Bernard Muchemwa in SYDNEY, Australia
As I write this article, the Australian Covid-19 pandemic curve is flattening, a joyous sign and evidence that the government’s policies are working and a relief to a multitude of Zimbabweans living here.
Covid-19 has wreaked havoc on the globe and Zimbabweans in Australia are not spared.
It has seismically changed their normal life and now the abnormal has become the normal.
As asserted by this writer in one of my articles, Australia is home to more than 30 000 Zimbabweans, adding those born in Australia, the figure can reach 60 000.
Covid-19 has impacted on Zimbabweans in Australia socially and economically.
From an economic point of view, the Zimbabweans are the most affected migrants.
Of the 30 252 Zimbabweans who migrated from Zimbabwe as confirmed by the 2011 census, the vast majority are skilled and educated.
At least 74 percent of the Zimbabwe-born aged 15 years and over possess higher non-school qualifications, compared to 55,9 percent of the Australian population.
The Australian economy is strangulated by the strict lockdowns which slowed down growth and has been incurring a debilitating deficit after the Scot Morrison government pumped in a whopping $130 billion Australian Dollars to try and shore up the economy by propping up businesses, which employ thousands of Zimbabweans.
On the first day of lockdown, one million workers lost their jobs and among them Zimbabweans, which is statistically obvious since they are highly employable and employed.
This has forced many Australians to queue for employment benefits from Centrelink, a government body which handles disbursements of funds for the unemployed.
Most Zimbabweans are not used to this, and they might be forced to queue up, but as a cultural misnomer. Besides this group of Zimbabweans, we have students and temporary visa holders who have come to Australia to acquire its high-quality education and those who wanted to enter its lucrative job market who might now be in limbo.
The Australia government has issued an ultimatum to about two million temporary visa holders to leave Australia now if they cannot support themselves.
Many Zimbabwean students and other visa holders might be caught up in this maze.
After meeting with the National Cabinet recently, the Australian Prime Minister Mr Scot Morrison said: “Australia must focus on its citizens and its residents to ensure that we can maximise the economic support that we have.”
However, the Prime Minister stated international visitors who have critical skills could be the exception.
“For those backpackers in Australia who are nurses or doctors or have other critical skills that can really help us during this crisis, then there will be opportunities for them,” he said.
“But our focus and our priority are on supporting Australians and Australian residents with the economic supports that are available.”
Mr Morrison said there remained several people in the country on visitor visas.
“As much as it’s lovely to have visitors to Australia in good times, at times like this, if you are a visitor in this country, it is time to make your way home,” he said.
International students have no access to the Federal Government’s job-seeker payment and are having to deal with the Covid-19 crisis without the financial safety net available to many Australian citizens and residents.
Mr Morrison pointed out it was a requirement for students who come to Australia to be able to support themselves in their first 12 months of their study.
There are more than 500 000 international students in Australia, including Zimbabweans, many of whom have lost their jobs during the pandemic. Then we have another category of Zimbabweans who will be affected in various ways. These are the medical practitioners.
Zimbabweans offer critical skills to the Australian health system through nurses, doctors etc. They are now in high demand and are the most loved frontline personnel, being hailed along the length and breadth of Australia.
Shops have given them special shopping days and hours, while fast food outlets like McDonalds are giving them free coffee and others are pampering them with free lunch and other meals.
The good gesture is also spoiled by a coterie of fridge lunatics who have taken to abuse medical staff in uniform accusing them of spreading the virus. Some are spate at, scolded and shoved although there is no recorded incident of a Zimbabwean encountering such a harrowing, degrading and disrespectful experience.
This does not go without mentioning the obvious risk of contracting the virus, as some medical practitioners have contracted the virus, but no Zimbabwean medic has been noted yet.
Another plus for the medics is increased working hours as they battle the pandemic and thus an opportunity to make more money and improve their well wellbeing.
We have another category of Zimbabweans, the parents who always visit their children for one reason or another who are also caught up and cannot travel to enjoy the serene ambiance of Australia any time soon.
Their children cannot drive them around for the usual sight-seeing nor visit their friends. It is a very sad scenario. The virus was so vicious at the beginning, but has stalled.
To date, state and territory health authorities have reported 6 105 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Australia, including 51 deaths and no Zimbabwean contraction nor death has been noted.
Others had planned to travel back home, and this has also put on hold and those who are overseas trying to come back to Australia were stranded in Zimbabwe and other international airports, with flights being cancelled.
Now, most Zimbabweans must embrace the erstwhile abnormal as the new normal.
Staying at home at every turn, working from home every work day for those lucky to have kept their jobs and missing weekend adventures.
Furthermore, on the economic front, the pandemic has seen the Australian dollar depreciating heavily against a basket of foreign currencies, particularly the US dollar.
Most of them send remittances back home and this has hit hard on their pockets and they are required to dig deeper to keep their families back home afloat.
Money transfer organisations are also finding it hard to help Zimbabweans in Australia to remit money to their loved ones in Zimbabwe or for their businesses. It is a frustrating time for Zimbabweans in Australia on this front too.
There is also this uneasiness when you are away from home and not sure how your relatives will survive from this pandemic too and them also not sure about their safety.
All ears are on the ground and the social media has played a crucial role to lessen this painful reality caused by this gap, which cannot be bridged immediately.