BY FAY CHUNG
Poverty is one of the most serious problems inherited at Independence, and has lasted more than a hundred years. Since 1980, little has been done to alleviate poverty, although an excellent study was undertaken by the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning (Ministry of Finance and Economic Development, Zimbabwe Interim Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (I — PRSP), 2016-2018.)
This study provides not only analysis of the situation where more than 70% of the population is affected by different degrees of poverty, more than 30% severely, but also provides sound time-based policies and strategies which can address these problems.
If the report is taken seriously, it would mean that poverty, as we know it, would be allayed within 15 years. It is therefore imperative to begin this process as soon as possible. Modest progress can be made each year.
The ministry defines poverty experienced at provincial and district levels as:
- Lack of or limited access to productive resources and assets . . . such as no draught power; . . . lack of land for agricultural purposes; shortage of water; . . . lack of means of production . . . and having no goat, no cow;
- Lack of or limited access to . . . schools; not having the basics for living and when you fail to get basics; food, shelter and clothing;
- Lack of or limited access to income;
- Lack of capabilities and opportunities, including lack of infrastructure, for example, no linking roads to main centres of commerce;
- Inability to have three meals a day; . . . surviving on handouts; inability to pay school fees; no money for health services; no decent accommodation; no proper clothing; inability to pay for water and electricity; lack of access to water and sanitation; lack of adequate clean energy; . . . being unemployed; not having a retirement package; lack of information; and loss of hope.
These comprehensive findings, based on careful and detailed research, provides many practical answers, which could be targeted over many years in a consistent and gradual fashion.
Some of these include:
Lack of draught power
This is a commonly experienced problem and could be solved by a combination of State, provincial, district, community and individual efforts.
Combining available draught power and sharing it free or at nominal cost could solve this drastic problem in a short period of time, if it is well coordinated by the State itself, and involves local authorities, especially chiefs.
Zimbabwe has adequate cattle who can be trained by colleges and drafted to assist those without draught power. For example, if everyone was given the possibility of ploughing a quarter or half a hectare free of charge, this challenge will be resolved voluntarily and at low cost.
It has been recognised as a key solution over the last four decades. Steps need to be urgently taken to provide sound land rights through leasehold and reallocation of land that is not being utilised. There is plenty of available land, but it needs to be stabilised in affordable ways with banking rights for small, medium and high income groups. The majority of farmers, particularly lower middle and low level income farmers, find it impossible to borrow from banks. Without adequate loan facilities their progress is stymied.
Health, education facilities
These were available in the first twenty years of Independence, and could be renovated to include everyone again. Primary health care, including medication for common diseases, is essential and requires the State to return to funding these essential drugs, with an affordable fee being charged to the user.
For example a charge of US$1 per medication for a child or for an elderly person over 65 could easily be initiated, enabling clinics to renew their medicines, depending purely on State provision. These two groups are the most vulnerable and should be catered for.
Accommodation for all essential
Improvement of traditional housing through adding a bit of cement to mud and using combed thatching could very well bring vast improvements mainly through improved training.
There is no need for a shortage of rural accommodation as mud and grass are still plentiful. Improving the quality of these traditional buildings will enable rural housing to become more stable and more attractive, as well as more permanent. Costs could well be affordable to many rural families.
Urban accommodation is also very seriously lacking, resulting in the creation of ugly slum dwellings of plastic and cardboard in most cities today. These slums did not exist in the early days of Independence, when the availability of low cost plots, popularly known as “tu-zvogbos” could be bought by low income workers.
These plots were provided with roads, water, sanitation and electricity, a situation which is no longer the case. A concerted effort to provide affordable plots and affordable housing is critically and desperately needed. The present emphasis only on middle-class dwellings and the demolition of unregistered housing built by “owners’’ who were tricked by party officials needs to be stopped.
Proper registration should take place before construction begins. Illegal land barons should be arrested. Everybody, whether rich, middle-class or poor, needs a good shelter, and it is incumbent on government to cater for all these groups.
Lack of food for children
Food was well-catered for in the first two decades of Independence, and these solutions are still feasible today. They included donations of cooking oil by donors and provision of cereals and milk by parents. Such a team effort is well worth replicating today.
Moreover, under-fives were provided with a nutritious biscuit at clinics. This was also a combination of grants and voluntary donations. Children are a very vulnerable group and should be catered for. Primary and secondary schools should provide one meal a day, based on a combination of the State, the World Food Programme, parents and communities, as in the early days of Independence.
Those over 65 years are singled out as a very vulnerable group. The latest Zimbabwe Census shows there are very few people over this age, so it is quite possible for the State itself to produce a pension scheme of US$20 per month for such elders. US$20 has been utilised in a trial run in many districts. These trials proved to be very successful and were funded by donors. The State should partner with donors, making donor inputs more stable and reliable. A good example is the scholarship fund for war veterans and refugees, which was partnered by Swedish Sida and the Government of Zimbabwe for almost 20 years.
One important point is the lack of information available to the public, including such information as the nutritional needs of children. These could be made readily available through the all popular radios and local information sheets, distributed at schools and clinics.
Some interventions require more funding. One of these is the construction of small-scale dams and boreholes. These were lavishly done in the early days of Independence, both by the State and by NGOs, but they are seldom seen today.
One weakness was the lack of training and availability of spare parts, which can and should be tackled today. There is no reason why every secondary school could not develop a repair service for such common facilities.
A borehole could cost as little as US$1500, while a small dam could cost between US$30–40 000. Some organisations such as the Lutheran World Federation, were once able to provide engineers who could help to plan and construct such dams.
Tens of thousands of schools and clinics were built by communities in the 1980s and 1990s and this could well be a future challenge for building small farmer dams, say one for every five farmers. Repair and maintenance should be installed from the beginning. Zimbabwe suffers from drought three years out of five, so the construction of such small community dams will provide poverty protection for the more than two million small-scale farmers and their families.
Knowing that Zimbabwe suffers three years of drought out of every five, the Zimbabwean State and people are to blame for doing nothing about it for so long.
The genderisation of poverty is a well-known phenomenon in Zimbabwe and elsewhere. Traditional legal systems recognised this weakness and guaranteed that every mother should have the right to some land sufficient to feed her children, but this important law has not been incorporated into the legal system as yet. It is high time that traditional laws such as this one is incorporated into the written laws of the country. It should also become a part of the Bill of Rights.
As many as a quarter of school girls were reported to have married or to have become pregnant when still of school age, according to the study. This is a serious symptom of poverty, when girls are utilised as a source of additional income to impoverished parents. A strong legal system based in upper primary and secondary schools and the police is required to diminish this danger.
Chung was a secondary school teacher in the townships; lecturer in polytechnics and universities ; teacher trainer in the liberation struggle; civil servant and UN civil servant. These weekly New Horizon articles are coordinated by Lovemore Kadenge, an independent consultant, past president of the Zimbabwe Economics Society and past president of the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators in Zimbabwe. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org/ cell: +263 772 382 852