COVID-19 Forces Residents To Migrate To Rural Areas

The COVID-19 pandemic has had long-lasting effects on people’s livelihoods and jobs. For many, rural areas now offer a haven from the cost of urbanite living during the crisis.

Thirty-nine-year-old retrenchee Thembelani Masuku ditched the bustling life of Bulawayo in May 2020 for his rural home in Matshetsheni village in Gwanda North, about 100 kilometres away.

It was not by choice, he says.

Rural life offered the only option to escape the city as the COVID-19 pandemic had made life unbearable—he had no ready income after losing his job.

“I had to make a tough decision to leave the city in May. I lost my job at a Chinese run factory. My landlord wouldn’t lower the rent despite the crisis,” says Thembelani Masuku, welder and father of three.

Masuku was paying USD45 in monthly rentals for 3-rooms in Lobengula West.

Relocating was the only fallback plan.

A December 2020 Zimbabwe Statistics Agency (Zimstats) report says COVID-19 lockdown has significantly impacted migration trends revealing that about 12 per cent of the country’s urbanites relocated to rural areas.

The findings are from a survey conducted between August 24th to September 23rd, 2020 by Zimstats, World Bank and UNICEF.

The report highlights the findings: “Only 12 per cent migrated from urban areas to rural areas while no household moved from rural to urban areas.”

Twenty-six per cent moved from one rural area to another rural area, it adds.

Gwanda North Ward One councillor Stanford Nkala says a steady flow of people to his ward has been standard since April.

“Sixteen people, retrenched due to the COVID-19 economic impact returned to the village last year,” says Nkala.

“Whether they relocated permanently or not, l am not sure”.

Alex Nxumalo of Masholomoshe village is one of the many who joined the great trek from Bulawayo to the rural district rich in gold deposits. Nxumalo moved in July with his family—however, his temporary stay has somewhat become permanent.

“There is an increased urban to rural migration right now. Many people in towns are suffering due to the virus,” he says.

“Here, the rent is free. It’s a much better situation. Some people are unsure they will ever go back to towns,” says Nxumalo.

Throughout the crisis, rural areas have offered a haven from the virus, motivating some urbanites to seek shelter in the countryside.

However, the flip side is that the highly contagious virus has also started spreading to rural areas.

This could increase pressures on public health services designed for lower numbers of inhabitants, Nxumalo says.

“It is important for the government to expand the pool of trained doctors accessible to the rural population and roll out mass testing.”

Zimbabwe is currently in the throes of the pandemic with deaths having surged above the 1400 mark.

According to Zimstat, the Total Consumption Poverty Line (TCPL) for Zimbabwe stood at $4,670.04 per person in December 2020. The poverty datum lines vary from one province to the other.

In that same month, for Matabeleland South, individually Masuku and Nxumalo needed about $4,000 to survive, and yet in Bulawayo, they would each need an extra $1000.

Source: The Citizen Bulletin