Harare - Verging on one-fourth of the Zimbabwean population
- nearly 3.4 million people - are living abroad, many of them
having fled violent state repression and the nation's deepening
economic crisis. The figures were compiled by a central bank
advisory board formed to explore ways of getting "Zimbabweans
in the Diaspora" to send hard currency home, board
member Erich Bloch said Friday. Many Zimbabweans support
the families they left behind but usually send money through
black-market currency dealers who pay out in local currency
and keep the hard cash offshore. Reserve Bank Governor Gideon
Gono in December said he was launching a program to try to
channel that hard currency through state coffers. Bloch
said the advisory board found there were 1.1 million Zimbabweans
working in Britain, the former colonial power. Of those, some
800,000 were illegal immigrants. More than 1.2 million
were working in neighboring South Africa and at least 100,000
were in Australia. The rest were in Canada and scattered throughout
Europe, the US, southern Africa and other parts of the world.
Bloch, an independent economist and deputy president of the
Zimbabwe Institute of Chartered Accountants, heads the drive
to persuade Zimbabweans to repatriate their money legally.
He said it was estimated that up to US$400 million could be
paid annually into the central bank for onward payment in
local currency to families in Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe, suffering its worst economic crisis since independence
in 1980, is facing acute hard currency shortages. Bloch said
a range of incentives for Zimbabweans abroad was being considered.
"The exchange rate will have to be close to what they
are getting through other channels. They have to be satisfied
there is no risk as there would be in the illegal market and
that their families will be very promptly paid," he said.
The US dollar buys about 4,200 Zimbabwe dollars on the black
market. The official exchange rate is fixed at 824-1. Assurances
were also needed there would be no double taxation and illegal
immigrants would be guaranteed confidentiality. Provisional
results of a national census last year put the country's population
at 11.5 million but acknowledged large numbers left the country,
many to seek jobs, and others may not have been counted. Zimbabwe's
population is generally accepted to be 12.5 million. As many
as 1 million people may not have been counted in the census
after disruptions in the economy and the seizure of white-owned
farms forced them to move from their traditional homes.
The official results of the census are to be released later
this year. As well as shortages of hard currency, Zimbabwe
is facing acute shortages of food, gasoline, medicine and
other essential imports.