new baby. In fact, until recently, the concept of a town working man with a rural based family has been the norm in most Southern African countries, (including South Africa, Mozambique, Malawi, Swaziland, Lesotho, and Zambia), which have been deeply influenced by a region-wide migrant labour system, where there is spatial division and distinction between ‘home’ (in the cultural sense and in terms of a rural livelihood and a residence for most or many household members), and a locus of an additional, essential livelihood in an urban area or other wage-earning area either within or outside national territory.

This region-wide migrant labour system is aptly evidenced in the WENELA (Witwatersrand Native Labour Association) recruitment practice, whereby migrant labour from Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Lesotho, Swaziland and Mozambique was recruited to work in South African mines and other labour intensive projects in that country such as plantations, road and rail construction. Part of the working conditions of WENELA stated in section 5 of the provisions and conditions of contract that, “on completion of six months’ employment an amount equivalent to sixty per cent of the net earned wages of the worker thereafter shall be retained for payment in the worker’s country of origin, (a) by allotment to a named relative as periodical payments …(b) as a deposit to a savings account in the name of the worker in his country of origin, or (c) in full to the worker on his return to his country of origin” (WENELA, undated). Although present day circumstances may be different, the concept of remittance is a continuation of a long established tradition dating back from days of colonialism. Both were necessitated by economic considerations of survival, largely compelled by the dictates of elitist governments whose policies forced people to seek alternative means of livelihood.

Further, migrant labour and the consequent remittances have been generally prevalent in Southern Africa, with people from countries with poorer economies migrating to those with richer nations in search of employment and better opportunities. In recent years, the situation has been further exacerbated by civil wars in Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Congo, that led to millions of people fleeing their countries to neighbouring countries in search of refuge. Countries like South Africa and Zimbabwe (in the 80s and 90s) that had better economies compared to their neighbours, hosted a significant number of Mozambican and Congolese refugees, some of whom were employed in various sectors of these countries’ economies; mines, farms etc. When peace and stability was restored in their countries of origin, some of the refugees remained in the countries of asylum to work, due to the lack of sustainable livelihoods in their countries, whilst some of their family members returned home. Evidence from studies conducted on the repatriation of Mozambican refugees from Zimbabwe indicates that those who had remained working in Zimbabwe would remit to support those that had returned home (Magunha, 2006).

The answer to what obliges Zimbabweans to remit also partly lies in the review of recent debates about people, place, identity and displacement. Kibreab (1999: p385) writes that, “There is a tendency in the post-modernist literature to assume that the globalisation process characterised by mobility of people, goods, capital and ideas and the subsequent erosion of spatially bounded social worlds has led to deterritorialisation of identity, and as a result people regardless of their territorial origin have become or are in the process of becoming citizens of a deterritorialised global world.” The corollary of these assertions is to deny the relationship between place and identity, and would imply a decrease in remittances as people become settled in their new environments and reduce links that tie them to their places of origin.

Kibreab argues that whilst it may be desirable to treat all people regardless of their place of origin as global citizens, the “territory still remains the major repository of rights and membership” (Kibreab, 1999: p387) and that people tend to identify strongly with a geographically bounded physical space. He further notes that in many states especially in Africa, the “the rights of access to and use of sources of livelihood are still apportioned on the basis of territorially anchored identity” (ibid: p387). He argues that this is particularly the case as long as the change of location does not involve dramatic forms of change or loss of rights, and because of the opportunities this offers regarding rights of access to resources and protection by virtue of being a member or citizen of that territory.

The concept of globalisation is further negated by the restrictive immigration and refugee policies currently pursued by states that make territories inaccessible to migrants, especially asylum seekers, and prevent those who have already entered from being incorporated into host societies. Kibreab argues that in spite of the fact that the global interconnectedness has in some instances provided opportunities for forging transnational forms of identity, little or nothing has changed to make migrants, in particular refugees, feel at home outside the places or countries of their origin. Migrants, especially refugees, continue to be excluded in host societies, as evidenced by the recent xenophobic attacks on migrants in South Africa, in particular Zimbabweans, who have been openly ostracised for taking South African jobs from South African people. These barriers in host countries encourage strong ties between migrants and their countries of origin, and hence remittances.

Table 2

Which of these statements best describes how you currently feel about returning to settle in Zimbabwe in the future?
Didn't answer I intend to return at the right time I have discussed returning but am unsure still I have no intention of returning to settle Don’t Know Not applicable Other (specify) Total
Do you consider yourself to be settled in the UK? Didn'tanswer























































Data from our survey indicates that 44.4% of those surveyed indicated that they are not settled in the UK; whilst 148 or 48.4% indicated that they intend to return at the right time, of which 68 said they were settled in the UK and 78 not settled (Table 2). This suggests that these migrants still consider Zimbabwe as home, and view their stay in the UK as temporary and necessitated by current social, economic and political conditions prevailing in Zimbabwe. As such they continue to remit either to support families that they left at home, or for future investment when they return; hence some have remitted ‘kombis’ and trucks for business, the proceeds of which they themselves never get to benefit from, whilst others have purchased, built or extended houses that they do not live in, nor can hope to live in, in the near future.

Part of the reason why migrants continue to support families left at home is because the policies of the host societies are not readily inclusive of migrants. As already noted a significant number of migrants initially find it difficult to migrate as complete family units, hence spouses and children are left at home in the care of parents or other close relatives. Evidence from the study indicates that some have still not managed to reunite with their families, and that in cases where they have managed this has often taken expensive legal representations.

Evidence from this study therefore brings us to make three distinct conclusions. First, the continued ties and links between migrants and their families that they left in the country of origin lead us to conclude that migration is essentially not permanent but temporary, and that most returnees hope to return and settle permanently in their countries of origin as soon as they have established sustainable sources of livelihood, consistent with transnational theory. Second, remittances have been a form of informal social protection in the absence of proper functioning and with the collapsing of government support structures in Zimbabwe. An in-depth study however needs to be undertaken to determine prevalence of beneficial access to remittances across Zimbabwe, in particular by those in the rural areas where the majority of Zimbabweans are known to reside; hence this paper sets the agenda for the kind of research that we need to do next.

Third, Zimbabweans have multi-faceted livelihoods enabling them to operate in multiple spaces. Fourth, remittances have long been part and parcel of Zimbabweans’ lives dating back to colonialism, and have arguably been the backbone of the Zimbabwean economy during this recent economic crisis. There is however an inherent question about sustainability of remittances. It could be argued that remittances can dwindle over time; and are therefore unreliable as a long term policy measure for social and economic development. Whilst this topic requires further in-depth research, this analysis suggests that Zimbabwean patterns of remittances have evolved over the years, and that they are adaptable to context and time, hence likely to continue in the future. Thus, remittances need to be seriously considered in country programming for the role that they can play in the short-term reconstruction of Zimbabwe, and as a long-term development strategy.

Farai Michael Magunha is a Zimbabwean national who is currently living in Nairobi where he works for the UNHCR Regional Support Hub as a Livelihoods Programme Management Officer. He is a former Research Fellow at the School of Geography at the University of Leeds. His PhD is also from the University of Leeds, and his thesis concerned migration and remittances, and is entitled 'Homeward Bound: A casestudy of the voluntary repariation and reintegration of Mozambican refugees from Zimbabwe'.


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[1] I wish to acknowledge the contributions of Professors Adrian Bailey and Lionel Cliffe, both of whom were team members on the study of Remittances and Transnational Vulnerabilities across the Zimbabwean Diaspora in Yorkshire, on which data used in this document is based, for their assistance with interpretation of data and editorial assistance on this manuscript.

[2] Notwithstanding obligations to the extended family exemplified in the concepts of nhaka and hunhuism, some Zimbabweans have completely abandoned these traditions, hence some family members are neglected. In the case of nhaka, this has sometimes also been abused by the designated family member to plunder the wealth or asserts of their deceased relative, leaving the family of the deceased neglected.

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