Hard hit by the economic collapse under President Emmerson Mnangagwa, Zimbabwean citizens are searching for ways to leave the country in search of opportunities abroad.
It is a reversal of the public mood of just 16 months ago, when the fall of former ruler Robert Mugabe in November 2017 was met with jubilation. Citizens living abroad at the time, for the first time in nearly two decades, contemplated returning home after Mugabe’s fall.
But some of those who responded swiftly to Mnangagwa’s call to return and help rebuild the country this week expressed regret over the hasty decision. They are now looking for a way out.
Inflation is at its highest in nearly a decade, at 42%, and fuel in the country is one of the world’s most expensive. Bread is in short supply, while soft drink Coca-Cola is rare, and most goods and services are pegged in US dollars.
Thamani Ncube, a banker by profession, was based in Canada before he returned last year, and is now struggling to keep up with his new economic reality.
Ncube had high hopes of starting a trucking business at home. Taking a risk, he wanted to be on the ground to start his new business and threw caution to the wind over scepticism that the turnaround of the economy would happen overnight.
“I have seen it all. Starting a company back home is not as easy as it sounds. There is a lot of red tape and before you start one, look at players in the chosen industry. If you are not politically connected, it’s hard to get contracts,” he said this week.
“Those that manage to get them are lowly paid because even local companies, besides big mines, are not making money. The road infrastructure is bad so the wear and tear is just too rapid, hence you find broken down trucks all over. Maybe another business can do, but my investors won’t support me in this circumstance. I am going back to formal work.”
Another person who has had her dreams of a resurgent economy shattered is Sithabile Bhebhe, a nurse formerly based in Namibia.
On the expiry of her contract in December after four years of working in Namibia, she returned home. But she has now set her sights on going to the UK.
In the meantime, she works on a locum basis at private hospitals to survive.
“It was a bad experience. Imagine moving from a fully functional hospital to a private hospital that falls below a basic institution in other neighbouring countries Locum jobs pay fairly better, but still that money is not enough for basic things. You can’t save or buy property. While I was in Namibia I could save to buy even a car,” she said.
It is not only those who have previously been working outside the country who are keen to leave home. With jobs scarce, affecting an estimated 90% of the population, the allure of a job outside the country is hard to resist, regardless of the dangers.
Ntando Msebele, a tourism and hospitality graduate, is so desperate that she is prepared to take any job, as long as it provides her with an opportunity to leave the country.
She has even applied for jobs which have no relation to her studies.
“I recently applied for an elementary English teaching job in China. Anything that can get me out of Zimbabwe will do,” she said.
A basic job of teaching English for beginners in China comes with perks such as a monthly salary of between $1,200 and $3,300, free housing, medical cover and at least two return air tickets.
If her bid to land a job in China does not work out, Msebele said she will take up a job as a maid in Germany.
She has registered with Au Pair, Nanny and Child Care Agencies, a company that says it “specialises in placing Zimbabwean au pairs to countries in the European Union”.
“I am now taking German language classes for the next six months for basic communication. This is the best chance I have to leave because about ten people I know over the years left…Depending on the families they get attached too, some have even upgraded their lives and moved on to better things,” she said.
Neighbouring South Africa, however, is likely to remain the first destination for many seeking greener pastures, despite the recent difficulty in accessing permits to work and study there. Recent figures from Stats SA show a 62% increase in migrants in South Africa.