Walking for survival

HARARE - It is 4 am and still dark in the low-income suburb of Kuwadzana, about 10km outside the central business district (CBD) of Zimbabwe's capital.

There has been no electricity here for two weeks. Bobbing beams from the flashlights are the only source of light in the inky blackness.

After 10 minutes they move off in the direction of the city, but shrill whistles pierce the quiet dawn, signalling that latecomers are being left behind. The group are all professionals who can no longer afford the high transport fares in an economic environment where earnings are wiped away by galloping inflation.

The government has not publicly released official inflation figures for the last two months but the International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates that the rate is now 100,000 percent and still rising. Granger Phiri, one of the walkers, said thousands of workers in Harare’s low-income and middle-density suburbs had formed “walking clubs” because they could no longer afford public transport.

“I have been a member of the local walking club for the past seven months, as all my earnings would be depleted if I used public taxis for 15 days,” said Phiri, a junior official in the civil service in the CBD. He said he earned Z$30 million a month (US$15 at the parallel market rate of Z$2 million to US$1), but a single trip to town costs Z$1 million (US$0.50). Why go through the agony of walking 20km every day just to earn US$15 a month? Phiri smiled and pointed to a bulging knapsack on his back.

“There is one thing that the human body cannot do without and that is food.  I sell plain bread sandwiches to my colleagues. I also sell sliced tomatoes and cucumbers to colleagues who can afford them, and that supplements my income.” The telephones at work also come in handy: “I am now known as the person who can pass messages to friends and relatives in the country and beyond our borders through the government telephones which I use. Of course that comes at a cost, which adds to my income.”

Phiri said he was not embarrassed at having to resort to unorthodox methods to earn a living.  “Everybody is selling something to somebody in order to survive. Very little work is ever done.”

Wellington Chibhebhe, secretary-general of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, (ZCTU), a labour federation, said companies and the civil service were losing a lot of production time because workers were too tired to work. According to ZCTU research, workers woke up as early as 3 am to go to work and only got back home at 11 pm. – IRIN

Post published in: News

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *