Mduduzi Mathuthu Editor
THE government is drawing up a raft of policies to attract skilled Zimbabweans back into the country, a cabinet minister said last night. An exodus of skilled labour owing to a sustained economic crisis over the last decade has robbed Zimbabwe of some of its best brains, Information and Broadcasting Services Minister Professor Jonathan Moyo said in Bulawayo.
Prof Moyo admitted ministers previously saw the exodus as a slap in the government’s face, but they now saw this as an opportunity as the country pursues a knowledge-driven economic growth plan.
“Even though there was quite an exodus of skills, many of them were deployed in useful positions where they went in the Diaspora,” Prof Moyo told reporters at the Bulawayo Press Club.
“We were worrying… why are these people going somewhere and claiming asylum for all sorts of reasons? I was even used by many to justify applications for asylum, and I was getting a bit exercised at the time… why are they doing this? I couldn’t relate to some of the things that were being alleged.
“We didn’t have this notion of Diaspora as a positive thing. We took the position that these asylum seekers are running away and embarrassing their country. But these guys now constitute a whole critical strategic population called Zimbabweans in the Diaspora with experience, and some with resources. The most important experience they have is the knowledge advantage and it’s rooted in the education they got here.”
The minister, who spoke for just over two hours on a wide range of issues, said Zimbabwe’s high literacy rate should count for something.
“We’re now in the period where we need to define our comparative advantage in terms of the skills out country has. It’s one of the achievements of our independence under President Mugabe in terms of the education,” he said.
“We’ve been priding ourselves as the leading country in Africa with the highest rate of literacy. That rate means nothing if it can’t translate into application.”
Prof Moyo said Zimbabweans were now the mainstay of South Africa’s economy – Africa’s most industrialised country. He appealed to their patriotic fervour to answer the government’s invitation to return home.
“I know for a fact, even though it’s not part of our public discourse, that many critical positions in South Africa are held by Zimbabweans – in the financial sector and even in the ICT sector, both critical sectors for the knowledge industry,” he said.
“If we could just create opportunities here, and have all of them returning overnight, there would be a crisis across the Limpopo. It’s a fact, they have the skills. They all had their foundation of education here, all of them to a person. But look at the wonderful things they’re doing outside the country.
“From a moral point of view isn’t it wonderful, there is no place better than home? They all want to come back home and we’ve now a challenge to come up with incentives, serious incentives, to attract them to come back home because this is what will determine, define success in this phase of our country’s development.”
The minister said a basis for Diaspora engagement had already been laid in the government’s much-vaunted economic blueprint, the Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation (ZimAsset).
He added: “One of the very deliberate objectives of ZimAsset, especially with respect to the various sources of funding, is to target the Zimbabwe Diaspora whose members have variously shown an interest to invest in the country, and who would like to see a coordinated way that responds to them; enables them to understand the available economic opportunities for them to invest.
“ZimAsset, especially with respect to beneficiation and value addition, has room for various incentives, some of which were spelt out by the Finance Minister in the 2014 budget statement, for attracting Diaspora funds or remittances.
“This is one of the things that the Ministry of Industry, which is leading this initiative, is looking at. It has come up with several drafts and is working with the Finance Ministry.
“In due course, we will spell out not just the areas of opportunity but also the incentives available to Zimbabweans in the Diaspora who may be interested in those areas. We will make specific policy pronouncements.”
Professor Moyo said the government’s efforts to re-attract skilled Zimbabweans from exile were “a very definite kind of commitment”, pointing out the government was spurred by previously success in Diaspora engagement like the Homelink housing scheme.