Firefighters and nurses go abroad, Zimbabweans are homeless | DayDayNews

Harare, Zimbabwe – Samuel Chikengezha, a 35-year-old firefighter, sat on a sofa in his humble home, staring at the TV, stressing how he would make ends meet this month.

He said he has yet to pay school fees for his three children – one of the many financial challenges he faces as the money he raised as Zimbabwe’s first responder has not kept pace with inflation for years .

“I lived by borrowing money from friends and family because there was barely enough money,” he told Al Jazeera.

Like many of his colleagues, Chikengezha believes the solution to his financial woes is to leave Zimbabwe and find a better-paying job abroad.

“I want to get out of this country. Each of us wants to go to other countries. We’re all in wait mode, really,” he said. “As soon as the opportunity presents itself, I’m out.”

Zimbabwe’s economy was already paralyzed before the pandemic hit, and COVID-19 has only made things worse.

Wages are stagnant, foreign currency is in short supply, the purchasing power of the Zimbabwean dollar continues to decline, and annual inflation hit 60 percent at the end of last year. Manufacturing slumps and poverty rises with the price of everything including necessities like food and fuel.

Now, the economic carnage is threatening essential public services by triggering a massive brain drain in key sectors.

Harare City Council, which runs the Zimbabwe capital’s fire department, said the city lost 125 firefighters last year.

Council spokesman Innocent Ruwende told Al Jazeera they left to find more lucrative jobs overseas, mainly in the Middle East Gulf states.

“Our firefighters are popular because they are well trained,” he said.

higher salary, better conditions

For Chikengoza, who currently takes home $200 a month, a more lucrative and stable payday abroad is a tempting proposition.

“Entry Salary [abroad] Prices are between $1,300 and $1,500,” he said.

Two firetrucks in Harare, Zimbabwe Public outcry as firefighter numbers dwindle, blaming first responders for poor service [Courtesy of Chris Muronzi/Al Jazeera]

It’s not just firefighters who are chasing higher salaries. The brain drain is also churning Zimbabwe’s healthcare sector. Zimbabwe lost about 2,000 health care workers last year as the global pandemic increased demand for them, state media reported. That’s more than double the 2020 outflow rate.

Enoch Dongo, president of the Zimbabwe Nurses Association, told Al Jazeera that low wages and working conditions are forcing more nurses to seek work outside the troubled southern African country, where nurses earn less than $200 a month.

“The salaries of nurses in Zimbabwe are so low. Even compared to their counterparts in the southern African region, nurses in Zimbabwe are paid the lowest,” Dongo told Al Jazeera.

He also noted that the lack of personal protective equipment made working conditions for nurses in Zimbabwe “very dangerous”.

public outcry

As the number of firefighters dwindled, a public outcry ensued, accusing first responders of poor service.

In November, Harare’s fire department was heavily criticized for the penthouse fire that claimed the life of investment banker Douglas Munasi.

Acting Chief Fire Officer Clever Mafoti defended the fire department’s performance, saying trees prevented an aerial ladder from being deployed on the ninth floor to rescue Munatsi.

While Mafoti acknowledged that the exodus of firefighters was having an impact, he insisted the service was still serving the people of Harare when it mattered.

“Our ability to carry out our duties has been declining or diminishing, but we are still able to carry out our duties,” he told Al Jazeera. “We haven’t gotten to the point where we don’t do our duty and let people’s property burn.”

But Mafoti said financial constraints were taking a toll on staffing shortages — especially as fire trucks age.

“[The city] The city council has promised us some vehicles, but as you know, it’s usually a process,” he said.

On the healthcare front, pregnant women in the high-density southern Harare suburbs of Glenview and Budiriro are no longer receiving antenatal care at specialist clinics because there are no nurses to provide these services.

“Specially trained nurses such as antenatal nurses have left to look elsewhere for better opportunities,” said Harare City Council spokesman Luvender, adding that he was looking for partners to provide funding in dollars to hire increasingly scarce talent.

“People prefer to earn dollars, and they reject our job offers,” he said.