THOMAS Muchera is a motor mechanic at a local garage in town. His job is to repair and service vehicles.
His salary has al
ways been far less than what he needs to get through the month.
To supplement his meagre wages, Muchero used to steal hammers, spanners and other tools from the workshop to sell.
Unfortunately he was not the only one who was using this “plan” to survive because eventually the cases of missing tools increased dramatically until the managers decided they had to do something.
Three months ago his employers installed a security system to stop the pilfering of tools thus cutting Muchero off from his major source of income. He had to make another plan to survive.
It didn’t take him long to realise that he could make more money if he stole the garage’s clients. This form of thieving is hard to detect because it benefits the clients too. Who would not want a good service for less?
Ask Muchero how much it costs to service a vehicle at the garage and you will get obscene figures punctuated with allegations that the managers there have a bad habit of making huge mark-ups on spares like plugs and filters. Then he will deliver the killer punch that he is sure will scare off every car owner: “My friend these people (his employers) will charge you for oil they have not changed and they will drain your fuel to sell on the black market.” Muchero will deliver this message with a straight face.
Luckily he has the solution to the problem. “Instead of bringing your car here to be charged an arm and a leg why don’t you buy the spares somewhere in town and I will do the servicing for half the price. I will come to your home.”
This deal is negotiated right on the customer counter of the garage. It’s a deal mutually beneficial to both parties but it’s done to the detriment of the company.
Muchero represents the thousands of Zimbabwean workers who have resorted to eking out a living through such unorthodox means.
To them the office has been transformed into a place where they do their deals using company resources.
It is difficult to imagine that there is a worker in Zimbabwe who is not engaged in some sinister activity or other to survive.
Politicians believe that Zimbabweans are resilient and innovative. The truth is that most Zimbabweans have neither of those attributes in the true sense of the words. They are surviving on thieving.
Human resources expert Memory Nguwi believes that as the economic crisis worsens, most workers are spending less and less time on the core business of their companies. He estimates that on average, workers are spending 70% of their time on personal deals in order to supplement their incomes.
“Most workers are stealing time from their companies,” Nguwi says. “Half the time they are using company phones to do their own deals. Sometimes they are chasing their personal debts using company vehicles.
“The result is that productivity suffers but at the end of the month the same workers expect a full salary. At times they are pushing for salary increases.”
People are running their own businesses from their employer’s offices, said Nguwi.
There are others more daring in their survival plans.
Take for example, Nathan Marombe, who is employed as a barman in Budiriro where he earns $7 million a month. This amount is obviously not enough to feed Marombe’s family of five let alone sustain his long list of girlfriends.
It’s difficult to understand why Marombe continues to hang in there unless you have some insights into his own plan. On busy nights Marombe will stock part of the fridge with his own beers for sale to patrons. His trick is to ensure that his beers are the coldest at any time. By the time the bar owner comes for cash collection in the morning Marombe would have done his maths and made off with huge earnings from his deal. The rentals, rates and power bills are paid for by the bar owner who also has to hand a pay cheque to Marombe every month.
“This guy doesn’t pay me well so I have decided to run my own little bar from his bar,” said Marombe who claims to have been doing this for six months now.
On bad days he makes a profit of $4 million but when the bar is packed like on Fridays he makes about $8 million. “It varies from day to day but it’s enough to get me by.”
Last week he did not have the money to buy his own liquor so he sold four crates belonging to the bar owner. He then used the proceeds to replace the stock but pocketed the profits.
“When the owner came I told him that volumes were not moving because it was almost mid-month. He believed it,” Marombe said proudly.
These survival plans are found in almost every sector of the economy. Workers in the retail sector take advantage of the controlled prices to hoard commodities to sell on the parallel market.
The allocation in most supermarkets is normally one loaf per person but with a good “tip” to the till operator the limit can be pushed to as much as a dozen loaves.
Others are plainly corrupt. A good deal with a till operator and receipt checker can see a customer leaving the shop with some unpaid goods. It sounds like an old trick too common to fall for but it does happen.
“It’s simple. If you know you are going to buy groceries worth $30 million all you have to do is to pay the till operator and guard $5 million. At the till you will pay $15 million. In the end you would have paid $20 million for groceries worthy $30 million,” a till operator told this reporter over a drink. Things seem to going on well for him. “I used to really struggle when I started working but now I am wise.”
The word “wise” means tricking the company that gave him his first job when he came from Zhombe, his rural home, in 2003.
Those in the public sector also make plans. Donald Murisi’s net salary, at least until the recent review, was 10 times short of the income he needs to feed his family of four.
He required $22 million to get through the month but his net salary as a clerk at the Companies Registry Office was about $3 million.
“My salary is too little so I have to make a plan,” Murisi said. When Murisi says he will make a plan he is not talking about the obvious project of rearing chickens to supplement his meagre earnings. No. His plan is at his workplace. It includes using his government offices to get clients who want to register companies. He will refer the potential clients to his partners who operate a company registration firm in town for a share of the profits. Sometimes he “fast-tracks” applications for company registration for a fee. When things are really bad, Murisi can be paid to “misplace” files by people whose companies are under investigation from the police or media.
Murisi’s plan is made possible by the use of company offices, faxes, computers and phones. Technically speaking that amounts to stealing government resources.
This practice is rampant in most government departments and it hinges on the self-justification by the workers that if the government does not pay them enough they will use its resources to make a living.
Tariro Varidza from the passport office looks like an innocent civil servant struggling to make a living until you ask her about the process of getting a passport.
She will tell the person how an application can take as long as two years to go through. She will then offer her own system which is more efficient and faster but not necessarily transparent. That also comes with a fee of course.
This is how Zimbabweans everywhere get by. And it is a sad consequence of a mismanaged economy.