SCORING 13 points or more in science subjects at Advanced level (A-level) is no mean feat, more so for a teen Providence Pangira, who worked as a gardener after school and studied under very difficult conditions in a crowded room he shared with his parents and several siblings.
By Faith Zaba
A bright future seemed to appear on the horizon when Providence passed the Zimbabwe School Examination Council Ordinary and Advanced level tests with flying colours. He passed O-level exams with seven As and four Bs and attained an A in Biology and Bs in Pure Mathematics and Chemistry at A-level — a remarkable perfomance.
Despite attaining such results, which should normally guarantee progress in education and in life, Providence, like tens of thousands of Zimbabweans with degrees and those academically gifted from poor backgrounds, was forced into doing menial work. He is now working as a full-time gardener in Harare. From a young age, Providence has aspired to be a medical doctor, but his dream has been broken by his poor background and the worsening economic situation in Zimbabwe.
Many graduates from Zimbabwe’s tertiary institutions have lost hope of ever getting formal employment and living good lives, as the economy continues to tumble. Companies are either downsizing or closing down, sending thousands of workers out of employment, making it almost impossible for university and high school graduates, even those with exceptional results, to get jobs.
The 19-year-old Mutasa-born teen, whose family has been ravaged by poverty, is the fourth born in a family of five. His family moved to Chikanga in Mutare when he was in Grade Six. The family rented a room, which was divided by a curtain, with the parents sleeping on a double bed on one side and the five kids — two girls and three boys — on the concrete floor on the other side.
After completing his primary school education at a school in Sakubva, he enrolled at Dangamvura High School for Form One.
Unfortunately at that time, his father had started serving a prison sentence for some felony, which meant he had to fend for himself and find ways of raising money to pay school fees, buy uniforms and learning materials such as exercise books, pens and textbooks.
“My father was arrested when we were still in our rural home. He started serving his sentence in 2013 and was only released in February last year through a presidential amnesty,” he said.
“From 2013, I had no one to pay my school fees. I realised then that I had to work. I started working first at weekends as a gardener in Fairbridge Park low density suburb. Then I was 13 turning 14 in August that year. With the money I was paid, I used it to pay for school fees and books. My mother was not working. She did part-time work here and there.
“The money was not enough to cover the full fees, so when I wrote my O-levels I still had a debt of US$540, which was cleared this year by a benefactor, who had been approached on my behalf by the bursar. Fortunately for me, an organisation called Fact (Family Aids Caring Trust) paid the examination fees for the 11 subjects I wrote,” Providence said.
While waiting for O-level results, he did part-time work as gardener and general labourer ploughing fields around Mutare to raise money for uniforms and school fees to enrol for A-levels.
“From my childhood, I always wanted to study medicine so I worked hard at school. I used to work in the afternoon as a gardener and study in the evening until around 11pm. I would never sleep for more than four hours. I would wake up around 3am and continue to study.
“I would study while seated on the concrete floor and sometimes in the blankets and use my mother’s mobile phone or a small torch to study. I was determined to pass and realise my dream to be a medical doctor.
“I can’t count the number of times I cried while I was praying for God’s grace and salvation. I used to ask God if this is the life I am going to live all my life, nekuti ndichasvikarini ndichirarama hupenyu uhu? (until when am I going to live this life?) My life has been very hard all the way.
“Now just when I thought things would change, my dream has been crushed. The University of Zimbabwe wants 15 points to study medicine. I feel that if I had lived under better conditions I could have easily scored the 15 points. My second choice was pharmacy, but they also want 14 points,” he said.
“I don’t have money to go to the other universities or even study other programmes.”
Providence said he is the only child in his family who has passed both O and A-levels.
He said his older siblings, except for one of his sisters who had to work as a maid to raise money for exam fees, did not write O-levels because of financial problems.
“When the A-level results came out in January, I didn’t know what to do. I knew I could never raise enough money to pay for university. There was no hope. I decided in March to work as a gardener to help my parents. Through an employment agent, I got this job and moved to Harare,” he said.
“I pray all the time that I get assistance from Good Samaritans so that I can continue with my studies and be able to live a successful life in which I can improve the lives of my family members and also be able to help kids who faced the same challenges as I have been facing since I was born.”
Providence is among thousands of young Zimbabweans whose lives have been ruined because of the economic challenges the country is facing as a result of bad leadership, toxic policies and poor governance.
The current environment in the country is destroying future generations and creating a nation of dispirited and hopeless youths prepared to do anything to survive.
Bright minds like Providence are ending up accepting menial jobs.
There is no promise or hope of a better future in a country where intelligent kids like Providence end up as gardeners, domestic workers, cross-border traders, taxi drivers, street vendors, waiters or care-givers in and outside Zimbabwe. Some end up consumed by social vices and in jails.
Providence’s employer, Roselyn Munamati, said: “I realised that he was sharp and different so I asked him what education level he had reached. When he showed me his O and A-level certificates, I cried.
“He did the same combination as the one my daughter is doing. I just said to myself, I have employed a future doctor as a gardener. It pained me so much. I tried to help by reaching out to the National University of Science and Technology (Nust),” she said.
“I told him to go to University of Zimbabwe and register. I wish I had resources, I would pay for him. I am praying God gets him a divine helper so that he fulfils his dreams to become a medical doctor.”
It is estimated that over 300 000 students are churned out by schools, colleges and universities every year to join millions who are unemployed. Most of them end up in the streets.
The manufacturing industrial centres dotted around the country, which in the 1980s and 1990s up to around early 2000s used to be vibrant industrial hubs of Africa, can now best be described as Zimbabwe ruins. The massive industrial structures that used to emit smoke 24 hours a day — which gave cities like Bulawayo nicknames like “Kontuthuziyathunqa” (where the smoke belches in reference to factories’ chimneys belching out smoke) — are now graveyards for rusty steel and dilapidated buildings. Bulawayo was once Zimbabwe’s industrial hub, but it now resembles a ghost city.
Most Zimbabweans are living from hand to mouth. The situation is even worse for the 95% not in formal employment, who do not have a regular paycheque and medical cover.
The majority of Zimbabweans are struggling to earn a living and pay school fees for their children but it seems the system is rigged against them. The system is impoverishing its people as the revolution eats its own children.
Local researcher Brett Chulu said the protracted economic regression has destroyed the future of at least six generations.
“Basic economic planning used by successful nations at the family level is that wise people leave an inheritance for their grandchildren. Bible-believing nations apply the wisdom found in Proverbs 13:22 that a good man leaves an inheritance for his grandchildren,” he said.
“Our economic regression has been protracted and unrelenting. It has not just made a generation impotent; it has created a situation where we have destroyed the future of at least six generations.”
Chulu added that: “Two generations have been directly affected by our economic implosion — these having nothing to pass to the next generation, except poverty and despondency. Our mismanagement of the economy is destroying those still to be born.”
Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions secretary-general Japhet Moyo said:
“We already have a generation that is no longer interested in formal employment but enjoy standing at street corners in urban areas and are able to raise money to buy drugs,” he said.
“The other aspect is our failure to break the vicious circle of poverty. The poor families are likely to remain poor at the same time increasing inequality in the society as those poor would remain where they are at the moment.”
Chulu pointed out that the situation is worsened by an education system that does not empower students with practical self-reliance skills.
“Go to any country where there are Jews; you will hardly find an economically struggling Jew. Jews train their children for academic and professional excellence. They do one thing extra—they train their children to be self-reliant from a tender age. So you will find highly learned, smart, sharp Jewish professionals and academics but with practical survival skills,” he said.
“Our economic Armageddon plus an education system that does not train self-reliance, we have an untenable situation of a psychologically damaged youth and young adults with no self-confidence, over-dependent, cynical and despondent. It will take a miracle to reverse the damage that has been wrought by this man-made economic disaster and human tragedy.”