Ask a Zimbabwean how they are and the response you are likely to get is “struggling but surviving.”
Surviving is the key word here and leads to the question: how are Zimbabweans surviving in light of the economic hardships and rising inflation where incomes have been eroded?
How do people manage to pay rentals, pay school fees, buy groceries, transport themselves to work everyday and are not particularly dependent on government support?
Is it a direct hand of God, are miracles happening everyday or is everyone involved in corrupt dealings and breaking the law to make ends meet in a country brought down by economic mismanagement?
Life has grown tougher for the ordinary person, some who have had to cut down on meals to one per day, yet for some they seem to be doing well, if the latest vehicles – Lamborghinis imported into the country is anything to go by.
This is the dichotomy of Zimbabwe – those who have plenty, which paints a wrong picture of whole country and those who have nothing.
However, most believe Zimbabweans are hardworking people who are able to make ends meet through entrepreneurship and innovation, where virtually everyone has become an economist for their sustainability.
Almost everyone now has a ‘side hustle’ out of formal work, where people either grow poultry, sell second hand clothes, or become forex dealers.
Economics lecturer, Dr Felix Chari, said that since the Zimbabwean economy was highly informalised, with more than 90 percent unemployed, people were solely surviving on informal deals.
“Those who are formally employed also engage in these informal deals to supplement their salaries. But take note, it’s not like it is working for them. They are living from hand to mouth,” he said.
Incomes are scarce and a lot of juggling is taking place within most households but somehow people manage to prioritise.
“People are not seated at home moaning but they wake up every day, go to the streets and make money somehow. It is clear the country is highly informalised,” concurred social analyst, Thomas Sithole.
He said diaspora remittances were also sustaining many local families, especially from South Africa where relatives always send groceries back home.
“Quite a significant number of Zimbabwean households have relatives in the Diaspora who send them money and much of that forex in circulation comes from outside,” But for those who do not have relatives outside, they are finding the going tough, especially if they are not generating income or receiving any foreign currency.”
A survey on the streets shows citizens are involved in different forms of entrepreneurship to survive.
They offer various services and products while others bring goods from outside the country for resale.
Sithole adds that social capital has also helped Zimbabwe through hardships, where people come together to assist one another.
“In a way this creates an environment where people can also be assisted in future,” he said.
Others, however, have turned to religion and other spiritual alternatives, for solutions to their problems.
“Those who believe in traditional gods will go there, those who believe in God – Christians and those who go to church will continue doing so. But it is unfortunate that growth of some churches comes at their expense as it is the people who contribute to the sometimes obscene wealth that we have seen in some of the modern day pastors,” said an observer Mandla Tshuma.
He added that there are some pastors who have found a niche through the gospel and this is reflective in the success of their churches.
Archbishop of the Bulawayo Archdiocese, Alex Thomas argued that numbers in these modern churches were going down as they were asking for money from people who did not have it either.
“Yes, people do go to church for prayer to end their frustration, some for solace, spiritual or emotional comfort and when they are singing or praying, they can forget their challenges. People are desperately flocking into church hoping a miracle will happen but we don’t know how many miracles are happening,” he said.
The archbishop predicted that Zimbabwe was heading for more economic struggles, inviting all sorts of poverty.
“Maybe some people have hidden incomes somewhere but ordinary people, the rural folk it is tough. People have really gone into severe austerity measures, some have accrued debts, borrowing here and there, some end up selling livestock and chickens.
“I am really scared that our social fabric is breaking up. There are a lot of divorce rates, some people are afraid and refusing to be married or enter into relationships because it’s unaffordable. Children are dropping out of school, infrastructure wise we are coming down and not moving forward.”
The archbishop advised that the situation could only change if people turned to the ‘old way of doing things,’ which was honesty and sincerity.
Advocacy officer at Transparency International Zimbabwe, Njabulo Moyo, said in order to survive, people were motivated to find whatever niche to exploit.
But he did not rule that one’s niche could be illegal such as pirating taxis or using one’s private car to ply certain routes and even selling information to desperate people.
“Look at the Zimbabwean economy now underpinned by the illegal forex trade and increase of money changers. This is not a secret, as government sort of liberalised the concept of a willing buyer, willing seller, which somehow legitimises the activity,” Moyo noted.
He gave an example of the Vuzu parties, which were a form of business to some unscrupulous individuals.
“Someone saw a niche in selling drugs to teenagers. I’m not justifying crime but this is how people are surviving. Some rather sacrifice the future of young people to make a living,” he said.
Since there are no formal opportunities, some graduates have put aside their degrees and qualifications to enter the informal market too.
“There is a demand for passports, driving licenses, residential stands, university places, nursing places and in hotel and catering but no new institutions to match the number of graduates. All one has to do is supply the demand needed,” said the TIZ officer.
However, at the end of the day, there are genuine Zimbabweans out there, real hustlers, men and women who spend hours toiling, trying to make sure their families survive, without necessarily taking advantage of the next person.