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Analysing Zimbabwe’s brain drain

- Wits University

Why did many Zimbabweans leave their home country in search for work in SA?

Professor Miracle Benhura and Dr Prudence Magejo from the Wits School of Economic and Business Sciences are studying the returns on education in Zimbabwe using data from the 1995 and 2003 Zimbabwean Poverty Assessment Study Surveys in conjunction with the 1996 and 2001 South African Census data.

The main purpose of the study is to establish why many of their compatriots left Zimbabwe, their home country in search of work in South Africa.

“Zimbabwe suffered a substantial brain drain between 1995 and 2008 and we decided to look at the reasons why skilled workers were leaving the country,” says Magejo.

Benhura and Magejo studied about 10 000 documented Zimbabwean citizens, living in South Africa in 2001 and found that mainly prime-aged workers came to South Africa in search for work. They also found that highly qualified workers experienced the highest decline in returns on education during the Zimbabwean crisis.

The low reward for skills potentially explains the brain drain in Zimbabwe.  Based on the results, one avenue to mitigate the problem would be to offer better returns on education,” adds Magejo.

After completing their PhDs at the University of Cape Town and University College Dublin in Ireland, respectively, Benhura and Magejo could not find well-incentivised jobs in Zimbabwe.

“Zimbabwe was already in a crisis when I finished my PhD in 2007 which pushed me to consider job offers in South Africa,” explains Benhura.

As labour and development economists, Benhura and Magejo are interested in determining whether Zimbabwe’s development policies in terms of politics, education and employment contributed to the country’s brain drain.

“Most literature on the subject is only anecdotal and we wanted to provide scientific evidence on the subject,” says Benhura.

As a separate research project, Benhura and Magejo are also studying South Africa’s labour unions and their role in the labour market.

“Unions are very strong in South Africa, compared to other African countries, so we looked at their contribution to inequality and also sought to identify the workers who benefit the most from union membership,” she adds.

They found that lower income workers benefited most from union membership, compared to their higher income counterparts. Further, they found that union membership confers better compensation on members compared to non-members.

“This union premium partly contributes to wage inequality in the South African labour market,” says Magejo.

Both Benhura and Magejo want to focus on issues of poverty and inequality in their future research.  The plan is to broaden the scope to other African countries, since very little is known on the subject.