HARARE – September 29 made a mark in Zimbabwe’s history as University of Zimbabwe(UZ) graduands literally spat in President Robert Mugabe’s face by expressing their displeasure at the escalating rate of unemployment the country has had to endure during his close to four decades at the helm.
One would want to imagine that the reality that most of them were going to go into the informal sector where most graduates have resorted to for a living — had sunk in.
UZ Students Representative Council (SRC) president Tonderai Dombo, graduands Zibusiso Tshuma and Alex Mukamba were taken by State security agents after they waved anti-Mugabe placards during the ceremony.
They were later released upon payment of $10 fines each.
Zimbabwe’s bleeding economy has sacrificed more than tens of thousands of jobs since 2004 as most companies have had to lay off workers to cut costs with more than 700 companies shutting shop in Harare alone since 2011, swelling the jobless ranks, labour unionists have established.
And although Zimstats claims unemployment stands at 10,7 percent the figure has been dismissed by economists and unionists as being “too far from reality”.
Various sources have continuously put it at anything between 70 and 80 percent although the argument rages on as government is at pains to portray the rates as moderate in a dysfunctional economy.
Aspiring UZ SRC president Zivai Mhetu justified Dombo’s actions, saying he had constitutional rights to express his anger and frustration at Mugabe, especially with the way he has run down the country.
“Dombo was expressing not only himself — he was expressing the anger and frustration of every graduand and soon to be graduates in the country.
“As students, we are fed up with the prevailing situation whereby now we know that when we complete our studies we are not going to add to the figure of the country’s labour force; we are going to add to the statistics of unemployed people in Zimbabwe,” Mhetu said.
“The State should take what happened as a turning point from the docile approach the once-vibrant student movement in Zimbabwe had taken in the last couple of years.
“As long as the issue of unemployment has not been addressed, the government should suspend these graduation ceremonies.
“There is absolutely nothing ceremonial about capping a graduand to become a loafer.”
Early in August, a group of disgruntled, unemployed graduates took to the streets — together with other civic organisations and restless Zimbabweans — in a march against the country’s worsening rot.
However, the demo did not last as the panicking Zanu PF government unleashed the police to attack and teargas the demonstrators — a move that pro-democracy activist Stendrick Zvorwadza did not have the best of words to describe.
Zvorwadza’s contention on police brutality against citizens is that: “What the police did clearly defies the rule of law. People are supposed to depend on them for protection but in the Zimbabwean case they are actually the architects of terror.
“What they do not know is that what they have started may actually fuel civil unrest.”
Unemployment is just but one of Zimbabwe’s predicaments amid deteriorating education, health, agricultural and socio-political systems.
The country recently slashed its economic growth forecast from 2,7 percent to 1,4 percent this year on the back of an El Nino-induced drought.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has already slashed Zimbabwe’s economic growth forecast to 1,4 percent, with the World Bank also shaving it to 1,4 percent.
Data from the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority, whose collections are a benchmark of the country’s economic growth, shows that the country missed its first half target by six percent as gross collections amounted to over $1 billion.
During the first quarter, the 2016 manufacturing growth rate was revised downwards from the budget projection of 2,1 percent to 0,5 percent as capacity utilisation continues to slump.
According to Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa, the downward revision of the forecast was necessitated by subdued economic activity prevailing in most of the subsectors.
Market watchers say the gloomy picture painted by Chinamasa is reflective of the worsening economic challenges as Zimbabwe is tilting towards recession — its first since 2008, when hyperinflation clocked 231 million percent and Mugabe lost his first ever election.
Deflation has taken root as consumer demand shrinks and the economy struggles with a shortage of cash.
Once-bustling factories in Harare and other major cities and towns are now rusty shells, as companies struggle to shake off effects of the 1999-2008 economic downturn that cut gross domestic product by about half.
In addition, the mines are reeling from the fall in commodity prices and a drought has left 16 percent of the population needing food aid.