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Key findings
  • Almost half (47%) of adult Zimbabweans say they have considered emigrating. One in 14 citizens say they are currently making preparations to leave.
  • Employment is the main driver of emigration, cited as their main reason by more than six in 10 (62%) of those who have considered emigrating (“potential emigrants”).
  • South Africa is the preferred destination of a majority (55%) of potential emigrants.
  • Young and well-educated Zimbabweans are significantly more likely to consider emigrating than their older and less-educated counterparts.
  • Potential emigrants are more likely to offer negative assessments of the country’s direction and economic conditions, as well as the government’s performance, than those who have not considered leaving.

According to some estimates, up to 3-4 million Zimbabweans live outside their country – a diaspora that may be one-fourth the size of the entire in-country population (UNDP, 2010). Perhaps more than 2 million Zimbabwean emigrants live in South Africa alone.

In tracing waves of emigration since the 1960s (Pasura, 2008), scholars have highlighted both economic and political reasons as factors motivating highly skilled as well as impoverished nationals to look for greener pastures abroad (UNDP, 2010). By far the largest emigration wave is the post-2000 exodus in response to controversial land reforms, economic crises, and disputed and violent elections.

Using the latest round of Afrobarometer survey data from Zimbabwe, this dispatch examines views on emigration among those who have not left the country. Remarkably, almost half of adult citizens in Zimbabwe say they have considered emigrating, although far fewer are actually making preparations to leave. The search for work is the main motivating factor for potential emigrants, who express considerable pessimism – and even anger – about the country’s condition.

Stephen Ndoma

Stephen is the assistant project manager for Southern Africa