26 May 2014

Zimbabwe: The Unending Woes of Zimbabwe's Civil Servants

Photo: WHO/Paul Garwood
A health worker taking care of a patient.

REJOICE Shava (not her real name) spent 10 years living and working in Manchester, United Kingdom (UK). A nurse by profession, Shava successfully applied for a part-time nursing post at one of the famous hospitals in the UK in 2002. Like many civil servants in Zimbabwe, she was fleeing from the deteriorating political and economic situation back home then.

"At the hospital in Manchester, I worked for only six hours per shift either during the day or at night. The working hours were very flexible and the remuneration was miles better compared to what I got in Zimbabwe.

"Cognisant of the pressing needs back home, I worked almost round the clock - alternating between my professional duties and menial jobs including part-time nursing of some old, rich people and doing laundry for scores of people," Shava said.

Her husband, an engineer at one of the plastic manufacturing companies in the Workington industrial area of Harare had remained home. He is the one who took care of the family and their belongings at their lodgings in Southerton.

Shava and her husband were the breadwinners not only to their children but the extended family as well - most members of which lived in rural Mvuma district in the Chirumanzu area of Midlands province. They had four children of their own in boarding school.

In addition to this, they also looked after five orphans whose parents had succumbed to AIDS and their ageing parents in the rural areas.

"I single-handedly paid school fees for all my own children and orphans left under my care by relatives. The obligations before me were taxing and I had to work like a donkey in order to live like a king," Shava said.

"However, I always felt lonely in the Diaspora and I missed my husband and children. In 2006, I briefly returned to Zimbabwe for a three-month sabbatical. It felt good to re-unite with the family.

"I also used the break to look around for a house which we later paid for in Greendale before I went back to the UK. Houses were affordable then because I used British Pounds which had a very high value compared to the local Zimbabwean dollar."

From 2006 up to 2012, she remained in the UK. Her husband only visited twice in 2008 and 2010.

While it was much easier for the husband to relocate to the UK, the two felt it was important for him to stay in Zimbabwe in order to manage their business in Harare as well as look after the children and the parents.

"In 2012, I finally returned to Zimbabwe for good. The political and economic situation had stabilised following the formation of the inclusive government and the adoption of multiple currencies.

"However, when I got home, I got the shock of my life when I discovered that my husband was now living with another woman with whom he had two children," Shava said, tears flowing down her cheeks.

Although her husband had possibly committed bigamy which is a criminal offence since he wed her under the Marriages Act Chapter 5. 11, Shava could not report him to the police since that risked his arrest and a possible incarceration.

"I had to endure the pain of being cheated by the husband I so dearly loved and for whom I had committed so much energy in order to keep our family intact, not to mention the sacrifice I made while working in the Diaspora," Shava said.

Discrimination and hardships

For many former civil servants and other workers in the Diaspora painful who fled hardship at home, life is not all that rose.

"The adage that there is no place like home makes sense here," said Israel Tazviwana, a Zimbabwean living and working in South Africa.

"In South Africa, we live with racism, xenophobia and plain hatred from locals and other expatriate workers who are jealous of our hardworking spirit as Zimbabweans. For many of us, socially, coming to look for work here is like jumping from the frying pan to the fire.

"Many have been killed, robbed, beaten or maimed because we have taken most of the lucrative jobs because of our high levels of education and ability to do work diligently and stay longer at work."

As the influx into South Africa (SA) swells, the local government recently ordered Zimbabweans and other foreigners living and working there to go to their respective countries of origin to renew their work permits.

Daniel Muzenda, leader of the Zimbabwe Migrants Association, whose organisation's work is to ensure the protection and welfare of Zimbabweans in the Diaspora recently urged the South African and Zimbabwean governments to come up with an arrangement that does not overburden migrants.

Muzenda argued that it would be almost impractical to deport millions of Zimbabweans living and working in South Africa for them to secure work permits.

Many Zimbabweans also feigned or genuinely cited persecution on political grounds, ostensibly for supporting opposition parties back home, in order to secure asylum in Australia, America and European countries.

News agency IRIN recently provided statistics from UK Home Office figures which showed that around 20,000 Zimbabweans sought asylum in Britain between 2000 and 2007. Of the 4,807 applications that were successful, 944 made it on appeal, the report said.

However, there were indications that those who failed to acquire asylum would be forcibly sent back home, an indication that victims would endure psychological, emotional and economic torture if they were to fail to find jobs and protection from harassment back home.

No jobs for nurses and teachers

Margret Tausha, 35, rues the day she quit her menial job in government and enrolled for a nurse training course at Nyadire Mission Hospital in Mutoko, Mashonaland East Province.

Tausha had worked as a general hand at Harare Central Hospital - one of the biggest referral hospitals in Zimbabwe from 2004 to 2007. Around 2006, the then Ministry of Health and Child Welfare now known as Ministry of Health and Child Care introduced a Primary Care Nursing (PCN) Training Course at selected government and mission hospitals.

"All along I had worked as a general hand at Harare Hospital only because an opportunity to enrol for a professional course had not come my way. When Nyadire Mission Hospital advertised a PCN course, I gladly grabbed the opportunity and responded to the advert since I have got seven subjects with very good passes in English and Science.

"For the one-and-a-half years that followed, we underwent rigorous training in the nursing profession. I passed both the theory and practical tests with flying colours. At graduation, my relatives threw a lavish party for me.

"Like anyone else, I expected to get employment within government or the private sector but what followed are nightmares and my heart burns with pain as I talk now," Tausha said.

Tausha said by the time she finished her course in 2009, government had frozen all new posts for nurses citing unavailability of money from the Treasury.

"There was anticipation that the flow of diamond revenue into treasury would normalise things but alas, there were stories of diversion of the money and up to now I have never been lucky even to get a job as an orderly in the private health institutions," Tausha said.

She added that she has since turned to vending sadza in Mutare in order to make ends meet. Out of the 20 nurses in her stream at Nyadire, only four have managed to get employment, since 2009.

Health and child care minister, David Parirenyatwa says although there were staff shortages in clinics and hospitals, his ministry could not do much to help the unemployed trained nurses due to lack of funding and resources.

He added that he remained hopeful that the economic situation would stabilise and enable the government to fill the vacant posts.

Resultantly, the government health sector has more often than not been incapacitated to respond to disease outbreaks of higher magnitude such as the cholera and typhoid outbreaks that hit Harare's highly populated residential areas like Budiriro and Glenview.

Organisations like Medicines San Frontiers (MSF) and Red Cross have on many occasions come to the rescue of the government to assist with personnel and technicalities in disasters like cholera outbreaks and flooding in such areas like Chingwizi in Masvingo Province.

This is the same for trained teachers. Obert Masaraure, secretary general of Rural Teachers' Union of Zimbabwe bemoaned the low pass rate of students in rural areas and urged the government to consider recruiting trained teachers to alleviate the problem.

"I urge government to consider recruiting more teachers in rural areas and coming up with incentives for staff retention. Our education system favours those who are in towns and cities. Teachers in rural areas are in a transit mode, constantly filing transfer letters hoping to be placed at better schools.

"These teachers are not productive and they contribute to low pass rates. These teachers are not to blame because they also want good living conditions being enjoyed by their counterparts in urban areas. It is incumbent upon the government of the day to incentivise teachers who patriotically work in these areas," Masaraure said.

Masaraure urged the government to scrap vehicle importation duty for teachers in rural areas to alleviate the transport woes in rural areas.

"Models where promotions are offered to those who work in remote areas for a specified period have worked elsewhere. In other countries if you work for 10 years at a remote school you are rewarded by being placed at a group "A" school. We can come up with our own packages," Masaraure added.

Economic stagnation, bad policies

Zimbabwean government workers have for a long time been reeling under very low remuneration with salaries and wages currently pegged below the poverty datum line of about $550.

Previously, it was the wish of many to work in government, especially in the years soon after independence until around 1992 when the government adopted International Monetary Fund prescribed Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (ESAP).

"When I graduated with a Diploma in Education in 1982, I managed to buy myself a comfortable double bed, a wardrobe, a kitchen unit set, radio and television sets and some three suits with enough money to spare for spoiling my parents. I did that with salary accrued in just three months," said Darlington Mbenguzana, a teacher at Bikita Secondary School in Masvingo.

"The average price for a double-door wardrobe these days is about $300, a double bed costs $500, and an ordinary television set costs $150 while LED TVs cost $600. A kitchen unit is not less than $300 and for a good suit one has to fork out at least $80.

"With an average of $400 for a teacher who has recently graduated buying all these with a salary of just three months is impossible nowadays. This highlights our low salaries despite the fact that it was an insurmountable tussle with authorities for us to be paid what we are getting."

Mbenguzana bemoaned ESAP for having made life difficult to workers both in the private and public sectors.

An independent economist, Charles Mufunda, said low production in mining, manufacturing and agricultural industries has ripple effects on all other sectors of the economy.

"When there is no production, there are no exports, hence no foreign currency earnings. This will adversely affect the government's capacity to embark on developmental projects and pay its workforce," Mufunda said.

Zimbabwe's economy took a further knock when the government embarked on its controversial land reform programme which was in full force beginning the year 2000 and over the decade that followed.

While the programme is beginning to register a few positive achievements as evidenced by the increase in the number of tobacco farmers in communal and resettlement areas, the agricultural sector remains distressed as the country is still importing food and has a long way to go to achieve its glory days as the breadbasket of Africa.

Renowned economist John Robertson said there was need for a paradigm shift in Zimbabwe's land reform and land tenure system in order to revive the comatose agricultural sector and boost the economy.

"If properly managed, the agricultural sector has the greatest potential to revive the economy. Agricultural exports will earn the country money enough to pay its restive civil servants," Robertson said.

Attracting lines of credit anchored by policies that promote employment creation and the productive side of industries were important to economic growth, Robertson added.

Empty promises of pay increase

The ravages of hyperinflation hit hard civil servants whose wages and salaries were eroded by inflation the day they withdrew money from banks.

"The era between 2004 and 2008 was burdensome, to say the least. Although our wages and salaries were pegged in trillions of Zimbabwean dollars, the money was not enough to feed our families, let alone embarking on meaningful projects like building homes and investing in agriculture," said a civil servant who identified himself only as Sahayi.

Sahayi said coupled with intermittent droughts and shortage of inputs, food shortages were the order of the day and workers - especially those in government, suffered malnutrition and scavenged for food in neighbouring countries like South Africa.

"The dignity of government workers was eroded and morale among workers was at its lowest during the hyperinflationary era. This explains were pass rate in schools plummeted and health delivery in clinics and hospitals deteriorated.

"No wonder the country experienced medieval era diseases like cholera and typhoid as the government's capacity to deliver social services had grounded to a halt," Sahayi said.

The discovery of diamonds in Marange raised hopes in civil servants for an increase in their wages and salaries. But diamond revenue was reportedly diverted from Treasury and the hopes in the inclusive government to improve the plight of civil servants dissipated.

For the umpteenth time, there have been negotiations between government and the civil servants for an increase in wages and salaries.

The negotiations started prior to and during the tenure of the unity government in February 2009 and are still ongoing even now under the Zanu PF government which resoundingly won elections on promises to improve the conditions of service of the workers.

The calls for wage and salary increases seem to be falling on deaf ears though. Calls for salary increases by the Apex Council which comprises unions representing the government workers have yielded insignificant results which led to backdated salary increases in April.

"Treasury seems to be inundated by the paltry salary increase it gave to civil servants. Instead of paying workers on time, government was forced to postpone payment for a third time. It is sad to note that May pay dates were postponed.

"Workers in the Ministry of Education who were supposed to be paid on May 15 were shifted to May 16 and other civil servants who were supposed to be paid on May 21 would be paid on May 22.

"This is a signal that it never pays but rains for civil servants whose welfare seems to be the light for the government they so dearly serve," said Rumbidzai Chamboko, a labour relations consultant based in Harare.

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