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The Agony Of A Captain With No Soldier Nor Hope

It’s a year since Zimbabwe held its first peaceful, if controversial, elections in a decade. On August 11, President Robert Mugabe will speak to his people on Heroes’ Day – a celebration of those who liberated the country. This will be against a backdrop of a liquidity crunch and a collapsing economy with record unemployment which is forcing the country’s skilled to flee.

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Old soldiers never die, they merely become security guards.

Zimbabwe’s struggles are epitomized by the life of Themba Moyo (not his real name), a former captain in the Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) who left the country he served for Johannesburg in 2001. He is one of the estimated 500,000 to three million Zimbabweans who have fled the country since 2000, according to the Global Zimbabwe Forum.

Moyo once commanded more than a thousand men, at Inkomo Barracks in Harare, but now works for a security company earning less than $200 a month. His story is one of many untold stories of Zimbabwe’s economic decline.

According to research by the Southern Africa Political Economy Series Trust (SAPES Trust), Zimbabwe has lost 50% of its skilled manpower to neighboring countries and Europe – journalists, science teachers, doctors, engineers, as well as soldiers.

“Our research established that there are over 100 Zimbabwean lecturers working at universities in Cape Town alone, with an insurance company, Old Mutual, employing over 120 Zimbabweans at senior management level, while the United Kingdom has 10 senior engineers working for its railway sector,” says Ibbo Mandaza, the director of SAPES Trust.

Clad in his navy blue security guard uniform, puffing an almost exhausted cigarette just outside the control room, Moyo clocks on at a student residence in Auckland Park, Johannesburg. When he talks you can see flashes of the professionalism and discipline of a soldier.

Moyo says he signed on as a 25-year soldier, but as Zimbabwe’s troubles worsened he found life unbearable.

“The lifestyle I was now used to started vanishing in my face. I could hardly afford taking my wife and two children shopping as my salary could hardly be stretched beyond basic essentials. When I came here, my expectations were very high, I dreamed of driving a good car, building a nice house and sending my children to better schools than where I studied. It didn’t take me long to realize that my expectations would never materialize. I settled for a more realistic and pragmatic life of starting from the bottom,” he says.

“Now I am working to survive and not to better myself. With my current job, I cannot afford paying school fees for my child’s tertiary education. I only hope that my firstborn son gets a job as soon as he finishes high school. It pains me failing to give my children a better life from what I received from my parents,” says Moyo, fighting back emotion.

Also struggling is Zanele Nyathi, a United College of Education (UCE) graduate now working as a receiving clerk at a hardware shop in downtown Johannesburg.

“I have considered going back home several times, but it’s not tenable as I am a breadwinner. I take care of my parents, my child and my late sister’s, but eking out a living is a struggle,” says Nyathi.

A teacher by profession, Zanele also joined the great trek south to do a job beneath her training.

South Africa Research Chair in Mobility and Difference, Loren Landau, says migrants are employable, especially in menial jobs, but the remuneration is poor and the risk of abuse great.

Landau says poor economies in Africa can’t retain skills meaning there are more Malawian doctors working in Manchester than in Malawi.

“If you dumped Malawian doctors or other skilled professional back into their country from Manchester, they may well end up farming bananas as the Malawian economy lacks the capacity to employ and fairly remunerate a highly skilled workforce,” says Landau.

“Migrant skilled labor is increasingly becoming more mobile. People will look all over for where they can best use their skills. With restrictions on entry to the [United States], Europe and Australia, many of South Africa’s immigrant professionals may have come here as a second-best choice.”

Landau posits around 4% of South Africa’s 51 million people are migrants.

He notes that developed countries like the United States are harvesting en masse from developing countries’ skilled workforce due to better conditions and prospects of professional growth.

If Moyo’s story is anything to go by, Zimbabwe’s migrant percentage is likely to grow as the country’s struggles could send even more of its people on the beaten track down south.

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