WASHINGTON DC —
Some Zimbabweans living in the country’s second biggest city, Bulawayo, once regarded as the nation’s industrial hub, say current economic problems bedeviling the nation are making it difficult for them to make ends meet.
For several years, 51 year-old Simeon Phiri worked for one of the state-owned companies in Bulawayo.
Phiri says when an opportunity came at a time the Cold Storage Company was struggling, he decided to get a severance package part of which he used to start an informal business - buying and selling clothes.
But Phiri says his family is living from hand to mouth because of the current economic hardships, which have pushed a lot of people into the informal job market.
Thirty two year-old Trevor Jena, who used to rely on seasonal jobs in South Africa, is also finding life difficult in the city.
Like, Phiri, he has also turned to vending and is making very little money though he does not think of going to South African farms to boost his meagre income.
“In a day I can make about $4 and during month-ends I make about double that. Things are tough, and what I get is far from what I’d like to; times are bad … there are no jobs; industry is dead so there’s nowhere one can get a job,” says Phiri.
Even for those who are employed - like a National Railways of Zimbabwe worker, who only asked to be identified as Sibanda, life is equally tough as the parastatal owes employees several months in unpaid wages and salaries.
In the pre-independence era and the following few years after independence, Bulawayo used to be Zimbabwe’s industrial hub, accounting for about 75 percent of the country’s manufacturing sector.
But the country’s economic decline in the past decade has seen hundreds of companies shutting down, with official estimates indicating that about 20-thousand workers have lost their jobs in the country’s second biggest city since 2009.
Director Mmeli Dube of a non-governmental organization, Bulawayo Agenda, says although some companies in Bulawayo have benefitted from a government-initiated $40 million Distressed Industries and Marginalised Areas Fund, a lot more needs to be done in order to resuscitate local industries.
Edward Manning is the president of the Matabeleland Region of the Zimbabwe Chamber of Informal Economy Associations.
Manning says despite the fact that there are already many Zimbabweans earning a living in the informal economy, as a result of dwindling formal employment opportunities, his association is seeing more people, including children of school-going age, joining the informal sector.
Unemployment in the city has also affected journalism graduates, who are struggling to make ends meet due to lack of jobs in the media sector.
A journalism and media studies graduate, who does not want to be identified, says since graduating nearly a year ago, she has been trying to find a job without success.
The graduate says she gets by through a bit of freelancing work, which she believes is not yet giving her enough income. She still has to get financial support from her elderly grandmother.
Zimbabwe has a reputation as having one of the highest literacy rates and the most-skilled human resources in Africa. But as the economy continues to decline, such facts and figures count for nothing as most young people are without jobs.
In response to a question about what needs to be done in the short and immediate term in order for the country to get out of the current hardships, Dube says the answer partly lies in the country’s leaders getting their politics right.
Government has often come up with policies that look good on paper, but critics usually point out that a lack of political will in implementing such policies is largely to blame for most of the economic problems that the country is facing.