SENTIMENTS by President Robert Mugabe that people should create their own jobs is a far cry from his party’s promise to create 2,2 million jobs and signals the nonagenarian’s insensitivity to the deficit in formal employment.
“We want people to create jobs for themselves and not to wait to be given work. Create jobs and employ others, we do not want people who just cry for jobs. Let’s have less tears and more sweat,” said Mugabe, at the Small to Medium Enterprises (SME) expo held at Zanu PF headquarters last month.
His proclamation was however in sharp contrast to what Mugabe said in his inauguration speech in 2013, where he promised to create the 2,2 million jobs, translating to 440 000 jobs a year during his five-year term.
“….the unemployed youth who cast his vote did so amidst great expectations. He, too, moulded my Presidency. He, too, claims it. It must work for him, deliver to him. The woman — that larger half of mankind voted for me – a man! She has deep hopes that must be fulfilled!” read part of Mugabe’s speech.
However, thousands of unemployed people including highly educated Zimbabweans have been left with no choice but to sell an assortment of products that include vegetables, airtime and second-hand clothes among other products.
Some youths with university degrees have been reduced to doing menial jobs in restaurants, supermarkets and hotels in neighbouring countries after failing to secure employment locally.
As Zimbabweans joined the rest of the world in celebrating Workers Day on Monday, the few people who are still in formal employment are not faring much better than the multitudes who are unemployed as they are burdened by the devastating effects of the country’s economic implosion.
A frustrated Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions used the celebrations held in Dzivaresekwa under the theme “Fighting Unemployment, Poverty and Inequalities” to endorse MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai, saying Mugabe had failed to deliver the promises made to workers.
Most working Zimbabweans are going for months without remuneration, leaving them to battle with high levels of poverty and socio-economic deprivation.
Mugabe’s remarks expose his ignorance of what is occurring on the ground, according to social commentator Stanley Tinarwo.
“It betrays the president’s misunderstanding of the fact that a majority of people in the informal sector are not there by choice but necessity. And that it is not as profitable as it appears and for a greater majority only produces income that does not go beyond subsistence,” Tinarwo said.
Close to 9 000 workers were retrenched in 2015 and 2016 and, in January 2017 alone, 26 companies retrenched workers, signaling the deepening economic crisis which continues hemorrhaging struggling firms.
The economy is in the doldrums with a debilitating liquidity crunch evidenced by the acute cash shortage in the market, low capacity utilisation of less than 50% and the closure of more than 260 companies from various sectors of the economy last year alone.
In 2015, a total of 5 333 workers were retrenched and this does not include those who were affected by the July 17 Supreme Court ruling that year which allowed employers to dismiss workers on three months’ notice.
In 2016, 3 510 workers were retrenched, bringing the total to more than 8 500, a huge figure considering the size of the economy and the level of unemployment.
This adds to the more than 6 000 who were retrenched in 2014 as well as thousands who were dismissed using the July 17 2015 ruling.
While trade unions have estimated that around 30 000 were dismissed using the ruling, employers armed with a survey have argued that 9 115 workers were affected.
Many active Zimbabweans who have lost employment over the years have migrated to neighbouring countries or even left the continent to seek greener pastures, adding to the millions of Zimbabweans who migrated to other countries at the peak of the economic and political meltdown of the country in the last decade.
Tinarwo says government policies over the years contributed to the massive unemployment in the country.
He however said the May Day celebrations were still important and could be used to advance the interests of workers.
“Government’s economic policies of liberalisation and free markets are to blame for the high unemployment that workers have faced. So it’s not simply a question of the indigenisation policy, it’s the macroeconomic policy framework as sponsored by the World Bank and IMF that saw the loss of jobs for many Zimbabweans since the late 1980s to present day,” Tinarwo said.
“May Day is a globally recognised day to remember workers and their contribution to economic growth. Zimbabwe may not have many formally employed people but it has what can be referred to as ‘working people’. And, yes, they too can celebrate Workers’ Day and push forward for economic reforms that include the interest of the worker on an important day such as Workers’ Day.”
The country’s economic growth was once anchored on a highly successful manufacturing sector that was linked to a highly productive agricultural sector.
The thriving agricultural sector was however disturbed by the controversial land reform programme which began in 2000 while other poor policies such as the indigenisation programme have also affected industry. On the social front most workers have not been able to make enough savings to purchase or build their own houses. Zimbabwe has an estimated 1,25 million housing backlog with Harare accounting for about 500 000 while estimates put the number at 100 000 for Bulawayo, 59 000 people in Mutare, 18 000 in Marondera, 17 000 in Gweru and 6 000 in Masvingo.
In his May Day speech, ZCTU president Peter Mutasa said it was worrying that 37 years after independence workers are still experiencing vices and abuses at the work places which include, poor salaries, forcing workers to live in abject poverty, lack of job security lack of social protection and security, wage theft (non-payment of salaries) and no reason dismissals.
“Do we deserve the way we are being treated by those in authority? Have we done anything wrong to deserve such a bad treat? For how long should we endure such pain? Do we forsake our destiny, that of our children and grandchildren because we have been cowed into submission by other human beings?” asked Mutasa.
“Why has this situation been allowed to go unchallenged or why has our challenge been so muted for such a long time? Are we not able to speak to power anymore and demand our rights and restoration of our dignity the way our forefathers did under very difficult circumstances?
“Should our young men and women continue to suffer at the hands of human traffickers and bloody xenophobic nationals of other countries, all because those privileged to rule have made it extremely difficult for us to live within our borders?”
ZCTU secretary-general Japhet Moyo said the government’s policies have heightened risk for investors.
“What Mugabe is not aware is that the world does not need us but it is us who need the world. Unfortunately his government seems not concerned about the risk factors he has created. His Finance minister repeated that they no longer believe in formal employment anymore, but backyard, side road, open space, small vending production processes etc. So we should brace for this radical change in our production processes and services,” Moyo said.
Social commentator Blessing Vava said Mugabe is probably living on another planet which is far removed from what is occurring in Zimbabwe.
“For people to get jobs the government has to create an enabling environment for business to thrive not the other way round, where his government’s skewed policies have created a repelling environment for any form of major investments that will create the much-needed jobs,” Vava said.
“There is little or nothing to celebrate as the country’s workforce has been depleted and those lucky enough to be still employed are experiencing a bad working environment with low salaries which are often delayed, and way below the poverty datum line and the meagre wages are not meeting with the high cost of living.”