Despite much optimism about migrant remittances’ power to combat poverty, we know too little about their long-term consequences in sending communities. Through an intensive qualitative study of three districts in Zimbabwe – Chivi, Gwanda, and Hurungwe – this paper explains why significant resource flows from migrants to South Africa have done little to eliminate chronic poverty. Part of the explanation stems from the districts’ political economy: where remittances help generate income, this largely replaces streams lost through the country’s overall economic decline. Further investments are often discouraged by poor physical infrastructure, the shortage of inputs, and market precarity. While other studies identify such material factors, this work draws particular attention to how the moral economy of remittances also directs resources away from income generation and towards ‘social’ and ‘god taxes’: paying for neighbours’ immediate needs, investing in events and infrastructure intended to boost one’s social status, or donating large sums to the church. Underlying this is a paradox: where networks are weak, as in the case of the communities with more recently formed mobility patterns, there are few pressures on migrants to remit. Yet, while social networks are critical for extracting resources from migrants, local expectations within sending communities often mean that moneys are spent on maintaining a social safety net and social status rather than directed into financially productive investments. However, this is not irrational spending but rather an investment in social standing and safety: selfishness and self-enrichment in an environment of generalised poverty can result in social isolation and occasionally threats to property and lives. Such findings have important implications for understanding how remittances are directed and our expectations regarding their potential effects at promoting social protection and poverty alleviation.
Dzingirai, V.; Mutopo, P.; Landau, L.B. Confirmations, Coffins and Corn: Kinship, Social Networks and Remittances from South Africa to Zimbabwe. Migrating out of Poverty Consortium, University of Sussex,, Brighton, UK (2014) 36 pp. [Working paper No. 18]