Just short of 60% of the foreign qualifications evaluations done by the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) between January and September last year were for skilled Zimbabweans seeking work in SA, the authority said last week.
This is just the tip of the iceberg - a lot of the Zimbabweans in SA (it is estimated that there are up to 3-million) are in the country illegally and are thus undocumented.
"A lot of illegal Zimbabweans are teachers, a lot of them are engineers; they also come out of the government side of the laboratories, lab technicians, and a lot of them are medical staff and nurses," said Roy Bennett, national treasurer of Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).
Of the 17086 evaluations SAQA did between January and September last year, 9756 (57%) were for Zimbabweans wanting to use their evaluations to get work permits, said Nadia Coetzee, co-ordinator of the authority's Centre for the Evaluation of Educational Qualifications.
The applicants had a broad range of skills, from artisans to people with doctorates, said Coetzee. "We tend to see a sharp increase in the applications for evaluation of foreign qualifications from countries in conflict situations and economic crisis, as is the case with Zimbabwe.
"We see a broad range of qualified people coming (from Zimbabwe) with very high levels of education and training. There are many artisans, but an equally good representation of degrees and (high-level technical) qualifications. Many qualified teachers and engineers are coming into SA. Considering our country's dramatic shortage in these fields, these migrants could be extremely valuable in helping us meet the skills crisis and transfer skills to our own people," she said.
Now many of these people, who could have made a positive contribution to SA's regeneration, are flooding back across the Zimbabwean border, having been chased out by South Africans who blame them and other foreigners for social ills such as the high crime and unemployment rates.
"A lot of them are working in the tourism and catering industry," Bennett said. "Just ask your next waiter and he'll probably be Zimbabwean. Very few of them are working in their profession, but if (SA's) system was more friendly they could have been put to good use."