The political and economic crisis that has riddled Zimbabwe for over a decade has created two serious challenges for South Africa's (SA) government. The first challenge is external: SA's quiet diplomacy approach towards Zimbabwe's ruling ZANU-PF has raised important questions about SA's position and reputation as a regional power and global actor. The second challenge is internal and can be described as an immigration and asylum crisis. This domestic crisis has deepened as the political situation within Zimbabwe has been left unresolved. Some one to three million Zimbabweans are estimated to be living in SA, most of them as undocumented migrants.
The two challenges are closely linked. Despite this, there has been little co-ordination of SA's immigration policy towards Zimbabweans and its foreign policy towards Zimbabwe. The political significance and opportunities, both for SA and Zimbabwe, of having a vast Zimbabwean diaspora in SA have been mostly ignored, at least at the level of public policy. As SA's immigration and asylum crises have been left to simmer, the results have been detrimental to the country's internal stability and international reputation. At the same time, SA has not harnessed the potential positive political role the Zimbabwean diaspora can play in helping resolve the crisis in their homeland.