In Shona, there is an adage, “kuseka nhamo serugare” – loosely translated means, circumstances that become so intolerable such that one ends up just laughing out of hopelessness.
That is precisely what I did when I laid eyes on the latest government offer for civil servants.
I simply laughed.
Not because there was anything particularly funny – but, could not believe the Zimbabwe regime’s audacity and arrogance in making such an insulting and shameless pronouncement to its hard-pressed workforce that has been wallowing in poverty for years, and simply clamoring for a decent and dignified livelihood.
Here we have an employer that has no qualms defrauding and prejudicing its workers – and, quite frankly the entire population, save for those in power – their hard-earned salaries, which had been pegged to the United States Dollar (USD), through the ill-concieved and ill-fated reintroduction of an unstable local currency in 2019.
As such, a teacher who had been receiving US$540 per month, found himself receiving ZW$540 – yet, the local currency finding itself on a dizzying freefall that has never stopped, and shows no signs of stopping any time soon – meaning that, the salary is no longer worth the payslip on which it is printed.
Currently – in spite of supposed “increments” announced by the government over the past three years – an average teacher is getting around ZW$21,000 (which is about US$100 at the commonly used unofficial exchange rate)…clearly a far cry from the US$540, which they were contractually entitled to earning.
Let us not forget that teachers, and all other civil servants, have never asked for any salary “increment” – although, they certainly deserve one, as the US$540 they are demanding is still well below what others of the same profession are earning in the southern African region – but, merely demand what was pertaining before they were prejudiced by the government’s reintroduction of a virtual useless local currency, which has been depreciating at an alarming rate.
Therefore, when today I set my eyes on the latest announcement by the government, I was shocked to the point of laughing!
Surely, what is the logic behind offering civil servants US$175 and ZW$13,000 per month!
Even a grade three pupil can tell his teacher that, “Ma’am, you have been duped! And, duped big time!”.
If finance minister, Mthuli Ncube, is to be taken seriously, he claimed that the government had “increased” civil servants salaries by 20% – meaning that, someone earning ZW$21,000 will get a measly additional ZW$4,200.
However, there is a catch!
From that amount, the government will then take away an equivalent of US$175, and award that as hard currency – leaving a teacher with ZW$13,000 in local currency.
To add insult to an already painful and bleeding injury – Zimbabwe authorities are busy building castles in the air, by promising such non-monetary incentives as 34,000 houses for civil servants (constructed over a period of five years), duty-free importation of motor vehicles, housing loans, and availing of transport to ferry them to and from work.
Well, for starters, when has the government of Zimbabwe ever fulfilled its promises?
Are not these the same folks who promised to build 1.5 million houses between 2018 and 2023 – and, with only one year to go, would they care telling us how many have been constructed so far!
When it comes to duty-free motor vehicle importation – from where are these poverty-stricken civil servants expected to find money to purchase these cars, in the first place?
Furthermore, enticing an already economically suffering people to fall into debt is the most cruel and disingenuous thing those in power can ever do – with this planned housing loan scheme.
My father was a teacher, and mother a nurse – and, I know very well that, at some point these hardworking professionals were once well-renumerated – such that, both my parents bought their own suburban houses (one in Redcliff, and another in Masasa Park in Kwekwe), on top of living a relatively comfortable life, could buy cars of their choosing, with me attending a good school.
Teachers and nurses used to be very respected members of the community, who were held in such high regard.
However today, the government wants to reduce its own employees into vagabonds and paupers – who even need to be offered transportation to work, or house handouts – since they can no longer afford to pay rent for a few rooms, and pay for ZUPCO buses.
What point is there in a government house – if that promise, by some miracle, ever came to pass – when one can not hold title to that property?
Even under Rhodesia, I am quite sure teachers and nurses had a much better deal than today – since, way back in 1964 my mother earned £18, which afforded the family a decent livelihood… including her first three cars before independence (a Vauxhall Victor, Sunbeam Rapier, and Opel Cadet).
She did not need a loan from anyone, nor government houses!
That is why even today, when she is stopped at a police checkpoint – the officers are always amazed to discover her driver’s licence was issued in the 1970s!
Why would a nurse today hurry to get her licence, when she has no hope, whatsoever, of ever affording a car of her own?
There is only one message I would want to give our ruling elite in Zimbabwe – give our civil servants what they deserve, and quit playing games!
© Tendai Ruben Mbofana is a social justice activist, writer, and social commentator. Please feel free to contact him on WhatsApp/Call: +263715667700 / +263782283975, or Calls Only: +263788897936 / +263733399640, or email: email@example.com