By Dumisani Nyoni
Bulawayo, March 03, 2016 – Bukhosi Dube did not need to board a taxi to the nearest sports bar to spend his days’ earnings at an Africa Bet Soccer gambling shop in the city.
The two are adjacent to each other.
Strangling a quart of beer and drinking with his friends, one could easily see that Dube had hit a jackpot with the way he was squandering his money.
“I won my cash, and quickly crossed the road to celebrate my lucky day,” he says, showing off some 50 dollar bank notes totalling $600.
Gambling has been his way of life since 2015, waking up daily to bet on dog fights, horse racing, and many other sporting activities.
Although he does not win all the time, Dube declared gambling was now his full-time job as formal employment is hard to come by in Bulawayo, once the country’s industrial hub.
The former National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) employee said he was left with no choice but to take the often lucrative gambling business as his new occupation after he lost his job in July last year.
He was among the casualties of the controversial July 17 Supreme Court ruling which allowed employers to sack workers on three months’ notice.
Zimbabwe’s already high unemployment rate, estimated at more than 90 per cent, also increased in the past year when hundreds of companies shut down.
The country’s economy, which recorded double digit growth rates after the formation of an inclusive government in 2009, whose term lapsed in 2013, is this year seen registering a modest 2,7% growth rate.
Gambling has many forms ranging from poker games, slot machines, dice-based games, card games, coin tossing, casino, bingo and lotteries, among others.
It is sports betting which seems to have taken Bulawayo by storm.
There is also street gambling where young people usually play cards.
There appears to have been a surge in the number of gambling shops as profitability has increased despite critics pointing out the highly addictive nature of the pastime.
Retail outlets have also joined the gambling industry, albeit in a subtle way by introducing promotions offering lots of prizes to be won.
People enter such promotions with the hope of winning cars, groceries and furniture, gadgets or cash prizes.
The rising phenomenon, especially among the city’s youths, is as a result of the difficulty in finding work to enable them to support themselves and their families in an increasingly shrinking economy compounded by cash shortages.
A visit to gambling outlets in Bulawayo by a RadioVOP crew on Wednesday showed that people as young as 15 years and as old as 65 eke out a living in this industry.
They say gambling is a way of making money.
“Without gambling, my family will starve and children fail to go to school. It’s actually a relief to many unemployed people roaming the streets,” Butholezwe Ntuli (55), a former National Blankets employee and now a regular bet, said.
“A number of people in the city have turned into gambling as a way of eking out a living. Things are hard out there due to economic meltdown,” said Gregory Dlamini, a managing director at Plaintive Enterprise, a downtown betting shop that provides, along with slot machines, an array of sporting events to bet on including televised horse and dog races and soccer matches.
Dlamini said a day his company receives more than 200 fortune seekers.
“The highest winner ever won $1 000,” he said while a subdued atmosphere engulfed his shop.
There is no animated chat. At one end elderly patrons sit at tables in pairs whispering betting tips to each other and occasionally breaking off to watch horse races on big TV screens.
At the other end, a group of younger men is deeply engrossed in a European league soccer match.
The sombre mood is suddenly broken by boisterous cheers of youths celebrating a goal.
Such is their daily life.
“I spend at least 30 per cent of what I have. Sometimes I win, sometimes not. I usually say to my friends, ‘don’t take gambling as an investment but as a play’ because you might kill yourself after you have failed to win a cent,” said Sifiso Ndlovu.
An economist, Reginald Shoko said gambling has an economic factor the world over.
“Because of high unemployment in the country, people have turned to gambling as a way of arresting poverty,” Shoko said.
However, social commentator and traditionalist Pathisa Nyathi said gambling had both negatives and positives.
He said it was addictive and this was only exhibited when gamblers become excessively preoccupied with gambling to the exclusion of everything and everyone, including their own families.
“What precipitated gambling is high rate of unemployment yet people having needs to fulfil. This is the reason why there is a rise in gambling. It’s an economic situation that we are in.
“The problem with gambling is that it is associated with violence. Some people don’t accept that they have lost. It has got bad influence to the young ones,” he said.
Bulawayo was hit by deindustrialisation after recording close to 100 company closures.
More companies continue to downsize and some are relocating to other cities, leaving thousands of locals unemployed.
Even though gambling has been viewed as anti-social in other sections of the society, to some is a way to go.
“Today it wasn’t my day,” said Njabulo Mlotshwa.
“I placed $15 in bets on several international and regional horse races being screened live today but couldn’t make it. I will try tomorrow.”