HomeCommentGovt needs to tackle widespread poverty

Govt needs to tackle widespread poverty

ZIMBABWE is experiencing many scarcities and shortages.

Eric Bloch

These include energy supplies, municipal supply of water (especially in Harare), reliable telecommunications, essential foodstuffs, diverse prescription medicines, equipment and medications in hospitals, and much else.

However, one of the few items of which Zimbabwe not only does not suffer shortages but actually has a surfeit is poverty.

More than half of the country’s population is struggling to survive and maintain reasonable health on incomes below the poverty datum line (PDL), being the minimum income required to fund absolute, life-sustaining essentials.

Moreover, their incomes are mostly less than the food datum line (FDL), being the minimum income required to fund the bare essential foodstuffs necessary for the avoidance of malnutrition, and consequential ill-health.

That this is so is quite incomprehensible when the country has vast natural resources.

So great are such resources that, if effectively exploited, Zimbabwe could be one of the wealthiest countries in Africa, and virtually none of the population would be the victims of poverty.

The resources range from an agricultural potential of such magnitude that, prior to 1990, Zimbabwe was renowned as the “Breadbasket of Southern and Central Africa”. Not only did it produce enough to meet all Zimbabwe’s needs, but it also substantially exported produce to neighbouring countries.

In contrast, today the country’s agricultural production generates approximately half of the national need, and the country is very dependent upon imports and has great difficulty in funding them as Treasury is virtually broke.

The country has immense mineral wealth including platinum, diamonds, coal, nickel and lithium. In recent years Zimbabwe has enjoyed significant growth in mining sector investment and development, but that fell when Zimbabwe introduced indigenisation laws.

Similarly, Zimbabwe benefitted from a robust manufacturing sector whose products included textiles, clothing, engineering, pharmaceuticals, toiletries and cosmetics, foodstuffs, stationery, toys, and numerous others.

Industry provided much of the needs of the Zimbabwean populace, and also exported considerably to countries throughout Southern Africa and further abroad.

However, from 2008 the industrial sector has declined and many companies have been forced to close, whilst many others have downsized.

This was due to the near-total erosion of capital by hyperinflation that then prevailed, and compounded a year later by the demonetisation of the Zimbabwean currency.

As with other economic sectors, access to new capital was almost impossible for on one hand banks and financial institutions had little resources and, on the other hand, foreign investment could rarely be accessed, in consequence of the negative manner Zimbabwe pursued indigenisation.

As the economy contracted hundreds of thousands (if not millions) became unemployed, predominantly so from the agricultural and manufacturing sectors.

The unemployed desperately sought alternative employment, mostly without success.

Many then left to seek employment in other regional countries and overseas.

Due to the number that departed and deaths attributable to HIV/Aids, the country’s population contracted from 15 million to approximately 12,8 million.

Of those, an estimated 7,5 million (exclusive of children and the aged) were potential employees but, in reality, less than 1 million had formal sector employment.

Fortuitously, much of the immense unemployment has been addressed by small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

Recently, Small and Medium Enterprises minister Sithembiso Nyoni disclosed Zimbabwe now has over 2,8 million small businesses, which businesses have created 5,7 million jobs, and which enterprises benefit from US$7,4 billion in circulation within the sector.

However, with over one million being totally unemployed, and with most of those employed receiving wages below the PDL their families, and many other dependants, are poverty-stricken. Many can hardly afford accommodation, but sleep in the streets or sanitary lanes.

Many others can only marginally fund accommodation, housing as many as eight persons in a room.

Similarly, they do not have the funding for essential utilities and services, including electricity, water, refuse removal, transport, medical expenses and school fees.

Compounding the intensity of poverty in Zimbabwe is that not only are most employers unable to pay competitive salaries and wages, but it is not infrequent for employers to delay wage payments due to an insufficiency of cash to pay the worker timeously.

Thus Zimbabwe has a far greater number under poverty than should be the case when the magnitude of available economic resources and skills is taken into account. The major catalyst of the surfeit of poverty is government and its exceptionally counterproductive economic policies.

Were government to pursue conducive economic policies including motivating potential investors, billions of dollars would flow into Zimbabwe as investment in industry, mining, tourism and agriculture.

The economy would recover immensely and poverty massively diminish.

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