Zimbabwe Exiles Start to Return

New regulations aim to reverse the exodus of much needed public servants.

Zimbabwe Exiles Start to Return

New regulations aim to reverse the exodus of much needed public servants.

Wednesday, 25 March, 2009
Zimbabwean professionals, many of them teachers, are coming home and seeking readmission into the public service, in response to a move by the country’s new inclusive government to pay civil servants in foreign currency and relax conditions for rejoining the sector.

The influx is a response to calls from President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai for the more than three million exiles, who sought refuge from their country’s chaotic economic situation in Southern African Development Community, SADC, countries and abroad, to return to Zimbabwe to help rebuild the country.

Zimbabwe’s public service commission has announced that teachers who resigned between January 2007 and March 1 2009 should be allowed to rejoin the profession. It has also waived existing procedures for re-engaging engineers, surveyors and other public servants.

Beitbridge and Plumtree – the busiest entry posts into Zimbabwe from SADC countries – have reportedly recorded an increase in recent weeks in the number of economic and political refugees returning to Zimbabwe.

Most of them are teachers who fled the country’s economic and political crisis and sought refuge, mainly in South Africa and Botswana, where, in desperation, they took menial jobs for paltry salaries. Teachers unions estimate that 70,000 teachers left the profession between 2,000 and 2008.

Dennis Chitsaka, Zimbabwe’s principal immigration officer in charge of the Beitbridge border post, told the state media on March 15 that an average of 50 voluntary returnees from South Africa were crossing the border daily.

“We are getting more and more Zimbabwean professionals voluntarily coming back home through Beitbridge, the majority of them teachers,” he said.

Chitsaka said a total of 81,702 people entered the country via Beitbridge in February compared with 70,614 in January. Most of them, he went on, held South African asylum permits and had been living on the breadline in that country.

Plumtree border post, according to officials there, has also been a hive of activity as former civil servants return to their country, although no official statistics were available.

One official, speaking to IWPR on condition of anonymity, said her office was receiving hundreds of telephone calls from Zimbabweans in Botswana inquiring whether they could receive assistance in applying for their former jobs.

David Coltart, of the Mutambara faction of the Movement for Democratic Change, MDC-M, and minister of education, sports, arts and culture, told IWPR the noticeable influx of teachers had been influenced by the new government’s relaxation of conditions for those seeking re-admission.

“Our offices are inundated with people seeking readmission. We have made it easier to be readmitted than before, hence the influx,” Coltart said.

However, bureaucratic confusion is thwarting the moves, threatening the revival of the country’s education sector as well as that of other areas of the public service crucial to the implementation of government policies.

Sifiso Ndlovu, acting chief executive of the Zimbabwe Teachers Association, said his office was receiving complaints from teachers that education officials were thwarting attempts to re-engage returnees. Unless bureaucrats embraced the new policy, it would be difficult to revive the public sector, he said.

Ndlovu said there were no detailed guidelines or procedures relating to the reappointments, resulting in some provincial officials sticking to guidelines that existed prior to the new arrangement.

Some teachers were not being taken back because officials were applying old official guidelines and others, according to Raymond Majongwe, secretary general of the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe, were being asked to write letters of apology to school principals and provincial education officials.

“This does not augur well for the revival of education, which has virtually collapsed,” Majongwe said. “This confusion must end because we need to take this country forward.”

Responding to the complaints, Coltart said the issue was being addressed in a circular sent out by government to all provinces spelling out the new re-hiring procedures and sorting out the confusion.

Jabu Shoko is the pseudonym of an IWPR-trained journalist in Zimbabwe.
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