Harare, Zimbabwe – Samuel Chikengezha, a 35-year-old firefighter, is sitting on a sofa in his humble home while watching TV as he stresses how he will get there this month.
He has yet to pay his school fees for his three children, he said – among many of the financial challenges he faces – the money he earns as Zimbabwe’s first response has not kept pace with inflation for years.
“I survive on loans from friends and family because the money is almost enough,” he told Al Jazeera.
Like many of his colleagues, Chikengezha believes that the solution to his economic problems is to stop Zimbabwe from getting a paid job abroad.
“I want to leave the country. Each of us wants to go to other countries. We’re all waiting, really, ”he said. “When an opportunity presents itself, I’m out.”
Zimbabwe’s economy was on its knees before the pandemic hit, and COVID-19 has only made things worse.
Wages are stagnant, the foreign currency is scarce and the purchasing power of the Zimbabwean dollar continues to deteriorate, reaching 60 per cent of annual inflation at the end of last year. Manufacturing is low, and poverty is growing along with prices for all, including essentials like food and fuel.
Now the economic carnage is threatening key public services, causing a huge brain drain in critical sectors.
Harare City Council, which heads the Zimbabwe capital fire department, said the city had lost 125 firefighters last year.
Council spokesman Innocent Ruwende told Al Jazeera that they were looking for more jobs abroad, especially in the Middle East Gulf states.
“Our firefighters are in demand because they are very prepared,” he said.
Higher salary draw, better conditions
Attracting a higher and more stable payroll abroad is an attractive proposition for Chikengezha, who currently brings home $ 200 a month.
“Admission salaries [abroad] They are somewhere around $ 1,300-1,500, ”he said.
It’s not just firefighters who are chasing higher pay. Brain leaks are also shaking up the health sector in Zimbabwe. Due to the growing demand for health workers around the world, Zimbabwe lost about 2,000 health professionals last year, according to state media. That’s more than double the 2020 exodus rate.
Zimbabwe Nurses Association President Enock Dong told Al Jazeera that poor pay and working conditions are forcing more nurses to seek out jobs outside the troubled South African nation, where nurses earn less than $ 200 a month.
“Zimbabwe nurses’ salaries are too low. Even compared to members of the South African region, Zimbabwean nurses are the lowest paid, ”Dongo told Al Jazeera.
He also noted that the lack of personal protective equipment has made the conditions for nurses in Zimbabwe “really dangerous”.
The proclamation of the people
As the number of firefighters dwindles, a public outcry has erupted, with first responders complaining of poor service.
In November, firefighters in Harare were heavily criticized for investing in bank robbery Douglas Munatsi for an attic fire that cost his life.
Chief firefighter Clever Mafoti defended the firefighters’ actions, saying the trees prevented them from setting up aerial ladders to rescue Munatsi on the ninth floor.
And although he acknowledges from Mafo that the exodus of firefighters is having an impact, he stresses that the service is there for the citizens of the valley when he considers that it is there.
“Our ability to fulfill our duties is being weakened or diminished, but we are still able to fulfill our obligations,” Al Jazeera said. “We have not fulfilled our obligations and we have reached a stage where we have allowed the property of the people to be burned from the ground.”
But Mafoti said financial constraints are taking its toll beyond staff shortages, especially with old fire trucks.
“[The city] The council has ordered some vehicles for us, but as you know, it’s usually a process, ”he said.
In terms of health, pregnant women in Glen View and Budiri, both high-density neighborhoods in southern Harare, no longer receive prenatal care at specialty clinics because there are no nurses to provide these services.
“Specially trained nurses, such as prenatal nurses, have gone elsewhere to look for better opportunities,” said Ruwende Harare City Council spokeswoman, adding that she is looking for partners to provide funding in U.S. dollars to hire less and less talent.
“People prefer to earn US dollars and are being denied our job offers,” he said.