Zimbabwe’s tech mercenaries

MercenaryI watched in disbelief as my local transformer blew up in flames for what must surely be the upteenth time in little over a month. I could not fathom the cause for such incompetence as this was also the upteenth new transformer ZESA had installed. My friend however had a perfectly rational explanation as always: It is well known that ZESA’s best engineers now work for Eskom and Telone’s best engineers now work for Telkom. That is why their services are a world better than ours.

True, legend tells us of how all the ZESA employees are at Eskom and how the former Telone employees are busy deploying fibre and VDSL in Nespruit whilst we wallow in blackouts and are stuck with snail paced internet that has a downtime of as much as 50%. Or is it an oversimplification to blame all our woes on brain and brawn drain or is there a much more mysterious cause for our troubles.

In the wake of hyperinflation and economic meltdown of 1999-2008 most people quit their jobs and flocked to other countries. Naturally the best went first for greener pastures in other countries. Teachers, nurses, doctors, engineers etc left the country. At least half my teachers in high school quit and a further half of my lecturers in college also quit. It is estimated that over 3 million Zimbabweans emigrated to South Africa alone.


The 3 million figure however includes thieves, robbers etc… So question is who among the three million were the gurus in our country. We know of Trevor Ncube the owner of Mail and Guardian but are there any others. Mercenaries, who like local footballers have emigrated to other countries to ply their trade in exchange for riches. How much did it cost our country? Will we ever recover from it either by replacing them or luring them back into the fold. I have always been famed for my clairvoyance but here I have to answer honestly: I don’t know.

Just for interest’s sake I decided to analyze our Techzim fans on Facebook by country. It is surely not a perfect way of doing things but the results were nevertheless interesting.

# Country Local Fan base % of Fan Base
1 Zimbabwe 4 447 75
2 South Africa 509 8.5
3 United Kingdom 195 3.3
4 United States 125 2.1
5 Botswana 58 1.0
  Other Countries 605 10.1

On the face of it most Zimbabweans interested in Technology or at least Technology news from Zimbabwe are at home as shown by our fan base. The much trickier question however is who among these are the experts, the 75% at home or the 25% living in the diaspora?

I have to say I am stumped and can only appeal to your valued opinion in answering the questions: Did the mercenaries ruin us by leaving the country, are you a mercenary and if so why did you leave and are you planning on returning to our beloved fatherland, do you think we will ever recover from the brain and brawn drain.

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64 thoughts on “Zimbabwe’s tech mercenaries

  1. I left because IT back then in 2005 was a mess. IN fact terrible is the right word. The industry was a buy and sell scenario. The only way to make money was sell cartridges, bond paper, computer hardware, etc. Then corruption set in. It was now who could pay off the buyer to buy your goods. Highest bidder takes all scenario. Like an order of 10 laptops meant you had to buy 11, one for the buyer to sweeten the deal. I worked for a large ZSE company and I saw it myself happening in management via the buyers. So I quit in 2007 and headed here to SA and got a job in Joburg at an IT company.

    Honestly speaking, it is the quality of life I have got used to here that makes me doubt about my going back to work or do business back home. I have power, water, affordable lifestyle like credit, home loans, cars, groceries, etc which I cannot be guaranteed back home. I have looked at coming back though as everybody here will say “Home is best” but man, one week in Harare is enough to tell me that I will not be able to “survive” the environment. Two days of no power, erratic water supplies, internet which is great but super expensive and the wheeling and dealing that goes on to do things made me make a hard decision of seeing Zimbabwe as a place to visit but not to settle or come back any time soon.

    I have learnt a lot here. Skills, qualifications, knowledge, met gifted IT guys who know their stuff backwards and experienced some of the best in IT. Plus the advantage of playing with the latest in the sector I am. I look at what I can get in Zimbabwe and I realise that the market is not big enough to accommodate all the IT guys outside Zimbabwe. Plus the corruption levels are, well higher than before plus the political situation makes me cringe of how one can start a business there. I now so many guys who “run” their own businesses but they face so many obstacles. Even working there has its challenges. One can only think of working back home if attracted by great packages so you start in middle or upper management positions.

    Bottom line, the things that make me not think of coming back are the political situation and the levels of corruption. But then again as a country, once the politics is sorted, everything starts to fall into place. Till then, I will make this place my home.

    my 2c

    1. I couldn’t have said it better. You just took the words out of my mouth!!! I was a little surprised how I struggled to drive in Harare on one heavily rainy Friday (shld be 1 March 2013). The streets were so dark, I could hardly see the road from CBD to Westgate. It was like I am driving in hell. That got me really thinking if I am ready to go back home and settle. The life sytle I (and my kids) r used to can not just be forgotten and left being in the name of “patriotism”. My 3 yr old was demanding Disney Junior channel all the time I was in DZ, struggled to explain to her that its only on DSTV. I dont have to mention how fast your wallet deflates by just spending a day in Zim.

      Anyway my personal list of things that are pre-requisite for me to go back home are:

      1). ZESA – a must. Living in the dark is for past generations.
      2). Medical care – we all know Parirenyatwa is a death camp. Avenues, not good enough either. I have a lot of dead relatives that cld be alive right now.

      3). Political maturity – as long we play village politics, I would rather be a slave of other nations. Case of either a well-fed slave or a hungry “free” man.
      4). ZINWA
      5). ZINARA – the thought of hitting a porthole and losing control of my car and plunging to my death along Masvingo “freeway” gives me a nightmare. Should i mention how careless, naive and poorly trained most Zim drivers are. You see someone overtaking 5 cars with a blind spot 500m away. Suicidal. If u think I am blubbing, drive just from Chivhu to Harare late afternoon!
      6. TECHNOLOGY – there has bn a lot of improvement, but still not good enuf. And i m not only talking about IT. How many people in zim know what is called 50ppm or 500ppm diesel or Unleaded 95 or 93. Thats what i mean. We still behind in a lot of things.

      1. those 6 sign show that our economy hasn’t yet recovered, Zimbabwe is fourth on the list of the world’s worst economies. Our inflation rate has since dropped to around 5% as we abandoned our currency and allowed transactions to be conducted in U.S. dollars. What’s our GDP? My bags are packed, I’m ready to go Western Cape!

      2. I can counter u point for point
        1. ZESA- buy a generator
        2. Medical Care- use a private hospital
        3.Political Maturity-quit talking abt politics else u will disappear or have an “accident”
        4.ZINWA- dig a borehole
        5. ZINARA- buy a 4×4 SUV
        6. Technology- ignorance is bliss. I will drive my exJap Honda CRV till these 500ppm things you say come to Zim.

        1. Your recommendations are exactly what i don’t want to do. To live an “alternative” life? No thank you! I have 1 life and i have to make sure I get the best out of it. And in all honesty, Zim owes me nothing and i owe nothing to it, so yeah, I can not be confined to a life i dont like just because of Rivers that we now call national borders. No. Maya. My paternal roots can be tracked back to somewhere in KwaZulu Natal and my maternal roots can also be tracked somewhere in Central Africa, so i am an African. South Africa is my home! I am a Bantu descendant.

    2. Lol Dogstar said it all. Quality of life is why I took off. Medical care, school, future of IT as it was stagnant, costs of training to do M$ certification, job security, goals, etc. Here I can plan and do things without any relative fear of them going up in smoke. Risk of doing things long term is lower here than back home. The Zimbabwe situation is volatile and last Christmas was hard enough to survive there. You will be surprised at how fast R1 000 disappears in one day once you “settle” in for those few days.

      Unfortunately as with any organisation, if the “management” don’t fix the “operations” of the business, it will fall and will fail to attract new “employees” or talent. The environment is not great for my aspirations and of others I know who are resident here. And yes, the property market is definitely smoking the best Malawi gold. The prices for some of the houses/stands are just shocking.

      Still I would want to come back in the future and help Zimbabwe grow but till the main issues are resolved like the politics and economy, I will remain a “visitor”.

    3. Thank you for sharing valuable information.I’m packing my bags and I’m hitting the road to Western Cape Town!

      1. word of advice, don’t do it blindly. seek proper advice first. some of us learnt certain things the hard way….but again, its part of life and such stories we will tell them to our grand children who will def be 2nd generation immigrants. LOL

      2. I can c u turning into a hobo. Home is the best bro at least unoenda kumusha kwako kana zvaipa.

  2. I left Zimbabwe when l was still young, jus after O levels and not knowing how to switch on a PC(bcoz l was brought up in the village). So maybe l cannt be a mercenary.

    Bt l have been back home trying to see if

    1. Are opportunities still available in IT. I am still in college and would like to know how I will fare on the other side.

      1. Opportunities ar still there bt through corrupt means and also if you can survive being paid half or none of yo meagre salary.

  3. I left because partly because I couldn’t get a job as a non-MS developer, and partly because I wanted to see how competitive I can be at a ‘global stage’. Fast internet, uninterrupted power, better income, relatively reasonably-priced commodities and purchase financing are just a bonus.

    No regrets: I was never going to get that interview with Amazon while in Zim

  4. those 6 sign show that our economy hasn’t yet recovered, Zimbabwe is fourth on the list of the world’s worst economies. Our inflation rate has since dropped to around 5% as we abandoned our currency and allowed transactions to be conducted in U.S. dollars. Whats our GDP? My bags are packed, I’m ready to go Western Cape!

        1. Add that to the list! The culture of fear also doesn’t count in Zim’s favour. The fact that there’s a usually unspoken “stuff we are not supposed to talk about” is not cool.

          1. Exactly why we are in this $%^&t we find ourselves in. There is “stuff” thats not supposed to be discussed. F***k that! To hell with “your” country.

  5. I think the word mercenary has connotations that will prevent some Zims respond to your otherwise noble query and quite good article. The reasons why you have a larger fan base are many and might include a) Relevance to local scene, b) Those outside have too many competing sources for tech news, c) Tech news outside can be detailed tech analysis that matches the higher skills of those in the diaspora d) Local events like JumpStart drives more visitors to techzim e) Employees of companies featured in news and advertising join the fan base, etc, etc

      1. FYI I am not one like you Sir.If you’re what he / she says then be content with it.

        quote “We are tech mercenaries for real”

        Do you know what real means?

        Voluntary degradation is worse than someone who comes with a gun & says it’s cool to shoot yourself in the mouth.. You’d be damned to think it’s reality. WAKE UP

        1. Without gettting emotional or political, here is a definition of the word

          1. Motivated solely by a desire for monetary or material gain.
          2. A professional soldier hired for service in a foreign army.

          Since the writer specified “tech”, that leaves the second definition out and definition 1 is true and correct. I don’t see where the problem is. We ALL left Zim to work for money/material. Anything else? I stand to be corrected.

          1. Then, as Shepherd Nhongo says, we are not motivated solely by money of material gains, Here are some gains that motivates people to move to SA, Bots and other places:

            a) Security from some form of persecution

            b)Refusal to pay taxes that fund politician visits on shopping trips or such other related issues

            c)Securing a future for your kids by ensuring that they will enrol in universities that are well funded whilst they stay with you so you can provide leadership

            d) Ensuring that if you, your wife or your children is bitten by a snake, even a black mamba, they have a decent chance of accessing anti-snake poison, thus survive,

            e) Access to higher tech skills

            f) Wanting to compete with the best in the world.

            g)Just wanting to see the world and experience different cultures.

            The above could be the real drivers. The sudden deterioration of revenues could make one realise that if they do not jump off in time, then they will not achieve any of these, thus the exodus at that time. So the motivated solely by money aspect does not apply to all, thus Mr Nhongo quite rightly feels it erodes ones moral value to be labelled thus.

            As the saying goes, my 2c.

              1. No. You said so in your reply. Solely motivated by money or material things. A simplistic view of that will mean that anyone who looks for a job is mercenary. That is obviously false.

              2. Looking for a job in Zim factors down to money too, So that makes every employee everywhere a mercenary? In the language of my teenage daughters “Purleezz….”

            1. You sure the taxes you pay in SA don’t go about building ZUma’s mansion in Nkandla and funding politicians excessive business excursions?

      1. Correct… Lest we forget we are no longer infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful writings.

        A fool is known by the words him utters. Thanks Gari for the reminder

  6. l was in Zim over the Easter holidays so l decide to take my VISA card to an NMB ATM.l insert my card the ATM asks my dozen questions ,Do you want a receipt etc and finally issues the cash.l am like really are you not supposed to ask questions like receipts right at the end when the money is out.l am a software professional and can say we really still very far and you look at cases like the ZSE where the country decides to pay some foreign company 100k usd but if you offer a good service and decide to charge commensurate fees they will never hire you.

    1. I was in Zim over the Easter holidays so l decide to take my VISA card to
      an NMB ATM.l insert my card the ATM asks my dozen questions…etc …l am a software professional and…

      Seriously, I dont think the ATM really a big issue. They ask different and varied questions depending on the bank, all over the world. There are charges incurred and they have to ask.

      1. You missing the point the problem is when you ask the questions if u ask a dozen questions before completing the goal it frustrates the customer.Do you remember when atms used to release cash before returning the card and a lot of people wud forget their cards.sequence matters my friend.

        1. Actually FNB does that. Cash, card then receipt. What if you got your card and left your cash? Rather lose the card than the cash. The card you cancel and get a new one. Cash, it’s gone.

          1. From a process point of view u are unlikely to leave without completing the goal so any by products wud not stop you from accoplishing the goal

  7. l think the problem is both attitude and incompetence and it frustrates HR people can earn as much as 3 times their IT counterparts and you will be stuck with a boss who knows nothing about IT and feels threatened by every suggestioin

  8. I left home becoz no matter how hard I worked, how much I earned, every day I got home to no electricity, no water, and no bread. I realised that no progress would be made as long as I stayed in Zim. Turns out to be a good decision becoz now I own a house.

    I consider myself part of brain drain not becoz I am good at anything, but becoz my nation invested in 17 years of educating me. Why should another country benefit from that? But I was hungry!

    Returning any time soon? No. I am in a country that has taught me that politics determines success of economy. Politics of my country had net effect of making it harder for me to survive. In 2008 I voted for change, my side won, but the loser stayed in power. So if same person, same policies are still at play, I have no confidence in my ability to feed my family if I return home.

  9. i intend to leave as soon as my passport is processed provided zesa doesnt cut power at the RGs office because zesa doesn’t have any clue to our problems.all they know is creating endless subsidiaries (zpc,zetdc,powertel…) who do nothing. A few years back they embarked on the rural electrification proghram which they didn’t finish,i heard that MAGETSI AKAGUMIRA PADOMBOSHAVA.

    1. Give them time dude may be they will reach your place too. Then u have to pay the ridiculous bills whilst you spent your weekends in darkness.

  10. Very shallow, @Garikai Dzoma… calling people Mercenaries.

    I wont recite what people have already mentioned. Evidently the motivations are varied. I suggest you read on migration’s impact on development, you will know the reverse and
    positive impact of migrants in terms of remittances and skills development in all sectors (ref UNDP, World Bank, IOM). In the long-term, the skills who left will certainly contribute in some way or another. Home is home, they’ll be back. When stability returns to Zim, in this or another lifetime, the reigning Government at that time will be able to derive proper benefits from migration and to manage it well.

    As it is there are some bilateral/ multinational/multi-sectoral rules governing skills migration that allow the home country to retain critical skills and destination countries to set conditions that ensure the skills serve the home countries for a set period of time before issuance of permits/Visas. In a stable economy and political environment we wouldnt have experienced the brain drain we did.

    1. You will notice most of the reasons include money or have money as the central issue and if you look up the meaning of mercenary you will see money is central to the definition. I could not think of a better word but I must emphasize that the article is not judgmental These people have every right to choose where they want to live and work and I am by no means blaming them for my problems. I think I miss them!

      1. Most reasons for looking for a job include money. Does that mean that all employees are mercenaries? The bottom line is, to the discerning, being called a mercenary for leaving Zimbabwe given the situation things were in, is offensive. I think a more enlightening question would be why did able bodied, employable and outgoing men and women stay? This could reveal quite useful social issues and human expectations that could inform future policy development and long term planning.

    2. Obvious troll-bait title is obvious: I chose to look beyond the pot-stirring instead of getting myself worked up over the intentionally incendiary wording. This was intentionally designed to cause a ‘controversy’, tabloid-style. If pageviews are your KPI, link-bait is the easiest way to achieve that.

  11. Jozi is my home now and I am not coming to your “fatherland” where there is no electricity.

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