By Prince Tongogora
Harare, February 3, 2014 – Economic challenges in Zimbabwe are slowly but increasingly normalising the abnormal among the social classes as more citizens engage in corrupt tendencies to get by each day since their jobs can no longer sustain their basic needs.
Zimbabweans from across the social divide have lost hope in the prospects of the government improving their lives especially considering the economic path that the country traversed over the past decade.
As the economy declined many people lost their jobs and forced to join the growing army of the cut throat informal industry while the few still formally employed are adapting to their new working environments and thankful they are still employed.
Many within the working class have had to endure erratic paydays, shortened working days, stagnant salaries and more importantly rising cost of living. However, despite this untenable situation the working class has stuck to their jobs than jump ship.
The poverty datum line currently stands at $540 per month yet many workers on average earn about $200 per month. From these meager incomes they are still miraculously settling their accommodation rentals, transport costs, purchase food and pay school fees for their children. Some even are importing for their personal use second hand vehicles from Japan.
Inquiries into the reasons why they are sticking it out in their jobs despite the aforementioned challenges reveals a resilient people who without a tinge of regret can ask for bribes to do their work, conduct moonlighting and use company or organisation resources to make an extra income.
To get a clear picture of their lives Radio VOP assured interviewees that their true identities will not be revealed so as to protect them, an arrangement they agreed to.
Shylet, a single mother of two earns her living from cross-border trading. She imports clothes and household electronic consumables from South Africa. She told Radio VOP that the softening South African rand and corrupt Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (ZIMRA) officials at the border are blessing her enterprise to be profitable.
“With the United States dollar trading at around 11 to the South African Rand, I am now able to get more commodities for the same amount of money for resell,” said Shylet. “Because of my frequent travels across the border I now know some ZIMRA officials and I pay less on import duty for my goods provided I pay the official a bribe.”
Shylet added, “The combination of a sliding rand and corruptible ZIMRA officials is making my business profitable since my pricing does not factor the currency fluctuations.”
The rand has softened from an all high of US$/7ZAR (rand) to the current US$/11 ZAR (rand) effectively making imports cheaper since Zimbabwe uses the US dollar as its base currency.
These underhand dealings are not limited to the informal sector but also have become prevalent in the formal private companies.
John is a 39-year old procurement officer for a middle sized retail company specialising in new information technology gadgets. His duties involve conducting formal competitive tender bids from potential suppliers. He is paid a modest $1 100 per month and has the benefit of using a company vehicle but lives an affluent middle class life.
“In this country to survive you have to make use of your position. Potential suppliers pay bribes to be considered and along the way I started my own shelf-company that supplies to my employer. That way I have managed to build my house and buy my personal car,” John confided to Radio VOP.
Corruption among workers is not limited to the informal and private sectors as law enforcement agents are also implicated. Traffic police officers are higher on the radar.
Derik, a traffic cop on the national highway, confirmed that working in the traffic department in the police is now the most sought after and rewarding office.
“It’s important to get into the section as it brings life changing rewards from offending motorists,” Derik said, “The daily quotas of revenue we should deliver to the force provides a good leeway for us to make our own income,” he added.
Majority of traffic cops now operate small businesses or have acquired significant personal property like houses and vehicles.
The workers to some extent concur that the economic deterioration and the government’s cluelessness about proffering solutions has created a new economy for the unscrupulous ones. A majority of them now would not even want the situation remedied for it will change their lives.
Derik sums it up, “Many of us wish the economy and the political environment will stay like this for it brings immeasurable wealth through underhand dealings. For now I don’t see any will to change things.”
This is how low Zimbabwe has sunk and the government seems not to be in a hurry to arrest the deteriorating economic and political conditions. For now the future remains gloomy for the majority of the citizens while a few amass wealth.