Hope of ever living the decent life they may have envisaged is fast running out for the bulk of Zimbabwean youth.
BY CHIPO MASARA
“We have US$2 and all we need is another dollar. Please be a good sport and give us US$1,” pleaded *Sam, the self-appointed spokesperson for a group of four young men that normally linger around the shops in my neighbourhood.
I have talked to the group a number of times, and each time they end up begging me for money. They usually ask for US$1 but when they feel I am not budging, they quickly drop the figure to R5, which is what I normally give them in the end — when I can afford to spare some loose change.
On this particular day however, because I was having some serious money problems of my own, I did not take their request quite as kindly as I usually did.
“All you do is ask me for money every time I see you. Are you guys mistaking me for an ATM?” I snapped, but soon after I could not help but feel bad. I have over the years learned that with the hard times people must endure in this country, oftentimes those you meet have problems and there is no use in worsening it by being rude. Sam’s response to my reaction did not help make me feel any better.
“If we had any other choice, we would not be doing this [begging]. You know things are really bad in the country my sister and we are just trying to survive,” said Sam in a pleading voice.
I knew what he was taking about. The unemployment rate in the country is believed to be soaring above 80%, and has adversely affected especially the youth, most of who are struggling to earn an income. So I decided it was pointless to ask them why they did not look for jobs. Instead, I wanted to know what they planned to do with the money they were asking for, in the unlikely case that I was to give it to them.
“To tell you the truth, we want to buy a bottle of medicine [Broncleer] because when we take it, life becomes bearable,” said Sam.
Broncleer — a cough syrup — is one of the drugs popular among youths in Zimbabwe and is being taken as a “feel good drug”. The cough syrup should normally be taken for the alleviation of coughs and can be purchased in pharmacies. Each 5ml of the syrup contains 10mg of codeine phosphate, 12,5mg diphenhydramine HCL, 125mg ammonium chloride and 50mg sodium citrate.
Health experts warn that the cough medicine should be taken cautiously as overdosing may lead to respiratory depression, cyanosis and hypertension, or even the development of a coma, among other side effects.
“I thought you were going to tell me you wanted to buy food. Instead you want me to give you money so you can buy drugs. Do you even know how dangerous that cough syrup can be when taken excessively?” I asked.
“Sister listen, kusiri kufa ndekupi? If the drugs do not kill us, the stress in this country will. With the drugs at least we die happy,” quipped *Moses, who had been quite all along and was prompted by the need to defend the group’s drug-taking habits to join in the conversation.
Moses went on to tell me he had good passes at A’Level but could not proceed to university as his family could not afford his tuition fees. Despite looking for a job for many years, he said all he has so far managed to get are piece jobs, most of which last only for a few hours, paying very little.
But theirs is not a unique story. The majority of Zimbabwe’s youth are at wits’ end over what to do with themselves after completing their studies and failing to find employment.
The country’s universities have been churning out thousands of graduates each year, most of whom have been reduced to paupers and are ready to resort to any activity that offers them a few dollars.
There are reports of a large number of graduates having since turned to street vending in a desperate attempt to survive.
Zimbabwe is facing major economic challenges that have seen companies continually closing down while many of those that are still operating have had to cut down their staff in order to remain viable.
The continued absence of foreign direct investment (FDI) into the country, blamed mostly on the country’s controversial Indigenisation policy that is chasing away potential investors, has worsened the situation.
It has become rare to hear of any available job vacancies in the country and as such, it has become common to see youths scrounging for menial jobs, performed under harsh conditions.
To add to their predicament, the youth have to compete with elderly people for jobs.
As much as old people in the country might want to rest and let younger people take over, many of them do not have retirement savings and will struggle if they leave work, so they hold on.
Meanwhile, some companies that are still operating are reportedly taking full advantage of the harsh economic conditions in the country, overworking the youth while greatly underpaying them.
But because getting any type of job is considered a blessing, those lucky enough to be employed, even if it is just for a day, perform tasks assigned to them without any questions asked.
Some Zimbabwean youths, deciding they have had enough of their home country which has so little to offer them, have joined the great trek to the Diaspora, mostly neighbouring South Africa.
Although many Zimbabwean youths in South Africa admit that life there is not as easy as they had imagined, they insist it is much better than life in Zimbabwe. Most have sworn not to return until the situation is back to normal.
It is the millions of youth that remain in the country that are suffering and are at great risk of perishing before they see the situation in Zimbabwe return to normal.
*Not their real names