Eric Bloch Column

Brain drain revisited . . .


TWO weeks ago this column bewailed the devastating consequences of Zimbabwe’s pronounced brain drain upon an already greatly distressed economy.


In doing so, and wholly unintentiona

lly, various sensi-tivities of some of the Zimbabweans abroad were pricked and caused them undeserved distress. Albeit that it was only a miniscule number of the millions of Zimbabweans who have left the country and sought employment or other income-generating activities elsewhere, a few construed the column to be critical of them for having departed for pastures new.


To a major extent it was the column’s headline that particularly provoked the reaction of being unjustly accused, for that headline intimated that economic recovery was hindered by the brain drain. The Zimbabweans abroad perceived that headline and, therefore, the underlying article, to be a criticism of them for having left Zimbabwe and thereby harming the economy.


That was certainly not the case. The intent, and substance, of the column was that because so many skilled people had departed, Zimbabwe no longer possessed a sufficiency of the skills necessary for economic recovery.


However, it in no manner blamed those who had, for a variety of reasons, left Zimbabwe. In fact, the reverse was the case, for it greatly regretted that so many had gone. But it attributed the mass exodus to the catastrophic environmental circumstances creat-ed by an uncaring, autocratic and domineering government.


There have been several different reasons that have motivated, and continue to trigger, the exodus of the skilled from Zimbabwe. First and foremost has been the abysmal erosion of the economy.


From 1994 to 1997, Zimbabwe was enjoying an economic trans-formation. Very belatedly, thegovernment facilitated progressive deregulation of the economy, created an investment-conducive environment, interacted construc-tively with the international community and pursued many of the other measures necessary to develop a virile economy.


By mid-1997 there was strong indication of economic growth and a positive prospect of markedly improved circumstances for most Zimbabweans. And then the government took a 180-degree about-face.


First it made it clear, in August 1997, that it was going to implement the Land Acquisition Act that had been promulgated four years earlier. That in itself was not negative, but it was made radically apparent that the implementation would be without regard for equity and justice, without consideration for redistribution and resettlement to those able and willing to work the land, and with no consideration as to the preservation of agricultural viability.


Less than two months later, the government inflicted its next body-blow to the economy, granting irresponsibly great compensation packages, far beyond Zimbabwe’s means, to war veterans — genuine and imposters — which in turn triggered a cataclysmic collapse of Zimbabwe’s currency.


Over the next six years the government continued relentlessly along its self-created path of economic destruction. It arrogantly alienated much of the international community, thereby deterring investment and forfeiting developmental and balance-of-payments support. It was profligate in its spending, fuelled inflation, progressively created more and more back-breaking taxes (direct and indirect) and intensified regulation of the economy.


The result was greater numbers of unemployed and an increasing inability for many to provide much-needed support to not only their immediate families and dependants, but also to their destitute extended families. The pressures to support ever greater numbers of dependants impacted even upon those fortunate enough to be in employment, for many of them found that their earnings were insufficient to support all that were reliant upon them.


Eventually the circumstances became increasingly untenable, motivating tens of thousands to depart Zimbabwe to seek employment incomes in hard currencies which, via a very virile black market, they could internalise into Zimbabwe at very favourable exchange rates, thereby yielding the funds necessary to maintain or, at the least, assist their families still living in Zimbabwe.


So, very simply, the government’s disastrous destruction of the economy initiated much of the brain drain. And who can credibly blame those who left, being effectively forced to do so out of desperation?


None can justifiably state that they were wrong to leave Zimbabwe in such circumstances. They were not, and certainly are not, to blame for Zimbabwe’s economic morass. In fact, by way of their support for their extended families, they injected some life into the almost lifeless economy.


The second key factor that has been the cause for much emigration has been concern at the declining health services and education resources.


Insofar as the health services are concerned, there has been an ongoing and escalating emigration from Zimbabwe by doctors, radiologists, physiotherapists, nur-ses and many others within the healthcare profession, denuding Zimbabwe of many of the specialist skills that are prerequisites of a sound health care resource.


Moreover, a combination of grossly inadequate funding of hospitals, clinics and like-institutions by the government, and of an inadequacy of foreign currency to fund essential imports of healthcare inputs, has further demolished the infrastructure intended to be the support for the wellbeing of the Zimbabwean people.


As a result, many reluctantly concluded that in the best interests of their families and themselves, they had to relocate to other countries where good and sound health services are readily available.


Similarly, tens of thousands have left, and even greater numbers are planning to leave, because of the dismal lowering of standards in government schools, and the war of attrition being waged by the Education, Culture and Sport minister upon private schools.


Government schools accommodate any number up to well over 40 pupils in a class, notwithstanding that its is recognised worldwide that classes should not, for effective education, be more than 24. Moreover, the schools have a chronic lack of textbooks — often only 5 to 10 copies for more than 40 scholars — computers, science laboratory equipment and other teaching aids.


And now the minister is vigorously striving to reduce the private schools to the same appallingly low levels by constraining them from charging fees realistically required, and which most parents are willing to pay.


These developments are occasioning a great sense of insecurity among teachers, resulting in many leaving Zimbabwe. That sense of insecurity is only exceeded by the depths of fear and concern of parents who foreshadow, with justification, a total collapse of Zimbabwean education, and therefore they have been, and are, departing Zimbabwe in droves in order to assure their children of an acceptable education.


Who can justly blame them for doing so?


Only years of developing a new pool of essential skills will rectify the harm that the government has wreaked upon the economy, upon Zimbabwe and upon its people.

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