TENDAI MAKARIPE HIS sustained rumblings and mumblings perturbed those close to him yet they could only sit and watch. It was clear as day that Tonderai Nyoni was a man in serious trouble.
A teacher by profession, he had mastered the art of providing mathematical solutions to high school students who gave him the moniker Archimedes, after Archimedes, a Greek mathematician, and inventor from the ancient city of Syracuse in Sicily. Unfortunately, he was impotent to deal with the myriad of economic woes around his life.
Like Okonkwo in Chinua Achebe’s masterpiece, things were falling apart. Nyoni had just received news that his father had prostate cancer at Murambinda Hospital, in his rural home of Buhera.
His government salary of ZW$30 000 which fetches about US$71 on the prevailing black market rate is not sufficient to handle his father’s medical bills.
Besides the uphill task of covering medical expenses, he has a wide range of expenses which include tuition fees for his three children, rentals, bills, food and transport, among others.
Nyoni’s situation is not an isolated case but is being replayed in many localities across the country where the harsh economic environment compounded by a spiralling foreign exchange rate is fuelling serious economic security concerns.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) defines economic security as the ability of individuals, households, or communities to cover their essential needs sustainably and with dignity.
This can vary according to an individual’s physical needs, the environment, and prevailing cultural standards.
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Food, basic shelter, clothing and hygiene qualify as essential needs, as does the related expenditure; the essential assets needed to earn a living, and the costs associated with health care and education also qualify.
However, many Zimbabweans, like Nyoni, find themselves in an economic security quagmire as they are struggling to satisfy basic individual needs.
This is mainly due to the parallel US dollar rate which continues on an upward trajectory while people’s salaries, mainly pegged in local currency remain stagnant.
At the end of the month, some are taking home an equivalent of US$50, inadequate to cater for one’s needs.
What is painful among the economically insecure workers is that they do their best yet they have the product of their labour stolen. It is expropriated by those with wealth and power; by those who own the means of production.
In the words of Karl Marx: “The workers receive a mere pittance; just enough to survive and reproduce.”
As a result, the very wealth that the workers have created becomes a power over them. The means to their exploitation.
The world that they have created is hostile to them; it stunts their lives and keeps them in misery, thus they are alienated from their own world, from the product of their own labour.
What they are getting versus what the economy is demanding affects people’s ability to plan for the future as the situation has become seriously volatile and this has serious effects on people’s well-being.
“Worrying and anxiety about the future breed adverse health outcomes like mental health problems, heart diseases, and increased risk of obesity, including among children,” said mental health researcher Nyasha Motsi.
Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which Zimbabwe is a party to provides that everyone has the right to an adequate standard of living: “… and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”
However, the current economic situation is a violation of this right as it creates an environment where one is cushioned from various shocks of life.
While those in the formal sector are crying foul about poor salaries and how the foreign exchange rate is rendering their salaries useless, thought should be spared for those in the informal sector.
It is estimated that between 80-90% of Zimbabweans are engaged in informal economic activities, forming a preponderant number of economically insecure people.
The majority survive through vending and are constantly engaging in cat and mouse chases with police and city officials who confiscate their wares.
Media and conflict resolution researcher Lazarus Sauti said peace, non-violence, and co-existence bring prosperity, lower inflation and more jobs. However, this is not the case in Zimbabwe.
“The spiralling foreign currency rate is affecting the prices of basic commodities in the country thereby threatening the economic and personal security of Zimbabweans. Without a doubt, the escalating rate is holding back socio-economic growth and causing instability. It is also widening inequality in the country,” Sauti said.
“In a move to arrest inflation in Zimbabwe, the government introduced the so-called raft measures. The government, through various platforms, is using different propaganda techniques to fool the citizens, but the bottom line is that propaganda cannot manage economies,” he added.
“The surging rate and its effect on the prices of basic commodities is a danger to the uneasy ‘peace’ obtaining in the country,” another peace and conflict resolution researcher, Simbarashe Namusi, said.
At a time of growing public discontent in the country, rebuilding trust hinges on allowing people to feel secure and hopeful about the future.
According to the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, the massive uncertainty brought about by Covid-19 is likely to produce an even greater desire for security.
The desire for economic security is a powerful, universal sentiment that most people can relate to in this country. It is not only linked to poverty or disadvantage, but also to a growing gap between people’s expectations and their actual situation.