Zimbabwe’s forgotten youth

By IndepthAfrica
In Southern Africa
Nov 19th, 2012
Vince Musewe says youth unemployment levels are a powder keg waiting to explode

Zimbabwe’s forgotten youth: a disaster in the making

We have been conspirators in creating a most heinous crime against humanity: the obliteration of hope and the suppression of the aspirations of our youth.

I was at the University of Zimbabwe (UZ) the other day, and it reminded me of our days there in the 80’s. Oblivious to what was to come, one thing we did not worry about was the basics of food, shelter, transport, books and even jobs after graduating. I remembered when we used to queue up to get our “pay out” which was our pocket money paid to us in the form of government cheques. We even managed to buy a little car and could be seen ferrying all sorts of girls up and down into town. It was the best of times.

It is disheartening to see such enthusiasm in students at the campus, as they hurry off to their lectures, because it is most probable, that their expectations after graduating will not be met. As long as we continue on the route we are on and with this political leadership that we have, I am almost certain that a good number of them will leave this country.

The youth unemployment levels in Zimbabwe are a powder keg waiting to explode. My estimates are that 1 in 10 youths are formally employed and youths make up about 60% of our population. This means that several millions of young Zimbabweans have no hope for the future and nothing specific to do today and tomorrow when they wake up..

I don’t know what the census results will reflect when and if they come out in a couple of years’ time. Yes that’s not a typo, a couple of years’ is the estimate that I got from informed sources. The numbers will of course be useless when we finally get them. This, after spending a cool USD45 million on the whole exercise. I understand that the enumerators have only been paid measly USD150 for their misery. This is because, everything is being done manually, despite us having two rather exuberant ministers of science and technology and information communications technology. Where are they hiding? But I digress.

Now this is our problem, in the last ten years, our leadership has been otherwise occupied with politics and in the mean time, despite us having a stable currency; life conditions for most youths have become dreadful. Ten years is certainly a long time to wait hoping that something will come up, especially if you are a graduate,

The result is that, our youths have become peddlers and opportunists of all sorts hoping to make a fast buck and I don’t blame them. The unscrupulous amongst us continue exploit them without shame. This has also increased the probability of violence where, youths are paid as little as USD10 to beat up political opponents. Others are organized into groups such as Chipangano, a notorious vigilante group of degenerates, who are most probably neither employed nor very well educated.

In the case of young women, those of lesser morals have happily become what Zimbabweans call “small houses” (adulterers or pfambi in Shona) in order to survive and be looked after by married men. It has devastated their self esteem and the moral fabric of our young girls but survive they must.

If you dine out in Johannesburg, there is a 99% chance that a Zimbabwean will serve you and an 80% chance that they will have good “O” levels and mosr probably come from Bulawayo. This reminds me a colleague from Johannesburg of mine whose daughter was getting extra tutorials on calculus from his Zimbabwean gardener.

A youth empowerment program is not only urgent, but critical because if by any chance, our youth do not get meaningful opportunities and experience now, imagine what the profile of our population will become in a couple of years time. Of course this will have serious negative consequences on our productivity, competitiveness and economic growth going forward.

I do not have the statistics with me yet, regarding the youth empowerment funds that have been launched by our honorable minister of youth empowerment and indigenization, but what I hear is rather bizarre. Youths are being given loans to pay lobola, girlfriends to set up hair salons. Others are being used as fronts by unscrupulous opportunists, to apply for the youth loans and get paid USD500 for their efforts. That is scandalous.

I doubt that there is any method in the madness of this youth empowerment project but I hope that I am wrong. We need to anticipate the future, and focus on investing in agriculture, manufacturing, information communications technology, mining, tourism, infrastructure development and renewable energy and get our youths into these sectors now. Youth empowerment funds, managed correctly, can lead to meaningful domestic investment and increase youth employment levels. However, if they are run by ZANU (PF), we all know what criteria will be used to loan the funds and their probability of success.

I have met some youths in Highfileds, who are saying they are anxiously waiting for the election campaigns to start, so that they can make some good money. They explained to me that MP’s hire them to intimidate opponents, and the more MP’s there are contesting for a position within one party, the more money they will make because they can get paid by all of them. All they want is their money and they could not care less who wins. They have become the true mujibas ( a South African term for young unemployed youths who live by their wits).This is a true story.

In my opinion, by sitting by the sidelines and doing nothing about this, we have been conspirators in committing a most heinous crime against humanity: the obliteration of hope and the suppression of the aspirations of our youths and future generations. That is not only dangerous, but inhuman and unforgivable.

It is ironic, that these are the very social conditions of unmet black aspirations in the then Southern Rhodesia, which inspired James Chikerema, George Nyandoro and Joshua Nkomo to be part of the African National Congress in September 1957.

My gosh, history truly does have a tendency to repeat itself.

Oh Morgan, where art thou?

Vince Musewe is an independent economist in Harare. You can contact him on vtmusewe@gmail.com

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