For some Zimbabwean youths, 2014 was simply the worst in the past few years due to the rising number of unemployed college graduates and the continued downturn of the local economy. To most of them, these problems are set to continue in 2015 though some believe that there is space for innovative young people in the country.
Some youths that graduated in revered college and university fields such as engineering, medicine and accounting have been literally reduced to street scavengers.
Instead of working in their specific fields, they handle dirty dollar bills as kombi touts mostly in Zimbabwe’s urban areas, where it is not even easy to land such an informal job.
Some even pound the streets of Harare, Gweru, Kwekwe, Mutare, Bulawayo and other cities buying and selling various wares, which include mobile phone units and cabbages.
Mcleo Mapfumo, youth president of the Zimbabwe United Nations Association, an organization that seeks to further the objective of the United Nations working directly with grassroots and school children, said these young Zimbabweans are simply stuck.
“There’s nothing you can do, and for you to just sit at home it becomes a major issue, so you have to go there in town and find something to do,” says Mapfumo
“It’s no longer that you get to choose, when I grow up I want to be a journalist and actually walk into the field of being a journalist. Now you have to take whatever is in your options,” adds Mapfumo.
Fidelis Chima of the Hwange Human Rights Youth Forum echoed the same sentiments, saying 2014 was really bad for young people in his area and doesn’t see an end to their suffering as 2015 starts rolling.
“We saw a number of young people unable to get meaningful jobs, young people did not participate in national processes, and they did not participate in local governance,” says Chima.
Like other Zimbabweans, he said, unemployment is causing havoc among young people in the Southern African nation.
“The worst part of it is that Hwange is rich with natural resources but unfortunately young people have resorted to urban farming which is very illegal. Some are now poaching which is so unfortunate again we are saying that is a symptom of a bad governance system that has to be addressed,” says Chima.
The Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency – Zimstats - says the country’s unemployment rate stands at almost 11 percent, a figure that has been dismissed as baseless by independent economic commentators and groups.
They believe that the unemployment rate in Zimbabwe is hovering at around 81%.
Zimbabwe National Students’ Union spokesman Avoid Masirahwa said the government is failing young people at all levels.
Masirahwa, whose organization lobby’s for student affairs in the country, says it’s sad to see young people working hard to increase the human capital in Zimbabwe, and yet after over four years of struggling to pay fees, find accommodation and pass courses, they are left to sell airtime on the streets.
“High schools and tertiary institutions they are breeders of human capital and without human capital there is no economic development, so in addressing the student plight they are also addressing the issue of economic development, in addressing the student plight they are also addressing the development of the nation,” says Masirahwa
Political infighting in Zanu PF gripped the nation towards the end of 2014 as the party held a controversial congress, which saw the ousting of then Vice President Joice Mujuru and her allies, including ministers and members of parliament, by a faction of the party said to be led by newly appointed Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
As this fighting caught the attention of the nation, Zimbabweans waited to see how the internal strife would revitalize the economy.
Nothing has materialized so far and youths are becoming too agitated, thinking that their future looks bleak. President Robert Mugabe’s ruling Zanu PF party promised before the 2013 general election to create millions of jobs under a 27 billion dollar five-year economic blue print – the Zimbabwe Agenda for Social and Economic Transformation – Zimasset.
Mapfumo said the solution is almost simple as government officials hold the key to revitalizing the economy, which will ultimately open up various opportunities for the country’s youths. He says ruling party officials should stop fighting and concentrate on bread and butter issues.
“We are yet to see what 2015 has to provide with the new government, although it seems there is a bit of pulling and shoving within the ruling party which is there, but no one is looking at the serious issues affecting people right now,” says Mapfumo.
Zanu PF-leaning political analyst, Morris Ngwenya, agreed that Zanu PF spent the end of 2014 trying to put its house in order but believes that Zimasset will turn around the economy.
“One of the biggest reasons was the problem that was solved at the congress, the problem of some within Zanu PF who had an agenda of regime change they were stalling each and every effort made by President Mugabe for all the programs and processed he designed,” says Ngwenya.
For some Zimbabweans, Zimasset which became part of a satirical joke last year, signals another failed attempt by the ruling party at reviving the economy. But Ngwenya, like other proponents of the plan, said the economic blue print is much more than the 2 million-job tagline.
“I must say to the young people they should be realistic and they should not look forward to a bumper employment year, really they should consider the SME’s, self-employment and other projects. And the young people should really expect to benefit from the issue of value addition, being spearheaded by Zimasset."
Despite the stalled implementation of Zimasset and revival of the economy, some young people did show some signs of ‘rocking’ the world.
There were some success stories as several Zimbabwean youths managed to maneuver through the harsh socio-economic climate to make their mark in the country and beyond.
Some were among those who participated in the prestigious President Barack Obama-Mandela Washington Fellowship, while others created innovative technological advances like automating the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange, utilizing social media to connect young people, running successful award-winning startup companies, earning local and international awards and breaking barriers in education, health and politics, all while assisting thousands of other young people in Zimbabwe.
A lawyer and Mandela Washington Fellowship alumnus, James Bayanai, who is the director of the Zimbabwe Youth Development Foundation, said there is a lot of potential among Zimbabwean youths.
Bayanai, who adds he has never failed to recognize the plight that young people in Zimbabwe face, has a conviction that youth in the country are facing a unique situation.
“Of course they are out of college, and there are no jobs, but they must try and be innovative, your innovation can take you somewhere and it’s not about getting a job, of course you need jobs to survive but if there are no jobs or the labor market competing for jobs, to be successful under such circumstances you must be innovative,” says Bayanai.
Bayanai adds that any young person in Zimbabwe can make it, but there is need for everyone including young people to make those moves to assist each other.
“There are challenges along the way but if you come up with an innovative idea, because innovation is what we are lacking, once you become innovative you are exceptional and also you will create employment even for other young people.”
Though there is a lot of pessimism among some Zimbabwean youths about their future, others feel that they can overcome several challenges through being innovative.