The rhythm picks up as the 602 graduates — all dressed in new, black academic gowns — get down to the popular song Tapinda Tapinda, Hemeni Baba, which when loosely translated, means Thank God, We Have Finally Made It.
BY TAPIWA ZIVIRA
Plumes of dust swell out from the graduates’ tent as the singing and clapping becomes louder, drawing cheers from the nearly 1 000 family members and friends who have come to witness this colourful graduation occasion, where 602 teachers were being awarded a Diploma in Education at Nyadire Teachers’ College in Mutoko.
The excitement of the day peaks when lecturers and senior college staff, also dressed in academic regalia of their respective areas of specialisation, accompany the guest of honour, Higher and Tertiary Education minister Jonathan Moyo to the podium.
Graduates’ cheers grow even louder.
The momentum of the event remains high throughout as speakers — including Moyo — take turns to shower praises to the new graduates and to remind them of their obligation to serve Zimbabwe by remaining ethical and morally upright as they hold the key to every child’s future.
As the graduates are called out, family members and friends use whatever means they can — from ululations to dance and song — to show how happy they are to finally witness the graduation of their loved ones.
Everything looks perfect, just like a fairy-tale, one that is destined for only one ending, a happy one. But that is not to be.
As the ceremony wears to an end, guests start flocking out and graduates gather in one tent to receive their certificates and transcripts from three assigned college staff members.
The mood becomes sombre, more like a reality moment, where these 602 men and women appear to wake up from the fantasy of the day’s excitement to realise their certificates could end up as useless pieces of paper after they fail to get jobs.
Holding their newly-collected certificates, they exchange muted goodbyes and hug each other in farewell before walking out towards the gate, or rather into the world of unemployment, to join hundreds of thousands of other qualifications holders who have been rendered unemployed by President Robert Mugabe’s government through its disastrous economic policies.
Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (ZimStat) estimates that 94,5% of the 6,3 million people defined as employed are working in the informal economy, while Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions deputy secretary-general Gideon Shoko says less than 700 000 people are formally employed.
Last year, The Economist magazine predicted that in Zimbabwe, “unemployment and under-employment — especially in the informal sector — would worsen, and with it, the socio-political climate continue to deteriorate”.
This is contrary to the ruling Zanu PF’s 2013 election promise to create 2,2 million new jobs by 2018.
Three years later, government appears clueless on how to abate the crippling calamity as more Zimbabweans resort to either skipping the borders or to vending and other informal means to eke a living.
With the economy crisis deepening, government — also reeling under an acute revenue inflow decline exacerbated by the declining economic activity in the county — has plans to “drastically reduce the civil service wage bill”, with Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa having said during the 2016 national budget presentation last December that the “rationalisation of the civil service would save $14,2 million per month”.
The rationalisation measures were announced on the back of another announcement last year that in its employment, government had thousands of teaching staff who held non-teaching qualifications and there were plans to replace the non-qualified teachers with fresh graduates, a move that would create 20 000 jobs for the newly-qualified teachers.
This has not happened, as government appears to fail to adequately fund the current civil service salary requirements, amid allegations some fringe ministries are harbouring ghost or non-essential workers that unnecessarily burden the public service salary bill.
However, the employment challenges appear to dog not just the education sector.
Another critical ministry, Health and Child Care, is also in a dire situation.
It was established last month that public health institutions are in need of about 8 000 new nurses to meet the growing demand for health services, despite government’s decision to freeze recruitment in the civil service.
Health minister David Parirenyatwa told our sister paper, Zimbabwe Independent, that: “If we go around the country, you will see that our country needs between 7 000 and 8 000 nurses, but we have 3 000 nurses that are qualified sitting at home.”
Despite this, Chinamasa has maintained government is not able to increase its workforce as the firebrand minister hopes to follow the recommendations of international financiers — International Monetary Fund and the World Bank — who have recommended the reduction of the civil service salary bill, among a raft of other measures meant to help Zimbabwe, which is in serious debt, that amounts to nearly $8 billion.
Under the stewardship of Chinamasa, Zimbabwe is currently working on a debt repayment plan that seeks to make the country eligible to borrow internationally again.
For the teachers, the Promised Land might still be far, as government — which has become notorious for splurging millions on Mugabe’s foreign junkets, government officials’ cars, houses and other perks — appears to rely more on donor-funding for the much-needed new school infrastructure across the country.
In March, Primary and Secondary Education minister Lazarus Dokora said government secured $20 million from Opec Funding for International Development, which was enough to build just 17 schools amid findings in a 2013 education infrastructure audit exercise that the country had a deficit of 2 056 schools, a requirement that government is unlikely to achieve in the near future as it is failing to meet basic obligations like paying civil servants in time.
In some areas, especially rural and farming communities, pupils walk for up to 20km to the nearest school, highlighting the critical nature of the need for an urgent improvement of the education infrastructure, which will allow fresh teacher graduates to find employment, and improve the country’s education standards.
“The infrastructure remains inadequate and for some pupils, it is unsafe and not conducive to quality learning,” Dokora told journalists last month.
The nature of the crisis in Zimbabwe is compounded by the allegations of looting, misappropriation of State’s resources, government policy inconsistencies, unnecessary political bickering and economic mismanagement, a situation that can only compromise government’s chances of improving the economy, leaving the ordinary citizens — like the recently graduated Nyadire students — victims of circumstances.