Brain drain gathers pace

Employers can do little to keep skilled personnel when salaries constantly lag behind astronomic inflation rate.
HARARE - Amid Zimbabwe's deepening economic and political crisis, the country's skills base is shrinking fast in the face of an exodus that is wrecking its chances of future economi

c recovery. The mass departure, mostly to the West and to South Africa and Botswana, has rendered ineffective efforts by both the government and the private sector to prop up the sick economy. Both have sunk billions of Zimbabwe dollars into new skills training – but most who complete the courses quickly depart for a better life elsewhere. “Some 70 to 90 per cent of Zimbabwean university graduates are working outside the country,” said Community Development and Women Affairs Minister Eunice Chitambira at a recent conference on labour migration. She said the heaviest losses were among teachers, doctors, nurses and pharmacists. Most health professionals head for the United Kingdom.
According to the Southern African Migration Project, funded by Canadian and British government aid, more than 50 per cent of skilled Zimbabweans surveyed said they intend emigrating either indefinitely or permanently. More than four million Zimbabweans, just under a third of the population, have fled into exile since the country was plunged into deep economic and political crisis from 2000 onwards. Some 80 per cent of those who’ve remained are unemployed. Figures obtained from the government’s Central Statistical Office, CSO, suggest that among the general exodus, some 2600 highly skilled people left Zimbabwe between January and June this year. But employers and business analysts dispute the official figures, saying they are not a true reflection of the real situation. They note that hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans have streamed out of the country unofficially, especially into southern Africa, while others have left on the pretext of going on holiday, never to return. According to the CSO, 540,000 locals officially travelled abroad last year compared to 375,000 in 2004, and analysts say a sizeable number of these people never returned. John Mufukare, the executive director of the Employers Confederation of Zimbabwe, said the country’s economic and political crisis was the major force fuelling the brain drain. Employers could do little to keep skilled personnel when salaries constantly lagged behind Zimbabwe’s astronomic inflation rate, which surged to a record 1195 per cent in May and is predicted by the World Bank to hit the 2500 per cent mark next year. “The figures of departing Zimbabweans, particularly the unofficial figures which are the real ones, are a barometer of the performance of the economy,” said Mufukare.
While the public health sector has been the hardest hit by the brain drain, private businesses have also been badly affected. “Zimbabwe’s human capital is simply draining away,” said one economist.
An official at international courier service Federal Express, which handles visa applications of all prospective travellers to Britain, said the company had been inundated by thousands of applications. It is believed that more than 3000 Zimbabweans who entered Britain last year alone did not return to Zimbabwe, with most of them claiming to be attending schools in the UK. Rugare, not his real name, a 26-year-old nurse working in London, said he uses an informal network of friends to send money home, “I rely on them because I do not have proper documentation.” He says he sends the equivalent of a minimum of US$142 each month. Rugare says he obtains three times the official rate on the black market, and there is no doubt that these remittances make the difference between extreme hunger and having food on the table for relatives still in Zimbabwe. Officially, Zimbabwe is in dire need of any source of foreign exchange since the withdrawal of financial support by the International Monetary Fund. Desperate to tap funds held by some four or five million of its citizens in the diaspora, the Central Bank two years ago launched the Homelink money transfer system, offering favourable interest rates to exiles to remit money home through official channels. But interest in the scheme has been lukewarm because the “preferential” rate remains far below what can be obtained on the black market, which has almost become the official dealing medium. When Gideon Gono, the Reserve Bank governor, visited South Africa to explain to Zimbabwean exiles the Homelink system he was shouted down at meeting after meeting. One exile, Joshua Rusere, said, “To add salt to injury, Mugabe sends his messenger to ask me to send my money to bankroll his regime when its policies drove me into exile.” There has been a mass exodus of white Zimbabweans, who once numbered nearly 300,000. According to the last census in 2002, there were just 46,743 remaining whites: 10,000 of these were aged 65 or more, and fewer than 9000 were under 15. – IWPR

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