The Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency puts the country’s unemployment rate at only 10.7 percent, but outside experts say the real figure is closer to 75 percent or higher.
Thousands of Zimbabweans have lost their jobs since last year as firms across the country close their doors or scale down operations. While the impact from these business actions affects many in their communities, retrenched workers are often the hardest hit.
Forty-seven year-old textile machinist, Thomas Moyo, has been out of work for more than nine months. He says he is surviving thanks only to the grace of God and good Samaritans.
Mr. Moyo says he never believed that he would one day lose his job, but that’s just what happened last year when managers at Archer Clothing (Pvt) Limited told him and 700 other workers to go home.
The clothing firm, which had operated in the city of Bulawayo for more than four decades, retained only a few workers as it was placed under judicial management to address operational problems.
Now Moyo, father of five, is living from hand to mouth. He says he struggles just to buy food and send some of his children to school.
“As we speak right now I don’t have any food for my family. We are suffering because we now depend on neighbours at times do not have extra food for us,” he says.
Moyo is not alone. Sixty-seven year-old Martin Cooper was of an age when many men retire. But Cooper says retiring was not an option as poverty has kept him tied to his job.
Two weeks ago, Zeco (Pvt) Ltd - citing what it called operational challenges - retrenched Cooper and 17 other workers. Cooper claims that he was let go with the company owing him $9,000 in unpaid wages.
He says he has now been reduced to a beggar and doubts he will be able to find a new job because of his age.
Labour unions fear the labor situation in Zimbabwe will only worsen as more workers are expected to lose their jobs in 2013.
The secretary general of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, Japhet Moyo, says at least 4,600 workers in Zimbabwe lost their jobs last year, and that figure only accounts for those working in the modest formal sector.
Mr. Moyo blames the government for failing to craft and implement policies that encourage job growth.
Labour expert Davies Ndumiso Sibanda is convinced that the job market will shrink further because the nation is not attracting foreign direct investment or accessing cheap loans abroad"
Kezilina Ndlovu, general secretary of the National Union of the Clothing Industry, agrees, saying the import of cheaper Chinese fabrics have devastated Zimbabwe’s textile industry, forcing companies to retrench thousands of workers.
Businessman Bulisani Ncube says job losses have been worsened by the government’s failure to implement a $40 million cheap loan scheme created in 2011 to save distressed Zimbabwean industries.
Labour expert Davies Ndumiso Sibanda is convinced that the job market will shrink further because the nation is not attracting foreign direct investment or accessing cheap loans abroad.
Some of the companies that have retrenched workers during the past year or so include Bascode and Tashas supermarkets, Cairns Foods (PVT) Ltd, National Blankets, Ascot and Archer Clothing, Zeco and Kango Products.
Joining the queue is Hunyani Printopack, which is set to shut down its plant in Bulawayo within the next two weeks and relocate to Harare. This will send 250 workers home.
These workers will swell the ever-increasing numbers of jobless people in the country. In Zimbabwe’s second largest city, Bulawayo, the future looks particularly bleak as the unemployed fight for the few remaining openings.
According to the Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce, more than 20,000 workers have lost their jobs in the city since 2009.