Plight of Zim wage earners

It now costs most wage earners more to go to work on local transport than they earn'

There was a time when having a job was a badge of honour - wage earners could feed their families, go on annual leave and visit their rural homes with gifts of food and goods. Not any more in Mugabe's Zimbabwe.

A clerk in a government office told me recently that she was paid a net after tax salary of Z$13 000. For days she had not been able to even join a queue to try and draw her meager salary out.

If she were paid on the 25th of last month, her salary would have been worth R300 or US$42. On the 8th of October – just 14 days later it was worth R13, about US$1,50 for a months hard work.

Teachers were paid Z$10 000, police slightly more and soldiers slightly more again. In the new hierarchy that applies to our skewed values in government, these lesser mortals are worse off than the clerk in the Registrar Generals office.

To compound these difficulties, wage earners must pay tax at the top rate on most of their incomes. Tax thresholds are kept at very low levels and the tax bands are very narrow so that most workers – even low paid manual workers must pay close to the top rate of tax, which is 47 per cent. Add to that levies for NASA, training and other compulsory deductions and they are paying 60 per cent of their gross salaries in tax.

The result is that it now costs most wage earners more to go to work on local transport than they earn. Schoolteachers are staying at home and thousands of people abscond every day for the bright lights of South Africa, Botswana and Zambia. Even Mozambique, not long ago in dire straights itself and still desperately poor, looks quite good by comparison to Zimbabwe.

So Mugabe has inverted the traditional relationship between the formal and the informal sector. Rural families now feed their urban families, street vendors support friends and relatives. A job is now a liability, it obliges you to travel every day to your place of work and then spend all day at your desk or machine. Your salary will hardly cover your cost of doing so and then you cannot get your money out of the bank.

The great danger of this situation lies in two main areas – workers will simply pack their bags and walk away from their desks and machines and join the millions now struggling to make a living in South Africa or anywhere. Others, bitter and frustrated and unable to feed or clothe their families might turn to violence. In particular soldiers might be tempted to turn their guns on those they perceive as being responsible for the collapse and failure.

The only way to correct matters is to see that the present political crisis is resolved and the process of economic and social reform put in hand. The situation can be turned around in short order now but even this possibility is slipping away as the Mugabe regime delays implementation of the SADC-brokered agreement. – BY MUONGORORI

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