Zimbabwe: Unemployment Turns Graduates Into Vendors

Many graduates from Zimbabwe's tertiary institutions have lost hope of ever getting formal employment, as the economy continues to shrink.

Companies are either downsizing or closing down, sending thousands of workers out of employment, making it virtually impossible for school leavers to get jobs.

Tarisai Mukahanana (26) says if she could, she would tell all those in universities to brace for hard times after finishing their studies.

A Bachelor of Science Honours Degree in Nursing Science holder, Mukahanana has been without a job since she graduated from the University of Zimbabwe two years ago.

Despite her high academic qualification, she now survives on cross-border business, selling whatever would be on demand at each given time.

"There are very few opportunities that require what we spent years studying in school," said Mukahanana. "Everytime there is a graduation at the countries' universities and colleges, the national unemployment rate goes up."

Mukahanana's case is representative of most school leavers and graduates in the country, who upon completing their studies have been unable to secure employment.

Independent economists say Zimbabwe's unemployment rate is at over 80% but the government puts it at 11% arguing that most people are now employed in the informal sector.

It is estimated that over 300 000 students are churned out of schools, colleges and universities every year to join millions already unemployed.

Moses Mutungwazi (29), who graduated with a Masters Degree in Peace and Governance from Africa University in 2009 is also still without a job.

"Rising unemployment has taken a heavy toll on us," he said. "We are particularly vulnerable to shocks in the labour market. Lack of opportunities to enter the world of work condemns us to a life of economic hardship and despair."

Out of desperation, some school leavers have resorted to drug abuse and at times gambling to eke out a living. Zimstats estimates indicate that 65% of Zimbabweans live on less than US$1 per day.

"Many of us now resort to gambling to earn some few dollars to buy food. I have tried to look for a job, but I could not find one," said Joseph Makarimai (25). "I have five passes at Ordinary Level including English and Mathematics, but I failed to get a place at teaching and technical colleges."

Makarimai now spends most of his time gambling at Sakubva Bus Terminus in Mutare.

It is the same predicament Letisiwe (26), who is now into sex work finds herself in.

"I have no hope of ever finding employment. I came here [Mutare] from my rural areas [Tamandai in Chipinge] hoping to find employment, but it has been difficult for me. I ended up selling myself," Letisiwe said.

A former Midlands State University (MSU) student who preferred anonymity graduated last year with a degree in media studies but said he had now resorted to teaching.

"The situation is pathetic. Most of my colleagues here are now working in boutiques. I am now a temporary teacher. Temporary teaching is better because government will always pay at the end of the month," he said.

But there are some unemployed youths who are still hopeful.

"The government says our industries will soon be up and running and many jobs will be created as we revamp our dilapidated infrastructure.

I hope we will benefit from the youth empowerment programmes," said Kenneth Dirwai (27), an unemployed youth who is still under the care of his parents.

While Dirwai pins his hopes on the indigenisation programme, some experts said the programme was unsustainable and often gets abused for political reasons.

Experts have blamed the high unemployment rate on unfriendly policies adopted by President Robert Mugabe's Zanu PF administration over the years.

The Indigenisation law, first promulgated in 2007, was cited as one of the most investor unfriendly policies.

Economic analyst, John Robertson said it was sad that thousands of young people were failing to get jobs after completing their studies.

"We have at least 300 000 school leavers every year. Unfortunately Zimbabwe is exporting a very large number of these young people out of the country because they need to look after their families," Robertson said.

Robertson said the situation was exacerbated by the bigger number of companies that are downsizing or closing shop altogether.

Simon Chiperekwa, a Labour Expert said youth employment was highly dependent on the overall status of the economy.

He said economic activity, measured by GDP growth, was probably the single factor that influenced the chances of young people finding a job the most.

"Low GDP growth and low investment in Zimbabwe are direct causes of the shrinking demand for labour. Our government should consider reforming its economy to allow more labour-intense industries to develop," Chiperekwa said.

A 2013 report titled: Nexus between Growth, Employment and Poverty in Zimbabwe: The Economics of Employment Creation by the Labour and Economic Development Institute of Zimbabwe (Ledriz), said unemployment worsened even before the economic crisis.

"Even before the decade-long economic crisis [1997-2008], the economy of Zimbabwe was already failing to absorb the high numbers of people, mainly youth, joining the labour market, with increasingly high levels of education," reads part of the report.

Robertson said there was need to attract investors but "investors are worried about the policies we have deliberately imposed -- they need to be changed."

The Indigenisation law compels foreign-owned companies to cede 51% of their stake to locals.

Robertson said high taxation, government interference and the indigenisation policy especially in the mining sector, needed to be changed.

Economist, Takunda Mugaga, said unemployment in Zimbabwe had become a "time-bomb".

"Unemployment is so high that it's a social curse to Zimbabwe. It's actually a time-bomb. It's really a cancer in Zimbabwe, more serious than the liquidity crunch.

"They talk about the informal sector but, it's just an excuse for very uncomfortable unemployment," Mugaga said.

Mugaga said unemployment levels were worsened by companies that were closing because they could not "access lines of credit for capitalisation."

The Ledriz report says there was need for a paradigm shift in the manner in which "employment and social goals are treated, often as residuals of growth".

"A critical aspect of the strategy is to promote a process of sustained structural transformation, moving labour from low productivity communal and informal sectors to high productivity sectors," reads the report.

"This process can build on the land reform programme by addressing existing anomalies through the proposed Land Audit to allow the decongestion of communal agriculture, thereby raising its productivity."

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