Jobs crisis: University graduates turn to vending

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HARARE – Zimbabwe's unemployment levels are escalating at astronomical rates despite promises from the Zanu PF-led government that at least 2,2 million jobs would be created.

At least 30 000 graduates churned out from universities and tertiary colleges every year are resorting to desperate measures, with some forced into menial jobs including vending.

President Robert Mugabe caps thousands of university students every year but most of them cannot get employment as the economic situation worsens every day.

Although in its manifesto, Zanu PF promised to create 2,265 million jobs in the next five years, the situation on the ground paints a gloomy picture, with government at the forefront of retrenchments.

For instance, the State-run National Railways of Zimbabwe has sought permission to retrench 6 000 workers, or 86 percent of its workforce to slash running costs.

“NRZ used to employ more than 25 000 people in Bulawayo and that employment sustained the activities of Bulawayo, but that number has gone down to 7000,” Obert Mpofu, the Transport and Communication minister told  a business seminar last week.

“I received a request from the board to retrench another 6000 to leave 1000 and I said that was not sustainable.”

This comes as cash-strapped State coal miner Hwange Colliery has put 1 000 workers on unpaid leave. The company is saddled with a $14 million six-month salary backlog and a debt of $160 million.

The country’s unemployment rate tops 85 percent and additional people are becoming jobless every day as more firms shut down citing harsh economic conditions.

A recent survey by the National Social Security Authority (Nssa) said 711 companies in Harare went bust in the period July 2011 to July 2013, rendering 8 336 individuals jobless.

This is an addition to more than 90 companies that have closed shop in Bulawayo since 2010, with more than 20 000 workers thrown into the streets.

The Zimbabwe Stock Exchange recently warned that only about 10 of the 74 companies listed on the local bourse were operating at full capacity, giving credence to the fact that nine companies went into liquidation between September and October this year while 12 were placed under judicial management in the same period.

Leading Harare-based economist John Robertson said life would continue to be hard for the ordinary men who have been thrown in at the deep-end due to intensifying economic hardships with no end in sight to unemployment.

“Jobs are created though investments in the economy and people invest in a country because they have confidence in the future of that particular area,” Robertson told the Daily News.

“However, recent policy decisions are forcing foreign investors to take their monies elsewhere.”

Robertson said when government forcibly takes away land from huge conglomerates such as Zimplats – which employs over 5 000 people – no serious investor would be willing to come into Zimbabwe.

Government’s indigenisation policy – demanding 51 percent shareholding in all foreign-owned firms worth at least $500 000 – has dampened foreign investor confidence in the country.

“How can we expect to create more jobs when we are pushing companies that have the capacity to create employment away? The situation is getting worse and soon government will not have taxes to talk about as most people now no longer have any incomes,” he said.

Major companies that have retrenched staff include platinum miners Zimplats and Unki, Bindura Nickel Mine, Spar supermarkets, Dairibord, Cairns, Olivine Industries and PG Industries while in Bulawayo Hunyani Holdings, National Blankets and Merlin are stuttering.

All this coming at a time when Zimbabwe’s cost of living for an urban family of six increased by 0,8 percent to $567,03 last month pushed up mainly by the rising cost of  food.

Latest figures from the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe (CCZ) have shown that the cost of living has risen significantly from around $330 in March 2009 – when the country adopted a multi-currency system – highlighting that a majority of Zimbabweans could barely sustain themselves due to high unemployment levels.

Zechariah Mushawatu, Zimbabwe National Student Union (Zinasu) national spokesperson,  said unless the new government takes austerity measures to resolve the economic crisis, the country’s unemployment rate will continue to escalate.

“More university graduates will continue to pervade the streets in desperate pursuit for better living conditions,” said Mushawatu.

He noted that students have already lost hope as the number of unemployed youths continues to rise unabated, adding there was no hope that things will change for the better in the next five years.

Zimbabwe’s once-dynamic economy shrunk by more than 50 percent between 2004 and 2009, leaving more than half of its employable urban population relying on remittances from friends and family overseas.

An estimated three million Zimbabweans fled the country’s economic and political instability to support their families from overseas and neighbouring countries.

More than half of Zimbabweans remain in the Diaspora as job prospects remain limited in the country.

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