Zimbabwean labor exodus intensifies as economy melts

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Years of displacement from Zimbabwe have gained new impetus as the economic collapse continues unabated and the country further discards the skills needed to make a turnaround.

Census data released by neighboring South Africa this week showed 1.01 million Zimbabwean immigrants last year, up from 672,308 in 2011 and an average annual increase of nearly 31,000. Immigration data released for the first time by Zimbabwe’s Bureau of Statistics in September last year showed that 908,913 of the country’s estimated 16 million citizens live abroad, with 85% of them in South Africa.

Because frequent migration between neighboring countries makes an accurate estimate tricky, and undocumented aliens are unlikely to participate in censuses, those numbers may be undercounted.

Once a regional grain exporter and one of Africa’s best-educated countries, Zimbabwe went into freefall in 2000 after then-Pres. It supported the expropriation of land from white commercial farmers. Export earnings collapsed and hyperinflation ensued, leading to the abolition of the national currency in 2009.

Mugabe was ousted in 2017 and his successor Although the country declares itself „open for business”, fewer than one in 10 workers are formally employed and most struggle to make ends meet.

Although land encroachments have been reduced in the years since 2000, the government has taken other policy missteps that have hindered economic growth and undermined investor confidence. This includes the 2019 decision to reintroduce the Zimbabwean dollar, which disrupted the foreign exchange market and sent inflation spiraling again.

The ongoing labor exodus from Britain, which relaxed entry rules last year to address skills shortages following its exit from the European Union in 2016 and the start of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, was further confirmed. 20,152 Zimbabwe health and social visas were issued. Care workers in the 12 months to June were almost a five-fold increase on the previous year, and the third-highest in the category after more populous Nigeria and India, Foreign Office data showed. More than 112,000 Zimbabweans are estimated to be living in the UK, nearly five times the number officials in the African country had 10 months earlier.

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Norman Mathara, secretary-general of Zimbabwe Doctors for Human Rights, said there had been a „significant increase” in immigration to the UK over the past year, resulting in a brain drain in various professions. „This is largely due to the state of the economy and the low wages that professionals receive.”

Another indicator of the emigration trend is a pick-up in the support Zimbabweans working abroad provide to their relatives back home. Remittances rose 15% to $919 million in the six months to June, according to the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe’s prospects look slim, with 81-year-old Mnangagwa pledging policy continuity after winning another five-year term in a disputed election in August. The country has had no access to foreign loans for more than two decades and is seeking to restructure an $18 billion debt.

The Zimbabwe dollar is widely rejected, and US dollars are used to buy everything from food and fuel to medicine. The local unit officially trades for over 5,000 greenbacks and cannot buy a single tomato with the high-value note.

Anecdotal sources say the migration surged ahead of an election marred by allegations of fraud that extended the ruling party’s 43-year term.

The Zimbabwe Red Cross, St. John Ambulance Association, state universities and the privately run Chimas Medical Aid offer short nursing-assistance courses, flooded with applicants, including teachers and other professionals hoping to find work abroad.

Simas has trained 350 people since launching its three-week courses in March last year and plans to increase enrollment due to high demand, said company chief executive officer Vulindlela Ntlovu. At least three-quarters of graduates migrated to the former colonial power, England, he said.

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The government is agonizing over the loss of its professionals, with Vice President Constantino Chiwenga urging lawmakers to come up with a law to prevent other countries from recruiting them from Zimbabwe. It was a „crime” that nations failed to train their own workers and then employed them in poor countries where people died in hospitals because there were no nurses and doctors to treat them, he said.

The Zimbabwe Teachers’ Union estimates that 300 teachers leave their jobs every month and warns that their exodus will have a major impact on education quality and the economy. Teachers are paid an average basic salary of $200 per month, less than a tenth of what they earn as carers in the UK.

„Governments pay to subsidize social services in developed countries,” said Sifiso Ndlove, chief executive officer of the 39,000-member association.

The Zimbabwe Bankers Association, which represents the country’s 19 lenders, estimates that between 2% and 4% of the industry’s workforce migrate annually. Most of those leaving are cashiers, cashiers, clerks and other entry-level employees who manage to raise about $6,000 in transfers, but there have also been several high-profile departures, said association president Lawrence Nyasema. .

Accountants and IT professionals are also migrating, mainly because their salaries are not competitive and their departures are not accurately recorded, said Memory Nguwi, a management consultant at Harare-based human resources firm Industrial Psychology Consultants.

„They quietly do their paperwork behind the scenes and leave,” he said. „Sometimes they resign once they’ve already left the country.”

–With assistance from Lucy White.

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