Zimbabweans have abandoned formal employment

Hope of better economy not to everyone's taste
Dealers wedded to illegal trade ponder their future


Nine-to-five jobs in offices, factories or shops seem like a distant dream to many Zimbabweans. As the economy has disintegrated over the last nine years, more and more people have been forced out of formal jobs and into the parallel - and illegal - sector.

The unemployment rate has hit 80 per cent and inflation has reached an almost unbelievable168,000 per cent. These factors, and the ever-rising cost of living, have pushed most citizens of this erstwhile blooming Southern African country into developing a knack for finding opportunity in adversity.

Zimbabweans have abandoned formal employment, which has ceased to be as rewarding as it was more a decade ago, to trade basic commodities and money on the parallel market.

The pavements of Gweru are like those of all other urban centres, filled with foreign currency dealers and informal traders, who sell things that are just not available in the shops.

Although this is illegal, the dealers have no choice and have become so daring that they carry out their business openly. Some of their most reliable customers and clients are, ironically, police officers themselves.

The quick rewards that come with their trade have blinded these dealers to the possibility of bright prospects under a new, focused government that could, potentially, start to reverse the rot overseen by the Zanu (PF) regime.

Instead of being optimistic about getting back into proper jobs, some of the dealers who spoke to The Zimbabwean this week seemed more worried that they would be kicked out of business.

[xhead]Go back to school

One of these is Kudakwashe Chirwa of Senga, who says he is not very educated and has been surviving on the illegal, but thriving, foreign currency parallel market for the past three years. Chirwa said that he was worried about his future and may need to go back to school if a new government takes over.

I was educated up to O level but I did not do so well. Now, with the talk of a new government coming in, I am uncertain about my future. Since it is expected that with a new government, the economy will pick up and foreign currency will become available, perhaps my job as a foreign currency dealer will disappear. My intention is that if there is a new dispensation, I will have to go back to school. I became a money dealer because my mother could not afford to send me back to school due to the skyrocketing fees, he said.

Another dealer, Marilyn Zhou, who a few months ago quit her job as a bank teller to become a foreign currency dealer, said she would definitely go back into formal employment.

I had been employed for the past five years but the salary I was getting was no longer satisfactory. I could no longer send my two children to school and it was becoming difficult to feed them. I then decided to quit my job and join the streets to buy and sell foreign currency.

But now, with the prospects of a new government, it seems that the exchange rates will become so low that maybe we won’t be able to make any profit. But if that happens, I will have to start looking for another job, she said.

Another dealer, who only identified himself as Dube, said although he was worried about the short-term effect that a new government could have on his operations, he said the prospect of the revival of the economy was good for all. Dube said he was willing to work for the good of his country.

I completed my A level in 1996 and passed very well. I’ve been earning my living through buying and selling basic commodities. We would get the commodities from shops, put a mark-up and then resell them. I’ve been able to take care of my family for the past two years through this, he said.

But should there be a new dispensation, and the country’s economy improves as is being expected, I’m in support of this because basic commodities should be available

in shops like they used to be in the past. If the economy is resuscitated and the industrial sector is revived, I am prepared to get formally employed and work for the good of my country. At my age and being able-bodied, I should be formally employed perhaps in the industrial sector, doing proper work.

He added: It has not been all rosy for us as we ran away from the police every time and at times had all our goods confiscated.

Hope of better economy not to everyone’s taste

Dealers wedded to illegal trade ponder their future

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