By Jeffrey Moyo
Harare, November 07, 2016 – THIRTY FOUR year-old Albert Chiza struggles along First Street in the Zimbabwean capital Harare with a huge sack filled to the brim with trinkets picked from dustbins around the city. The sack hangs on his back as he rummages for more sellable items through heaps of garbage around the city.
Despite being a civil engineer who graduated from Zimbabwe’s National University of Science and Technology a decade ago, Chiza has never had a job before.
Like millions of Zimbabweans, Chiza, after failing to secure employment, has turned to doing various substandard jobs for self sustenance.
And laden with many jobless citizens like Chiza, this Southern African nation’s bid to attain the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal Eight of promoting inclusive and sustainable economic growth and decent work for all remains an arduous task.
The SDGs were agreed upon last year in September by UN member states, which in this case are a set of goals including the bid to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all as part of a new sustainable development agenda, with all the targets to be achieved by 2030.
Zimbabwe’s unemployment rate hovers around 90 percent. As a result, sustainable economic growth may be a pipeline dream for this country as several companies keep shutting down, rendering millions of people jobless.
This Southern African nation’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 Harare, had shut down, leaving more than 8,000 individuals jobless.
But the women here are the hardest hit by the country’s slow pace to achieve sustainable development.
According to the UN Women Africa, despite regional and international commitments to 50/50 parity representation by 2015, Zimbabwe only holds an average 25 percent representation in public service institutions.
And for many Zimbabweans hit hard by the country’s harsh economy like Chiza, talking of decent employment has rather turned out to be helpless nostalgia.
“While many people here ditch to see government making breakthroughs in creating decent jobs for all, it is like there are concerted efforts to rather work against the UN goal of promoting sustainable economic growth,” Chiza said.
Even with 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 the 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. However, with not much activity taking place around the initiative, it has not yet shown itself capable of promoting sustainable economic growth.
“ZimAsset does not have 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, said.
The result is that many Zimbabweans here have been impelled to hatch desperate survival plans amid the country’s comatose economy.
“Apart from picking up trinkets like 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,” said Chiza.
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 faces which had been made worse 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 said.
Nevertheless, while poverty rages on 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,” said Chinamasa.
Zimbabwe has a population of approximately 13 million people, with 67 percent of these living in the rural areas.
Meanwhile, Zimbabwe’s struggling 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, said.
Nyakurukwa also pinned the blame for Zimbabwe’s failure to achieve sustainable development on underutilisation of natural resources here.
“Failure to maximise the use of natural resources like minerals has crippled our country’s bid to achieve the UN-SDG number eight while corruption and low Foreign Direct Investment levels have disturbed the country from realising sustainable development,” Nyakurukwa said.
According to Zimbabwe’s Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment Act, 51 percent of foreign businesses should be ceded to indigenous persons, a move many like Chiza feel would keep them jobless a bit longer.
“Indigenisation has helped to keep foreign investors away from Zimbabwe, meaning continued unemployment for us,” said Chiza.