WASHINGTON DC —
As the country’s economic problems persist, some ordinary Zimbabweans, who have now resorted to the informal sector to try and earn a living, say they fear that the nation might descend into turmoil if the current socio-economic and political are not resolved immediately.
Many see the ruling Zanu PF fiddling with succession issues and seeking to punish perceived truant members while the country burns.
They are demanding action from the authorities.
Bulawayo resident, Thomas Ngara, is one of the thousands in the country who now eke out a living through vending illegally on the streets of Zimbabwe’s second largest city.
The 32-year-old Ngara says he has been vending for over five years now after losing his job at one of the textile companies that had gone into liquidation.
Although the money he gets from selling mobile recharge cards and cigarettes is increasingly becoming inadequate for the upkeep of his unemployed wife and two children, Ngara says he has no choice but to remain in his trade as there is virtually no alternative because there are no jobs in the country.
His colleague, Douglas Dube, laments the same, adding that if things continue the way they are, he won't be able to put food on the table for his family or to send his children to school.
Dube says on the streets there is a mix with some vendors in possession of degrees and others having completed various levels of secondary and high school education, a situation he describes as really sad.
“There isn’t much else we can do because jobs are difficult to get and this is what it compelling us to be vending on the streets, but in reality, there is nothing going. Things are getting worse by the day. Money is not circulating; it looks like the few who have the money keep it to themselves and ordinary people like us are not able to lay our hands on it.
“We are going to die of hunger because I don’t see things improving; we are most likely going to end up not being able to send our children to school and not being able to feed them,” says Dube.
Musawenkosi Nyoni is the president of the Bulawayo province of the Zimbabwe Chamber of Informal Economy Associations (ZCIEA).
Nyoni, who has been buying and selling clothes for nearly 13 years, says in the past she would realize good returns from her business but now she hardly breaks even because more and more people have joined the trade with clients becoming fewer by the day, as most people have little or no disposable income due to the prevailing economic problems.
She says her organisation had thousands of registered members but many of them are now failing to pay-up their annual six-dollar subscriptions fee.
“We had a huge membership base of about 10,000 people, but the problems that I face in my work as a trader are the same as those experienced by other members. Due to the current economic problems most of our members have been unable to pay their membership fees.
“At the moment most of us are only able to sell the goods that we have but are usually unable to restock because the money from sales is only enough to get us the basics like food to feed our families; things are tough.”
Nyoni says although Zimbabwe experienced serious economic problems in 2007-2008 marked by a shortage of goods due to hyper-inflation, she feels those were better than now as most people were still able to buy food from neighbouring countries.
She says the current problems are different in that although there are plenty of goods people have no money even to buy the basics.
Nyoni adds that there could be unrest in the country if the situation continues unabated.
“Life is getting really tough and we are clueless as to what to do. And because more workers are losing their jobs, more people are resorting to vending on the streets. In the end there will be no one to sell to as virtually everyone will have become a vendor.
“If things continue like this, I think there could ultimately be unrest in the country because many people are talking about how difficult life has become and how this might drive them to looting.”
The prevailing problems are cross-cutting, also affecting small to medium businesses, which in other countries have provided a basis for economic growth, even contributing to national coffers through taxes.
Studio 7 tried to reach Tshidzanani Malaba, the chairperson of the Bulawayo branch of the Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce (ZNCC), to find out how businesses are coping.
Although Malaba had initially agreed to an interview he later said he was busy and also failed to respond to questions that he had asked to be send to him.
The organisation’s vice president for Matabeleland province, Crispen Mugova, also said he was busy.
But the ZNCC recently called on the government to address the country’s problems urgently as further stalling could be catastrophic for the country.
Regis Munyoro, who runs an electrical contracting company, says his company is facing serious cash-flow problems because of failure to get clients.
He says the few clients he gets are finding it difficult to pay for services provided, adding that he may be forced to close shop if the current economic decay persists.
Researcher Butler Tambo of the Bulawayo based Public Research Institute of Zimbabwe think-tank agrees that it would be disastrous for the country if the government does not bring everyone together irrespective of political affiliation to address the country's pressing economic problems.
He says if left unchecked, the current economic climate will lead to more company closures which he says could ultimately affect the country’s banking sector resulting in total collapse.
But Tambo says Zimbabweans are resilient and peace-loving people and he doesn’t foresee any unrest occurring.
Tambo says the government needs to urgently revise policies like the indigenisation law and on the other hand mend its relations with Western countries to attract the much-needed foreign direct investment to create jobs that will take vendors back into gainful employment.
He sees the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund having a major role to play in the recovery of the economy but argues that Zimbabwe must first honor its debts and also get its priorities right by channeling any loans from the multi-lateral finance institutions into capital expenditure.