News Feature: Brain drain puts Zimbabwe at a further disadvantage


Farai Mabeza

HARARE – “Our mining engineers are  well sought after all over the world”, says Chamber of Mines chief executive Isaac Kwesu.

For any economy, this would be good news. But in Zimbabwe this has turned out to be a powder keg that seems ready to explode at any moment. If there aren’t any opportunities in a country to make a comfortable living, professionals will  go to other nations that respect their abilities and innovations.

The brain drain is certainly a phenomenon that is considered problematic and exacerbates the crisis in Zimbabwe since it represents a loss in monetary terms mainly for the government. The investment that has been made so that individuals have been educated is lost at the moment they decide to exercise in another destination. On the other hand, it is also a loss in terms of human capital, since there is a decline in the number of qualified individuals in the different areas that require a degree of preparation for the jobs available.

While most of the sectors do not seem to have ready statistics, they all concede that skills flight is  accelerating as the economic woes continue to mount almost on a daily basis. Brain drain in Zimbabwe affects the capacity of all sectors of the economy to deliver their mandates. It also runs across all categories of human resources from top, middle and low level experts, technical, entrepreneurial and managerial experts, general workers and the unemployed. Some sectors such as health, accounting, education, ICT, engineering seem to be much more susceptible to the brain drain phenomenon than others.

In 2019, close to 300 doctors and nurses left the public health sector to join private practice locally and in neighbouring countries as a result of poor working conditions.

According to Kwesu, Zimbabwe’s mining sector is losing its skilled personnel to some of the world’s biggest mining countries, mainly Australia and Canada, as they search for better remuneration.

“We are currently compiling data and preliminary findings show that we are probably one of the most affected sectors. Naturally, we rely on skills that are demanded globally and when remuneration becomes uncompetitive we lose skills,” Kwesu explains.

Employers Confederation of Zimbabwe president, Israel Murefu blamed the increased movement of people out of the country on the rapid deterioration of the value of the local currency over the past year or so. “Some people are now earning as little as 10 to 20 percent of what they were getting in 2017 to 2018. A lot of employees are complaining of loss of purchasing power. The younger generation is being attracted to countries with stable currencies.”

According to their findings the biggest market for professionals is South Africa and Canada and then other English speaking countries in the region and even Mauritius. “It doesn’t matter how much you increase their salary if it’s going to lose value overnight,” Murefu said adding that it could get worse.

“There were some people who were sitting on the fence hoping either for the stabilisation of the currency or restoration of the multicurrency regime. They are now making up their minds to leave because they are losing hope,” he said.

Murefu said Zimbabwe should address currency stability to stop the tide and also urged employers to come up with innovative measures to help their employees. “In the meantime, employers can introduce productivity based schemes. Let’s say you are supposed to produce 1 000 units per hour and you produce an extra 200 units… you then share the proceeds from the 200 units with the company in addition to your stipulated remuneration for the 1 000 units,” he said.

According to human resources expert Memory Nguwi, Zimbabwe’s human resource base has been depleting as professionals flee the tough economic environment to look for opportunities outside the country. “The most affected areas are the technical skills such as engineering, professionals like accountants, marketers and more. We are also seeing senior managers leaving.

“What this means is that organisations may end up having to do with second rate and inexperienced employees to cover the gap left by some of the highly skilled employees,” Nguwi said.

The Zimbabwe Institute of Geomatics (ZIG) which houses professionals in the surveying and geomatics field, and has lost some of its personnel is not taking the losses lying down. ZIG president Wilson Mhuri believes the professionals in the Diaspora also present an opportunity for Zimbabwe to benefit from the exposure and skills that they are getting abroad.

As such ZIG is engaging its members outside the county and also utilising its membership of international bodies to transfer skills to those professionals still in the country.

“We have not been spared by the brain drain. However, what we have done is that we have created a Facebook page called the GeoChat. This is coordinated under our ZIG Geomatics Youth Network.

“In the GeoChat, we host international professionals so that our youth can also ask questions and the experts are given topics to present on or discuss with our youth and other members of the profession.

“As we do this our youth are able to benchmark from international standards of what other countries are doing. We have also joined a family of professionals in the world which is International Federation of Surveyors or Geomaticians (FIG).”

FIG is a federation of the national member associations and covers the whole range of professional fields within the global surveying, geomatics, geodesy and geo-information community.

It is also part of the SADC Geomatics Forum and Africa Regional Network and it invites some of the biggest equipment suppliers in its arena to its annual conferences.

“We invite these companies to our conferences to come and show us the new technology in terms of equipment such as drones, GPSs and all the new survey equipment that our colleagues are using internationally.

“However, the brain drain is very real but we believe this networking can help mitigate the effects that these losses have on the economy,” Mhuri says.

Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare Minister Professor Paul Mavima said the government was committed to stemming the loss of human resources by improving the wider economic climate.

“The issue of brain drain is a wider issue. As Government, we are working on improving the macro-economic environment to ensure that the citizenry’s lives are improved.

“Some of the issues we are working on include the improvement of workers’ welfare through better incentives. Salary negotiations will continue under the Tripartite Negotiating Forum (TNF), which encompasses Government, labour and business,” Mavima said.

Even in sport, Zimbabwe has lost some of its best.

Countries such as South Africa, England, Sri Lanka and Australia are benefiting from Zimbabwean players and coaches in sports such as soccer, cricket and rugby.

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