HomeOpinion & AnalysisColumnistsFr Oskar Wermter Sj: No work? Ridiculous!

Fr Oskar Wermter Sj: No work? Ridiculous!


There is no work for us, young people say. That is not true. There is plenty of work to do.

There is refuse to be collected. Sewage pipes need to be repaired.

We need water in our houses and flats. Our streets are badly potholed. Street lights, long dead, hanging at crazy angles, are about to drop down.

No work? Ridiculous! A whole country needs to be rebuilt. Don’t mix up work with formal employment.

People do not go where there is work to be done.

They go where the money is. That is not the same thing.

They go where there is wealth to benefit from, wealth which other people have produced.

Workers from less developed regions go to developed regions, from rural to urban areas, from Zimbabwe (and many other countries) to South Africa, from Africa to Europe, from Asia to America etc.

They leave their home villages which need water, electricity, health care, a school and agricultural production and go where these things exist already.

Can’t we reverse this trend? Can’t we make people move in the opposite direction? From the bright lights to the dark spots that still need lights and enlightenment?

There are some people who try to do that, eg young people from industrialised countries who come to “develop” us here.

Their organisations pay high salaries, and employment in a non-governmental organisation (NGO) is much sought after.

A new class of NGO employees has sprung up: they live off the fat of the land, not our land, but somebody else’s far away.

They live in very artificial prosperity, a purely imported one, not one produced here.

“We are engaged in help for self-help,” is how they explain themselves. And their story is: “If you give people fish to eat, they will be hungry again tomorrow. But if you give them fishing rods they will feed themselves for many days to come.”

The trouble is, more often than not, people burn the fishing rods to cook their sadza with, they eat the seeds they got for sowing, they consume the starting capital, and tomorrow they come again and ask for more, not having produced anything.

The enthusiastic “developers” from abroad and their local colleagues show people how to run “income-generating projects”.

But they themselves do not generate their own income that way. These “experts” remain dependent on their generous salaries from “donors”.

The crucial question is this: When our young friends go back to their home countries, what will they leave behind?

Have they jump-started something that is now running by itself even without them?

Their local colleagues will leave too if those generous salaries dry up since they are now middle-class and quite demanding in their lifestyles.

Is the chicken project still producing meat and eggs? Or did it collapse the moment the tap spouting “starting capital” was turned off?

People go where the wealth is. They do not bother to create new wealth for themselves with their own hands and brains.

Especially the “educated elites” — instead of doing serious farming and starting industries to produce the necessary implements and create jobs — fight over the diamonds of Chiadzwa and other assets they just want to pick up.

They are after instant wealth instead of long-term production.

I recently had to provide youngsters with some means of making a living.

They were not interested in making things needed by people at a modest profit.

They opted for buying and selling old clothes, hoping to make a “fast buck”. It will not last.

We need a culture of craftsmanship, of people who take pride in a well-made table or chair, door or cupboard.

Africa is rich in mineral resources. We sell the minerals for instant profit. Only when we process the minerals will we add value to them by creating lasting prosperity.

So many have obtained diplomas and certificates that qualify them for non-existent jobs.

An unqualified motor mechanic I know repairs “kombis”. He has to be on call all the time, day or night — time is precious for the drivers. It is hard work for the mechanic, but it actually supports his family.

There are old widows with lots of orphaned grandchildren to look after.

There are handicapped people unable to provide for themselves.

There are old foreign workers, remnants of the colonial labour migration system, unable to go home, abandoned even by their own children who have vanished somewhere between Harare and Cape Town.

Charity keeps them alive with regular food rations.
But strong and healthy adults should be given work tools rather than hand-outs.

Unfortunately we have spoiled some of them.

They have become addicts to free gifts. I used to think: “If I help this poor woman for a while with food, some clothes, pay her rent, she will get on her feet and provide once more for herself and her family.”

Far from it. She keeps coming and continues begging.

She is a victim of a disease called “dependency” (Vincent Kahiya wrote about it in NewsDay, June 30 2011). “You are my father,” she says. She has become infantile.

The good news is that countless women do manage to produce things, sell them and make a living.

A seamstress I met produces children’s floppy hats as worn in schools. Her living room is a mini-factory.

She does not rely on some well-to-do uncle overseas, the lottery, horse betting or the ancestral spirits.

She relies on her own two hands and her business sense — knowing what is needed where and for how much.

Somebody said recently: If it weren’t for Africa’s women, Africa would be long dead.

I looked this morning at a list of work tools a group of jobless men is trying to find to start their own carpentry shop.

If they become productive and get even those troublesome young party thugs to work and earn their living, then there is hope.

Fr Oskar Wermter SJ is a social commentator

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