ABOUT 16 kilometres northeast of Harare’s central business district lies one of the capital’s poorest suburbs, Hatcliffe Extension, which was created in 1993 to accommodate squatters from illegal settlements in and around Harare.
The suburb is adjacent to Hatcliffe high-density suburb, developed in the late 1980s mostly to accommodate domestic workers of the rich, then mostly white workers, in the nearby plush suburbs of Borrowdale and their surroundings.
But 22 years into its existence, Hatcliffe Extension’s fortunes continue to worsen as Zimbabwe’s economic crisis shows no signs of abating, resulting in falling standards of living.
The suburb has no basic infrastructure such as roads or appropriate sewer systems, but these are the least of the problems for most of the residents who often have to live on one meal per day.
Twenty-two-year-old Sphiwe Murongi (not her real name) says she has gone for days without a decent meal. Murongi lost her father in 2005 and is now taking care of her four-year-old daughter and her two younger siblings.
Her mother, who was mentally ill, just disappeared from the shack which they call home soon after her father’s death.
Murongi had to drop out of school at the tender age of 15 to assume the onerous responsibility of heading the household.
She tried her hand at self-employment, but her small vegetable business soon collapsed due to the inordinate demands on the little she made. She then decided to try out another form of self-employment — prostitution — to support her family.
“I didn’t finish my high school so you can imagine how difficult it is for me to find a job when even university graduates have become vendors,” she says.
Zimbabwe’s economic woes saw more than 50 companies lay off at least 6 960 workers in 2014 alone, according to the country’s Retrenchment Board. The unemployment rate stands at north of 80%, and is set to increase as even government is also set to retrench in order to trim its unsustainable wage bill.
“Right now we might lose our stand because I cannot afford to feed the whole family and pay US$80 annual renewal fees for the land. There is a local non-governmental organisation which has promised to assist us in building the house, and should that happen it will lift a lot of weight off my shoulders,” Murongi says.
A few streets away lives widowed 80-year-old Naison Mari.
Mari says he lost his wife and two sons due to “poverty” as he could not afford to pay their medical bills.
“I believe my family would still be here if I could afford to take them to hospital,” Mari says, but would not disclose what they suffered from.
The octogenarian is currently taking care of a 14-year-old grandson, who has dropped out of school due to financial difficulties.
“I am old. I can’t work anymore; so I just had to take him out of school. Now he helps people in their fields and does other menial jobs which get him a bit of cash to feed us both,” Mari says.
Murongi and Mari are among millions of Zimbabweans finding the going extremely tough, research suggests.
According to a 2014 FinScope Consumer Survey, 44% of the country’s population had to skip a meal because of lack of money for food, up from 29% in 2011, while 37% of the population went without treatment or medicine also because of lack of money in 2014, up from 20% in 2011. This paints a bleak picture of rising poverty among Zimbabweans.
The percentage of citizens that have been unable to send children to school because of lack of fees or uniforms has also gone up from 25% in 2011 to 36% in 2014, while people who have gone without cash income and had to make a plan for daily needs also went up from 53% in 2011 to 63% at the end of 2014, according to the survey.
Poverty has mostly been induced by a shrinking economy that has seen people lose their jobs or go for months without pay as formal employment conditions worsen.
The survey states that 60% of Zimbabwe’s seven million adult population aged 18 years and above, earn below US$3,50 a day. This is less than a fifth of the country’s poverty datum line which stood at US$511 early 2014 for a family of five.
The survey results showed 76% of the country’s adult population earn less than US$200 per month, while 7% has no income at all.
Salaries and wages only account for 14% of income for the country’s citizens aged 18 and above while self-employment and piecework both contribute 10% each. Farming remains the main source of income, accounting for 36%.
On basic amenities, the report shows 29% of the country’s population has access to running water, down from 35% in 2011 while access to electricity for cooking remained flat between 2011 and 2014 at 29%.
Masvingo-based human rights activist Peter Marimi says the extent of poverty is likely to worsen this year due to poor rains.
“There has not been enough rainfall in many areas and for some farmers the crops are a write off,” says Marimi.
“When there is a bad harvest, people rely on the little surplus, if any, of what they harvested last year, but that obviously won’t take them very far. People should just brace themselves for hunger.”
Marimi says the poverty situation in many provinces is worsened by lack of employment opportunities.
“There is hardly any alternative source of income; many people depend on subsistence farming because there is just no industry to talk about especially in vulnerable rural areas,” he says.
Last month Famine Early Warning System Network warned Zimbabwe’s acute food situation will persist with production likely to be affected by the late start of the rainy season, flooding and dry spells.
While government is as usual likely to assure Zimbabweans no one will die of hunger despite lacking the financial wherewithal to feed the needy, indicators strongly suggest the poverty situation will deteriorate this year.