UNEMPLOYMENT and a steadily rising cost of living have worsened the vulnerability of the urban poor in Zimbabwe.
government and labour unions do not agree on the level of unemployment in Zimbabwe, statistics compiled by the country’s consumer council point to an ongoing increase in the cost of living.
Economic analysts and the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) have dismissed government claims that the country’s unemployment rate now stands at 9%.
Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare Minister Paul Mangwana told Irin the country’s effective unemployment rate was 9%, as many people were employed in the informal sector.
He said the land reform exercise had also created numerous job opportunities, with more new farmers needing labour. “I cannot give you the exact number of jobs created so far but, yes, the agricultural sector has created most of them. In fact, the Central Statistics Office (CSO) has the same figures on unemployment, and that is what I am using.”
But a CSO official, who declined to be identified, said the organisation had not released any statistics on the unemployment situation since 2001.
The Consumer Council of Zimbabwe (CCZ) has reported that the cost of the monthly food basket for an average family of six rose from $1,4 million in October to $1,6 million in December — a 12,5 % escalation.
The CCZ noted an increase in the prices of basic foods as well as non-food items. A 50 kg bag of the staple maize meal now costs $60 000 while the price of a 750 ml bottle of cooking oil is now $21 000, up from $16 000, a rise of almost 24%.
The CCZ collects information by monitoring the selling prices of goods in retail outlets.
The rising cost of basic items comes at a time when humanitarian organisations warn of widespread food shortages in the country between December 2004 and March 2005. In its latest situation analysis for Zimbabwe, the Famine Early Warning System Network (Fewsnet) noted that the majority of rural households had run out of the food they had harvested in the 2004 season.
Fewsnet said the situation was equally bad in urban areas, where most scarce foodstuffs were being sold at high informal market prices beyond the reach of many families. The Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee predicted in April that 3,3 million people would be food insecure by the end of this year.
ZCTU president Lovemore Matombo disputed minister Mangwana’s claim that joblessness stood at 9%. He said the ZCTU currently estimated the rate at a conservative 75%, but warned that the actual figure could be well over 80%, given the number of jobs lost in 2004.
“Anyone who estimates this country’s unemployment rate at less than 70% is out of touch with reality. Our records show that 600 000 people had lost jobs due to various reasons between 1999 and the end of 2003. Current CSO figures show that 50 000 people have lost jobs this year alone, so the trend (in unemployment) cannot go down, it can only get worse,” said Matombo.
The minister has argued that the labour unions’ estimates do not take into account new employment opportunities in the agricultural sector, nor do they include the number of people working in the informal sector.
But Matombo said “our assessment of sector performances over the past four years shows that, contrary to what the government says, the agricultural sector has dropped from employing the highest number of people to being one where there are no opportunities at all”.
“The disruption of agriculture through the land reform programme threw many people out of employment. The present situation in the sector is that it is no longer employing because there is nothing happening on the farms — most are underutilised, if not derelict altogether. As for the contribution of the informal sector, Zimbabwe would be the first country to count on it as a formal source of employment,” Matombo remarked.
Economic analyst Eric Bloch also ruled out the inclusion of the informal sector in calculating national employment figures, adding that the agriculture sector, which used to employ over 300 000 before the farm seizures of 2000, had not contributed much to employment over the past four years.
“The conservative figure is 75%. It could be higher, but that is the lowest anyone can come when looking at Zimbabwe’s employment trends. But, from what we get from employment councils, trade unions and mining chambers, the figure is much higher,” Bloch commented. “Our conservative estimate is that about 2,7 million out of the country’s employable population of about 3,5 million are out of work right now.” — Irin.