HARARE, July 29 (The Source) – Images of gowned graduates vending on Harare’s streets have gone viral on social media, highlighting a jobs crisis that starkly contrasts with President Robert Mugabe’s 2013 election promise to deliver more than two million jobs by 2018.
Unemployed graduates, whose plans for a protest march in Harare on August 3 hang in doubt after the police refused to sanction it, have since erupted in seemingly spontaneous dissent.
Images of graduates selling mobile phone airtime and assorted goods on Harare’s crowded pavements have gripped public attention in a country that has seen a series of protests in the past few months over Mugabe’s handling of Zimbabwe’s economy, which is slowly sliding back into recession.
After a decade-long economic crisis, during which GDP shrunk by as much as 40 percent according to official figures and hyperinflation reached an eye-popping 500 billion percent by December 2008, Zimbabwe’s economic reprieve which saw an average growth of 7 percent between 2009 and 2012 has since come off following Mugabe’s disputed re-election in 2013.
According to the official statistics agency, Zimbabwe’s unemployment rate stands at 11.3 percent, but independent analysts hotly dispute the figure – which captures huge swathes of the informal and communal farming sectors.
Independent analysts say Zimbabwe’s jobless rate is northwards of 90 percent.
With an estimated 300,000 graduates walking out of Zimbabwe’s 16 universities and extensive technical college network annually, the country’s floundering economy, starved of investment and job creation, can scarcely absorb enough young job seekers.
Analysts blame Mugabe’s indigenisation policy — which ironically formed the basis of his ZANU-PF’s other-worldly job creation target of 2 million — for scaring away investors who are critical in job creation.
The jobless graduates, through the Zimbabwe Coalition of Unemployed Graduates, plan to present a petition to the Parliament of Zimbabwe on August 3, highlighting their dissatisfaction with the state of the economy. However, the police, who have violently cracked down on protests by vendors and urban transport crews in recent weeks, have adviced the graduates “to find other avenues” to channel their protest.
“This office is…discouraging the issue of marching in the central business district as it interrupts the smooth flow of both human and vehicular traffic,” Newbert Saunyama, the top police officer in Harare central district, wrote to the graduates’ representative body on July 25, in response to their notice of intention to march.
“We, however, encourage you to pursue other avenues to submit your petition to the relevant authorities rather than engaging in marching.”
Zimbabwe’s stringent public order laws make the expression of public dissent difficult and the police frequently use force to clamp down on demonstrations.
However, Zimbabweans emboldened by the deteriorating economic situation have tested the limits of the law in recent months, with social movements drawn from churches, urban transporters, unemployed youths and vendors successfully calling for a national shutdown that paralysed businesses and cost the economy an estimated $10 million on July 6, the biggest protest against Mugabe in about a decade.
On Friday, a group of graduates in academic apparel bemused shoppers in Harare’s First Street mall as they milled around and played mini-football, all to illustrate unwanted indolence.
“We have gone through school, passed with good grades, but cannot find jobs. All we want are decent jobs and opportunities to start businesses. We are not lazy, we just lack opportunities. By wearing our gowns, we are not insulting anyone, we just want jobs,” an unnamed member of the group having a kick-about said in an impromptu address to a sizeable group of on-lookers held spell-bound by the novel protest.