The Sunday Mail
World migratory trends show movement of people from rural to urban areas. The exact opposite is happening in Zimbabwe. Recent statistics from the Zimbabwe Statistical Agency (ZimStat) reveal the population in rural areas has increased two percent between 2002 and 2012
Migratory trends worldwide indicate that people generally move from rural to urban areas in search of better living standards, economic well-being, employment and educational opportunities.
Census figures reveal an anomaly in Zimbabwe where the exact opposite is happening with people seemingly moving to the rural areas.
Analysts that spoke to The Sunday Mail In-Depth believe the phenomenon could be linked to the resettlement of over 200 000 households during the land reform programme which has led to the development of new communities within the rural areas and has attracted labour from urbanites grappling with a shrinking industry.
Official figures show the number of people residing in urban areas increased from 26 percent in 1982 to 31 percent in 1992 and then 35 percent in 2002.
That trend is now suffering a reversal with the percentage of people living in rural areas increasing significantly between 2002 and 2012.
According to the Zimbabwe Statistical Agency (ZimStat) 2012 Census Results, “about 33 percent of the population was in the urban areas. The distribution of population by sector/land use type showed that more than half of the population was in communal lands and resettlement areas.”
This marks a significant two percent fall from 35 percent in 2002.
While an analysis of the figures shows that the urban population increased from 2 million in 1982 to 3 million in 1992 before rising to 4 million in 2002 and 4,3 million in 2012, overall statistics show that the urban population has not risen in levels proportional to the total population.
The rural population stood at 5,84 million in 1982 before registering a significant increase to 7,45 million in 1992. However this was accompanied by migration from the rural areas motivated mainly by a search from greener pastures in the urban areas.
At the time, Zimbabwe was enjoying rapid economic growth, hence the demand for labour, which was widely available in the rural areas, to satisfy that demand.
With 7,56 million of Zimbabwe’s population living in rural areas in 2002, experts believe the effects of the 1990-1995 World Bank-backed Economic Structural Adjustment Programme whose proposed remedies failed to reduce government expenditure, restructure state entities into profitable ventures and reduce Zimbabwe’s external borrowing, had caused lay-offs and people began settling in their rural homes.
Population experts believe that in addition to ESAP creating a jobless class that was pushed back into the rural areas, other factors contributed to Zimbabwe’s growing rural population.
They point out that the Land Reform Programme and Operation Murambatsvina have also contributed to Zimbabwe’s urban to rural migration trend.
Dr Naomi Wekwete, a senior lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe’s Centre for Population Studies, attributed the current urban to rural migratory trends to the land reform programme.
“A significant number of people moved from urban areas to acquire land during the land resettlement programme. More and more people are moving to the rural areas as a result of increased farming business opportunities,” she said
Dr Wekwete said urban to rural migration was good for the country since major urban centres were struggling to cope with problems that were associated with unplanned population growth.
“Let us look at Harare, for example. The capital city is failing to cope with population growth since the infrastructure that is currently in use was designed to cater for a much smaller population.
“The urban-rural migration will de-congest urban centres,” she explained before adding that the Government now needs to establish supporting infrastructure to the rural areas.
On the other hand, Operation Murambatsvina, whose objective was to de-congest cities which were chocking from illegally settled people, saw thousands of people going to rural areas.
Figures disputed by the authorities suggest that over 800 000 people were displaced during the exercise and the bulk ended up in rural areas.
However, no official figures are available to show the extent at which the exercise influenced urban to rural migration.
While town planner Mr Percy Toriro agrees that Operation Murambatsvina sent some people back to their rural homes, he contended the trend was short-lived.
“During Operation Murambatsvina there was a reverse trend. Basically because there was no longer accommodation in the city,” he said.
“However, there has since been another reverse trend where people are coming back to the city. This is evidenced by the amount of informal settlements in Chitungwiza and the growth of housing co-operatives.
“In fact, by just analysing urban population growth trends, they show that there will be a 50-50 population percentage in both rural and urban areas by 2030.”
There is a growing belief among population analysts that people in the Diaspora have in some way influenced the increase in rural population between 2000 and 2009.
They point out that the buying power of foreign currencies before Zimbabwe dollarised its economy saw Zimbabweans living in other countries investing heavily in the property sector.
With shortages of residential stands in urban areas, they (the diaspora) opted to build houses in peri-urban areas such as Mazowe, Beatrice, Norton, Goromonzi and other sprouting areas just outside small towns.
However, these peri-urban areas are under the jurisdiction of rural authorities hence the classification of people living in these areas as under rural settlement.
At the height of the economic crisis at least three million people were believed to be living outside the country.
Experts say the economic meltdown resulted in thousands of people finding themselves out of employment after companies closed down. Many were forced back to the rural areas.
Economist Mr Brains Muchemwa said the tightening of the macro-economic environment and the introduction of the US dollar triggered urban-rural migration.
“The dollarisation of the currency was the major issue as lifestyles became highly unsustainable due to company closures obtaining at the time,” said Mr Muchemwa.
Mr Muchemwa said the many people living in towns could economically benefit from relocating to the rural areas.