Zim’s greatest asset is its enterprising people

As I entered the gate to one diplomat’s residence recently, I was greeted by a security guard: “Good evening, Mr Anand,” he said.

The Ritesh Anand Column

I smiled and replied, “I obviously come here too often, so you know my name.”

He replied: “No sir, I read your column and thoroughly enjoy it. You are spot-on.”

After writing for almost two years, this was by far the greatest compliment I have ever received. I realised what makes Zimbabwe so special. How many countries in Africa do you know where security guards read the newspaper let alone an economic column. This is what makes Zimbabwe great.

I have often said our greatest resource lies not below the ground, but in the hearts and minds of our people.

Despite the exodus of people over the last two decades, Zimbabwe still has some of the brightest minds in Africa.

Surprisingly and notwithstanding widespread belief, we do not have the highest literacy rate in Africa.

According to the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency’s labour force survey, 97% of people over 15 were literate in 2011. This figure is based on the percentage of people in this age group that had completed Grade 3 of school.

According to the 2011 Demographic and Health Survey, 96% of men aged 15 to 54 and 94% of women aged 15 to 49 were literate. This figure was calculated from a nationally representative household survey, but it only applied to certain age groups. Respondents were considered literate if they had attended secondary school (generally aged 15 and older) or could read a whole sentence or part of a sentence in a reading test.

To see where Zimbabwe’s literacy rate ranks in Africa, I consulted the most recent global literacy list produced by the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco), released in June 2013.

Unesco’s Institute for Statistics estimated that 83,6% of Zimbabweans aged 15 and older were literate in 2011. This estimation was based on Zimbabwe’s 2011 Demographic and Health Survey results.

According to the Unesco estimates, several other Sub-Saharan African countries had higher literacy rates than Zimbabwe, including Equatorial Guinea (94,2%), South Africa (93%), Seychelles (91,8%), Gabon (89%), Mauritius (88,8%), Swaziland (87,8%), Burundi (86,9%), Botswana (85,1%) and Cape Verde (84,9%).

So while Zimbabwe cannot boast about having the highest literacy rates in Africa, its people are certainly smart and in most cases hard working. There is no doubt that during the period of hyperinflation, productivity fell and people developed poor working habits. Dollarisation has forced them to be more productive and efficient. There is no place to hide as we fathom the value of the US dollar.

Zimbabweans are considered to be the most enterprising and resilient people on this continent. They have endured economic hardship for more than two decades. We have lost an entire generation.

You can only imagine what Zimbabwe would look like today with the right economic policies and framework. I am hopeful that when the economy turns around many Zimbabweans will return from the diaspora and help rebuild the country.

Zimbabwe is unique and special and could easily become the hub of Southern Africa. Zimbabwe is strategically located in the region and has vast natural resources: a country endowed with abundant natural resources and highly skilled and educated population.

So while we may not have the highest literacy rate in Africa we certainly have the most resilient and enterprising population: our security guards read newspapers and novels and our teachers and nurses are considered to be some of the best in the region. With the right economic environment, one can only imagine what Zimbabwe would look like in the near future.

I have met a number of young, dynamic and hardworking Zimbabweans and it gives me great hope that the future of the country will almost certainly be better than it is now.