Unemployment now at boiling point

Twenty-FIVE year-old Chipo Chikanda (her real name) graduated with flying colours at the University of Zimbabwe in 2014, but is yet to fulfil her dream of being a political scientist or getting a job in a related area as employment opportunities remain elusive.

By Taurai Mangudhla

MDC-T supporters march through the streets in central Harare last month demanding that President Robert Mugabe must go because of economic failure, corruption and human rights abuses as well as unemployment, poverty and suffering.
MDC-T supporters march through the streets in central Harare last month demanding that President Robert Mugabe must go because of economic failure, corruption and human rights abuses as well as unemployment, poverty and suffering.

After high school, Chikanda chose her degree programme, political science, driven by her passion for politics, geopolitics and aspirations to be an authority in that field.

She had dreamt of being a social scientist analysing political systems and behaviour, while using the researches to predict future behaviour.

Alas, two years after a colourful graduation ceremony that was graced by President Robert Mugabe, Chikanda has lost of hope of her dream job. Now she has settled as a shop-floor worker at a small printing company in Harare’s light industrial area earning just US$200 per month.

As Zimbabwe join the world to celebrate Workers Day on Sunday, Chikanda will be among the thousands of frustrated graduates who are either unemployed or have taken menial jobs due to a myriad of macro-economic challenges that have forced companies to either downsize or shut down.

Zimbabwe has massive unemployment — a barometer of the health of the economy — hovering over 90% has left many young people concidering whether or not they should pursue in tetiary education.

An Employers’ Confederation of Zimbabwe 2015 survey showed more than 9 000 workers countrywide were dismissed using last year’s Supreme Court ruling which allowed employers to fire employees on three months’ notice, contrary to claims by trade unions that nearly 30 000 were affected.

“I have been working here as a factory assistant since December 2015 for just US$200 a month. Out of the US$200, US$30 goes to my transport, then other critical expenses, and I am left with very little to spare,” Chikanda said in an interview with the Zimbabwe Independent this week.

“This job is not at all satisfying because of the money I earn and also the mere fact that I don’t feel like I have achieved anything after spending the whole day sweeping floors or simply arranging print material in order. This is not what I trained to do at university.”

In the run up to the 2013 general elections, Zanu PF promised to create 2,2 million jobs between 2013 and 2018, but the electoral pledge has remained pie in the sky.

“It is very painful every day to go back home, and reflect on this dead-end job. I have no choice because this was the only job offer I got since I finished college,” said Chikanda.

“Right now I am excited that the company owner is considering training me for a permanent machine operator position, but will I ever be able to own a house or even buy a used vehicle with this paltry salary?”

Chikanda’s parents are both informally employed, despite her father being a qualified engineer, further testimony to the current unemployment crisis.

Her father has been unable to find formal full time employment since he returned home from Europe in 2004 due to the tough economic environment.

“My father is in his 50s and this means he can’t be seen competing for entry jobs at any form with thousands of unemployed college graduates,” Chikanda said.

“He tried opening his own company with a colleague, but things haven’t yet worked out for him. Right now he helps my mother run a small tuck-shop outside Harare. This has helped pay for my college tuition and right now my two younger brothers are also in college,” she added.

One qualified nurse Beauty Shumba told the Independent this week she has been unable to find employment since she completed her training two years back.

“I was trained in Masvingo before moving to Harare where I’m doing two shifts per week at a council clinic and all of us are yet to get secure employment,” Shumba said.

“What is painful is that we have two more streams ahead of us that are yet to be placed anywhere by government and we have institutions that have as many as 70 students per stream across the country.

“I went for nursing because I was fully aware of the high unemployment rate, but it seems even government is unable to absorb the nurses it trains despite a huge staff deficit in the health sector.”

Health Minister David Parirenyatwa recently said Zimbabwe’s public health institutions need about 8 000 new nurses to meet growing demand for health services despite government’s decision to freeze recruitment in the civil service in 2011.

While Zimbabwe’s true unemployment rate is unknown and unknowable in the current economic conditions, it is clear under-employment and unemployment have reached a crisis point. Hordes of vendors and other informal workers swarming the streets say it all. Millions of Zimbabweans have fled the country to South Africa and other countries around the world due to economic implosion and unemployment.

For the under-employed, people like Chipo and Beauty, and even those fully employed, there is nothing to celebrate on Workers Day on Sunday in Zimbabwe’s sea of poverty.