Analysis by Jeffrey Moyo
HARARE (IDN) – Clad in faded trousers and shirt and an old pair of shoes dotted with a mixture of patches and holes, 38-year-old Jemitius Simango trudges along First Street in the Zimbabwean capital with a huge sack containing empty plastic bottles hanging on his back as he rummages through dustbins in search of valuables.
Simango holds a Marketing Diploma from Zimbabwe’s Harare Polytechnic College and at first glance many take him for a lunatic, although he is an ordinary man at ‘work’ trying to earn a living against the backdrop of this Southern African country’s faltering economy. After failing to secure employment, many like Simango have turned to doing various substandard jobs to sustain themselves.
Without decent employment, Simango has endured deepening poverty as Zimbabwe has continued to pursue economic policies inimical to job creation in contrast with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 8 of promoting inclusive and sustainable economic growth and decent work for all.
With Zimbabwe’s unemployment rate hovering around 90 percent, sustainable economic growth may be a mountainous task for this country, amid rampant company closures pushing millions of people out of formal employment.
Zimbabwe’s 2013 National Social Security Authority (NSSA) Employer Closures and Registrations Report for the period July 2011 to July 2013 showed that 711 companies in the country’s capital, Harare, had shut down, leaving over 8,000 individuals jobless.
For many economically bruised Zimbabweans like Simango, decent employment has become a thing of the past. “Instead of seeing our country making headways in creating decent jobs for all, everything here seems to be working against the UN goal of promoting sustainable economic growth,” he told IDN.
Even with the hyped strategy to revive the country’s economy – the Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation (ZimAsset) – it seems there is no respite in the battle to promote sustainable economic growth.
The ZimAsset initiative was crafted by this country’s governing Zimbabwe Africa National Union-Patriotic Front party in 2013 to achieve sustainable development through use of the country’s abundant human and natural resources but, with no activity taking place around the initiative, it has not yet shown itself capable of promoting sustainable economic growth.
“ZimAsset lacks funding and it also has no buy-in from international financial institutions," Tapiwa Mashakada, Zimbabwe’s opposition Movement for Democratic Change shadow Minister of Finance, told IDN.
The result is that many like Simango have been forced to hatch desperate plans for survival in the country’s comatose economy. “Apart from collecting empty plastic containers for recycling, I also do all sorts of menial jobs to earn a living while my wife is a vendor in the capital, where our school-going children join her daily after school,” Simango told IDN.
However, Zimbabwe is not the only country in this part of the world facing woes when it comes to promoting sustainable economic growth. In South Africa, for example, unemployment hovers around 27 percent of the country’s population of about 52 million people, according to Statistics South Africa, while Zambia is also battling to contain joblessness which stands at around 14 percent of the country’s estimated population of 15 million people.
In fact, the entire Southern African region stands at a critical point as far as the UN's sustainable development goal (SDG) of economic growth is concerned. Some of the highest unemployment rates on the African continent are in Southern Africa, where 51 percent of young women and 43 percent of young men are unemployed.
In May this year, Zimbabwe’s Finance and Economic Development Minister Patrick Chinamasa told journalists that the government was developing a two-year poverty reduction strategy which “will focus on practical well-targeted measures that can be implemented in the short to medium term, with long lasting impacts that guarantee improvement in the welfare of the citizenry."
Agriculture was singled out as key to dealing with the poverty challenges that the country face which had been exacerbated by an El Nino-induced drought in the previous season.
But even before then, poverty had already shot up thanks to the country’s chaotic land seizures from white commercial farmers 16 years ago, leaving the land in the hands of poorly-equipped indigenous farmers.
With huge tracts of land rendered less productive following the country’s land redistribution exercise, Dr Jesimen Chipika, national coordinator of the Interim Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (IPRSP), attributed the deepening poverty levels here to the underperforming agricultural sector.
“Poverty levels keep rising across the country, with most families experiencing food deficits owing to underperforming agriculture," Chipika told IDN.
Nevertheless, while poverty rages among the country’s peasants where, according to the country’s Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare, approximately seven million of rural dwellers live in abject poverty, economic development minister Chinamasa points to agriculture as a springboard of economic breakthrough.
"Transforming agriculture will have a positive impact on the rest of the economy, and certainly that is where livelihoods are made, as 75 percent of the population depends on agriculture," Chinamasa told IDN.
Zimbabwe has a population of approximately 13 million people, with 67 percent of these living in the rural areas.
Poverty in Zimbabwe has been long blamed on corruption in government circles and civil society activists here say that Zimbabwe’s bid to achieve the UN's sustainable economic growth goal rests on the country’s determination to tackle corruption at top government levels.
“Poor corporate governance repels public trust while it can also be destructive to the country’s economy at a time the country is in dire need of international capital,” Owen Dliwayo, programme officer of the Youth Dialogue Action Network, a youth lobby group here, told IDN.
Meanwhile, Zimbabwe’s underperforming economy is also to be blamed on President Robert Mugabe’s tenacity with controversial economic policies, according to independent economists here.
These, they say, have resulted in this country lagging behind in terms of achieving the UN SDG of promoting inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment and decent work for all.
“Despite seeing how destructive the indigenisation policy that his [Mugabe's] government keeps chasing, he has kept calling for the seizure of foreign owned firms by local black Zimbabweans, scaring away any potential investors,” Kingston Nyakurukwa, an independent economist here, told IDN.
According to Zimbabwe’s Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment Act, 51 percent of foreign businesses should be ceded to indigenous persons, a move many like Simango feel would keep them jobless a bit longer.
“Indigenisation has helped to keep foreign investors away from Zimbabwe, meaning continued unemployment for us,” said Simango. [IDN-InDepthNews – 1 July 2016]
Photo: With Zimbabwe's economy falling apart, the country faces an arduous task to promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth and decent work for all, with many jobless Zimbabweans taking to street pavements as vendors. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo | INPS-IDN.
IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate.