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Work Abroad (2:23) Excerpt from film "Border Jumpers" July 2005
Mary, an educated Zimbabwean migrant, describes her life and work in Botswana.

Country: Botswana
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  • On the Road Again

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    Guiding Questions
    1. Can workers like Mary legitimately claim their government (Zimbabwe) is letting them down?

    2. How might the government of Botswana see workers such as Mary as a drain on the economy? Is such an opinion justified?

    3. Are there workers elsewhere in the world in circumstances similar to those of Mary?

    Background Essay
    With one in four Zimbabweans looking for work abroad, migrants like Mary, a college-educated accountant, have taken work involving basic manual labor to survive. Over $100 million dollars a year is sent to Zimbabwe from family working abroad.

    Africa has long been saddled with poor, even malevolent, leadership. Some of the worst examples come from Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Zimbabwe — countries that have been run into the ground despite their abundant natural resources. But these cases are by no means unrepresentative: by some measures, 90 percent of sub-Saharan African nations have experienced despotic rule in the last three decades. Such leaders - whether military autocrats, corrupt embezzlers, or puffed-up posturers - use power as an end in itself, rather than for the public good. These regimes have contributed greatly to the instability of the African subcontinent in recent history.

    Under the stewardship of these leaders, infrastructure in many African countries has fallen into disrepair, currencies have fallen in value, and real prices have inflated dramatically, while job availability, health care, education standards, and life expectancy have declined. Ordinary life has become increasingly difficult: general security has deteriorated, crime and corruption have increased, much-needed public funds have flowed into hidden bank accounts, and officially sanctioned ethnic discrimination — sometimes resulting in civil war — has become prevalent. This has lead to many nationals fleeing to other countries, prosperous countries with good leadership and economic possibilities.

    One of the best examples of good leadership in Africa is Botswana, which neighbors despotic Zimbabwe. Long before diamonds were discovered there, this former desert protectorate demonstrated a knack for participatory democracy, integrity, tolerance, entrepreneurship, and the rule of law. The country has remained democratic in spirit as well as form continuously since its independence from Britain in 1966 — an unmatched record in Africa. It has also defended human rights, encouraged civil liberties, and actively promoted its citizens' social and economic development.

    The sharp contrast between the political and economic situations in Botswana and Zimbabwe has led many Zimbabweans to migrate to Botswana for work or political asylum. The Wide Angle film BORDER JUMPERS illustrates the conflicts that have arisen as a result of this immigration. An influx of migrant workers into any economy leads to uncertainty for domestic workers. These situations are seen throughout the world, and cause great strain on the economy of the thriving nations. BORDER JUMPERS exemplifies the threat and the security efforts taken by Botswana, and many countries throughout the world, to control such immigration.

    We used to have hope in Zimbabwe, but every day we see things getting worse and worse and that can make us losing hope and we have suffered long enough. We need to things to change.

    NARRATOR Mary is one of the many college educated Zimbabweans who are doing menial labor abroad -- instead of applying their skills back home.

    I'm not satisfied to do house-maid because I'm a professional. I hold a diploma in business studies, but in my country I cannot get job. I specialized in accounting. I can manage a company. I can supervise. I can run my own business.

    NARRATOR In the past few years, one in four Zimbabweans has left the country, like Mary. The money they send home amounts to an estimated 100 million dollars a year.

    On her most recent trip, Mary has found a job cleaning the house of a well-to-do couple on the outskirts of Francistown.

    Much of the wealth in Botswana is concentrated in a small upper class. For someone like Mary, that means plenty of domestic work is available.

    When I'm working I think too much. But when I am working and when I am singing, I don't think too much. But when you are working and you are quiet, you tend to think of home. You tend not to like the job you are doing when you are cleaning the plates, but I'm not a specialist in cleaning plates and washing other people's clothes, no. So when I sing it covers all the kind of thinking, yes.

    Related Links
    Border Jumpers on PBS.org

    ATLANTIC MONTHLY "Security Fences: The List"

    Official Web site for the Republic of Botswana

    CIA The World Factbook: Botswana

    CIA The World Factbook: Zimbabwe

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