Zimbabwe’s Economic Meltdown Fuels Worker Exodus

Zimbabwe’s economic meltdown has led to a surge in mass migration, with neighboring South Africa reporting an average annual increase of nearly 31,000 Zimbabwean immigrants in 2018. This is a significant increase from the previous year, when the country was home to 672,308 immigrants.

The country’s statistics agency revealed that 908,913 of its estimated 16 million nationals were living abroad, with 85% of them in South Africa. However, these numbers are likely an undercount due to frequent migration between neighboring countries and undocumented foreigners’ reluctance to participate in population surveys.

Zimbabwe’s economic collapse in 2000 was largely due to President Robert Mugabe’s support for the seizure of land from White commercial farmers. The country’s economy collapsed, leading to hyperinflation and the abolishment of the national currency in 2009. Despite Mugabe’s ouster in 2017, less than one in 10 workers are formally employed, and most struggle to make ends meet. The government’s policy missteps, such as reintroducing the Zimbabwe dollar in 2019, have further impacted economic growth and investor confidence.

The UK has also confirmed the ongoing worker exodus, issuing visas to 20,152 Zimbabwean health and social care staff in the 12 months through June, a five-fold increase from the previous year. Over 112,000 Zimbabweans were estimated to be living in the UK, almost five times the number reported in the African nation a decade ago.

Zimbabwe has seen a significant increase in immigration to the UK over the past year, leading to a brain drain across various professions due to the country’s poor economy and low remuneration. Remittances rose 15% to $919 million in the six months through June, accounting for 16% of the country’s foreign currency earnings of $5.5 billion. However, Zimbabwe’s prospects for improvement are slim, with President Mnangagwa pledging policy continuity after winning another five-year term in a disputed election.

The country has had no access to foreign lines of credit for over two decades and is seeking to restructure $18 billion of debt. The Zimbabwe dollar is widely spurned, and US dollars are used to buy everything from food to medicine. Anecdotal evidence suggests that migration picked up in the run-up to the election, which extended the ruling party’s 43-year tenure and was marred by allegations of rigging.

Zimbabwe’s Red Cross Society, St. John Ambulance Association, state universities, and privately-run Cimas Medical Aid have been flooded by applicants, including teachers and other professionals, who hope to secure jobs abroad.

Zimbabwe’s government is grappling with the loss of its professionals, with Deputy President Constantino Chiwenga calling for a law to prevent other countries from recruiting them from the country. The Zimbabwe Teachers Association estimates that 300 teachers are leaving their jobs each month, causing a significant impact on education standards and the economy.

Teachers are paid $200 in basic pay, less than a tenth of what they can earn as caregivers in the UK. The government is reportedly putting in money to subsidize social services in developed countries. The Bankers Association of Zimbabwe estimates that between 2% and 4% of the industry’s workforce is emigrating annually.

The majority of those leaving are entry-level staff, but there have also been high-level departures. Accountants and information technology specialists are also emigrating due to their uncompetitive salaries and inaccurate records of departures. Some emigrators even resign once they are out of the country.

economicZimbabweZimbabwe's Economic Meltdown Fuels Worker Exodus