How do ordinary Zimbabweans survive?

BULAWAYO - How is it possible for a worker to earn less or slightly above his monthly transport budget but still report for duty daily? Inconceivable, you might say, unless you come from Zimbabwe.

This is the predicament thousands of workers, including civil servants, find themselves in, in a country whose economy has virtually collapsed. Inflation is at a staggering 15,000 percent and continues to rise.

Indeed there is serious brain drain in the country, as professionals and general workers leave in large numbers to seek greener pastures in regional countries, mostly South Africa, Botswana and Namibia. Britain and Canada are the favourite destinations for many other Zimbabweans.

But not all have managed to cross the borders in search of better remunerating jobs as some are surviving through other means and there are those who simply won’t leave because they remain hopeful the economic crisis will end.

Most of those who have stuck around in the face all the hardships the majority of Zimbabweans are going through have resorted to crime. That’s their survival tactic.

The criminal activities are carried out at workplaces, or in some cases, masterminded there but executed elsewhere.  It all depends on what sort of trade one does. If, for example, you are a traffic policeman, you take bribes from motorists. Instead of issuing a ticket for a traffic offence, you pocket what the driver is offering, as long as it is an acceptable figure.

Commuter omnibuses are a big source of revenue for the police in Zimbabwe.  The drivers at times operate on expired permits, overcharge passengers but they almost always get away with it as long as they know how to grease (street lingo for bribe) the cops.

“We also drain fuel (from the vehicle) and sale it on the black market. At times we are hired by a group of people, say from a church, and we charge them a fixed amount. We give the boss (operator) his average daily takings and of-course the rest is ours,” confessed Dumisani Jamela, a commuter omnibus driver from Bulawayo.

What does an electrical appliances repair shop worker do? He diverts some of the customers who call at the business premises and does the job for them privately at their homes for far less.

A cellular telecommunications employee buys several lines under fictitious names and resells them for a profit of up to 40 times the official price. And you expect such a person not to report for duty every day?

A sugar company worker gets a sugar allocation every month. He sells the commodity on the vibrant black market and makes about Z$8 million from each of the bags.

A bus driver capitalizes on transport blues to take bribes from anyone who wants to jump a queue. Then, after dropping off his passengers, he drives to his house or finds a secluded place, drains some diesel and resale it on the parallel market.

If the usage of company fuel is under strict monitoring, he connives with the manager and they share the spoils.

The practice of draining fuel from vehicles is rife among those using company cars, including managers.  The temptation is too much to resist given that as little as 5 litres of fuel gives you Z$7 million.

The majority of Zimbabwean workers in industry get a net salary of between Z$10-Z$15 million a month against transport costs of about Z$12m.

Teachers engage in private lessons for children not in formal school and the lucky ones are paid in foreign currency by parents of the scholars, who would be abroad.

Recently a High Court judge stunned employers when he openly stated that they were promoting criminal activities at workplaces by paying ridiculous salaries, which fell far short of basic needs of workers.

“Have you ever paused to wonder why the majority of workers persistently bother to go to work everyday at great expense without fail when at the end of the day, they get paid wages which are not enough to cover their basic transport costs, let alone food and other basic amenities of life?

“The answer is simple: It is at work that they play criminal games for survival.  “What has never ceased to amaze is what will be going on in the employer’s mind when he sees employees whom he does not pay enough to cover their basic transport costs religiously reporting for duty everyday,” said Justice Chinembiri Bhunu, when addressing participants at an Institute of Personnel Management of Zimbabwe 2008 Labour briefing in Bulawayo recently. – Own correspondent

Post published in: Opinions

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