Editor’s Memo: By Faith Zaba
AT the turn of the millennium, Zimbabwe faced an unprecedented economic meltdown. Inflation spiralled out of control which saw the figures topping 98,7 sextillion percent year-on-year in mid-November 2008.
In early 2000s, the chaotic land reform reduced Zimbabwe from a bread basket to a basket case. Job losses became the order of the day and thousands of university graduates turned to informal trading to eke out a living.
The bad governance by former president Robert Mugabe utterly destroyed once Africa’s jewel.
With one of the highest Africa’s literacy rate of above 90%, Zimbabwe has an enviable human capital. But the poor salaries and working conditions have driven many to the Americas, the United Kingdom, Australia and South Africa. In fact, Zimbabweans are dotted all over the world, even in Iceland and Azerbaijan.
Every household has someone in the diaspora, a skilled worker who is sending money back to fend for extended families. Diaspora remittances jumped 58% in 2020, reaching about US$1 billion. This is indicative of the human capital Zimbabwe has exported to other countries.
As the Covid-19 pandemic grips the world, a global economic downturn has been witnessed. For a battered economy, such as Zimbabwe with high unemployment levels around 95% and a 7 million people living in extreme poverty, according to the World Bank, the economic challenges can only worsen under a ravaging global pandemic, which has killed 4,55 million people and a whopping 219 million cases.
Elsewhere in this publication, we publish a story about a worrying brain drain that has hit major referral hospitals, such as Sally Mugabe, Parirenyatwa, United Bulawayo Hospitals, Mpilo and Murambinda, among others.
As the Covid-19 crisis continues to cause headaches, nurses are reportedly deserting health institutions in droves. They are getting jobs in Namibia and South Africa where salaries are between US$1 400 and US$2 000 per month while those in the United Kingdom can make up to US$4 000 compared to ZW$30 000 (US$200) being paid by the government.
Figures of health workers who recently sought better wages and working conditions have not been collated but details emerging from health institutions are shocking.
This means that for the past 20 years, Zimbabwe has been a good training ground for workers who will then benefit other economies where workers are better remunerated.
Government needs to take workers’ salaries seriously and improve earnings as a matter of urgency. The Consumer Council of Zimbabwe (CCZ) family basket is almost ZW$50 000 (US$570) but most workers take home less than half of that figure. One wonders how one makes ends meet!
By its own admission through the Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services minister Monica Mutsvangwa, who recently promised that the state was “looking into sustainable ways of improving the conditions of service for nurses, doctors and other health professionals”.
Apart from health workers, other civil servants have been playing a cat-and-mouse game with the government as they continuously bicker over poor salaries.
Zimbabwe is endowed with vast mineral resources and investment opportunities which can transform the economy if managed properly. But rampant corruption and mismanagement has plunged the economy into stinking doldrums.
Economic transformation should translate to better living standards and not just budget surplus on paper which do not benefit the ordinary citizen.
If the salaries and working conditions are not addressed, the country will export the much-needed skilled personnel in different fields.
Like what a medical doctor at Sally Mugabe told this publication this week, surely, government must “devise means to motivate people not to resign”.
Senior government officials enjoy lavish perks including luxury vehicles and houses while the ordinary worker is languishing in poverty. This needs redress; there has to be a balance. The gap between the haves and have-nots in government is yawning. It needs to be closed forthwith.