Zimbabwe: Jobs - Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics

opinion

CLAIMS by the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (Zimstat) that Zimbabwe has an unemployment rate of 11%, contrary to claims by economists that the country's alarming joblessness rate is above 80%, would be risible were the situation not so tragic.

Zimstat director-general Dzinotizei Mutasa this week painted a rosy picture of the employment situation, telling workshop participants most people in the country were economically active, and only 11% were unemployed according to the agency's 2012 findings.

"One is either a farmer, selling juice cards, driving an emergency taxi or you are working as a hair dresser; all these people are economically active," Mutasa was quoted as saying in what rankled as a shameful attempt to forge the impression most Zimbabweans are gainfully employed and thus, ostensibly, the country cannot be doing that bad.

Last year in November, labour unions and economists trashed similar reports by Zimstat that the unemployment rate stood at 10,7%. Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions secretary-general Japhet Moyo responded by saying Zimstat had cobbled up its own definition of unemployment different from that used by the UN.

"We have a challenge in that Zimstat has changed the definition of the unemployed," Moyo said. "Our finding is that we also consider those that are not employed in the formal sector as the unemployed and the figures show that it is between 80 and 90% as indicated by the UN report that Zimstat has apparently ignored."

If Zimstat is to be believed, the unemployment rate over the past year remains largely unchanged, no mean feat considering the country faces a resurgent economic malaise characterised by increasing company closures and retrenchments that have offloaded thousands more onto the mean streets.

Whatever research methods Zimstat applied, it is an eloquent indictment of its concept of employment that it counts airtime vendors and emergency taxi drivers -- who according to the authorities are operating illegally and face persistent harassment and arrests from police and the city council -- among the employed.

Most will remember that during the hyperinflationary era the Central Statistical Office, as Zimstat was known then, attracted brickbats aplenty for releasing inflation figures dismissed as fictitious and designed to fulfill political ends.

Were the agency to interview the "self-employed" it would find they are mostly hustlers who eke out a living playing a cat-and-mouse game with police and council officers as their activities are still deemed illegal. But crucially, the same people would prefer stable formal employment for, among other benefits, a fixed monthly income, medical aid, annual and sick leave and respite from regular brushes with corrupt law enforcement details.

At a time government is seized with the unenviable task of resuscitating an ailing economy showing increasing signs of stress after a four-year coalition government the country cannot afford to be hoodwinked or sidetracked by delusional statistics.

After all, as they say, there are lies, damned lies and statistics.

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