Recently, I met a colleague who asked why most Zimbabweans in the international community are good at what they do and do not fight against their authorities. It may be indeed an over-generalisation to suggest that every Zimbabwean is an excellent employee.
By Tapiwa Gomo
However, it is true that most of those, especially in the international community, do put extra effort to be among the best achievers. It is also a common phenomenon here in South Africa, where most of those in the middle management, technicians and some lower level colleagues are known for getting the job done.
There can be several explanations to that. It could be that we love what we do and do it whole-heartedly. It may also be that we come from a country with one of the highest unemployment rates and, therefore, when we get a job, we try our best to ensure that we do not lose it or leave it unless we find something better. Or it is just a work ethic inculcated within us.
The second part of my colleague’s question can be linked to some of the reasons above or it could be an outcome of many years of oppression.
May be we have adapted and internalised oppression unknowingly and involuntarily to the extent that we do not question authority everywhere we go. This is subject to debate.
Nonetheless, if people from outside appreciate the Zimbabwean work ethic, then what can stop us from using dedicated skilled labour, as one of the key external investor attractions?
Statistics of our literacy levels are already a plus, though investors are less interested in a population’s ability to read, write and count, but how that population can apply these to their skills and contribute towards increased productivity.
Skilled and committed labour drives productivity, profits and growth. It is at the centre of every successful economic growth model. China delivered labour and a good model to supply natural resources to attract the external investors, which is one of the reasons China is what it is today. Investors are not humanitarians.
They are after profits which are often achieved through affordable labour costs and cheaper access to raw material plus a good domestic market to back up international market. A conducive business environment would be a big plus. How a country such as Zimbabwe with abundant natural resources and a highly skilled labour fails to extricate itself from the trappings of poverty remains the mystery of our time.
Our neighbour, South Africa, despite a solid economy mainly sustained by minerals, is still struggling to get it right on the labour front.
They are yet to get rid of remnants of the apartheid system, whose agenda was to eliminate black South Africans from playing a role in the economy and remain on the sidelines.
This is why for the better part of the 20th century, and the 21st century, successive governments have been under pressure to ensure a constant supply of foreign labour, while strengthening their own domestic labour market.
As we move forward as a country, South Africa presents two critical opportunities. The first one is to continue investing in our education, so we can prop up the South African economy with skilled labour and then we only benefit from remittances which is currently the case.
The second one is to market labour as an attraction to the South African investors. But they will need assurance of political stability and protection of their properties. The 2000 land reform is still fresh in their minds.
This can be done knowing that the appetite for education in South Africa still requires some stimulation. Despite the government of South Africa spending 20% of its national budget on education, over 5% of their gross domestic product — the policy is far from achieving results.
This policy ensures free education in 60% of the schools as part of ensuring that every child has access to education, but only less than half the pupils who enter the education system complete high school. That also means less students enrol at their universities which are flooded by foreign students and part of whom are absorbed into the system upon completing their education to cover the labour gap.
This has not only affected the labour market but somewhat growth and productivity. In 2011, more than 15 million South Africans were receiving State welfare grants and that was an increase from 3,5 million in a decade. During the same period, only over one third of that number (5,9 million people) were registered tax payers plus nearly two million businesses.
The government spending has crowded out private sector investment mainly to meet the demands of the voters in their different demographics. For those who manage to acquire skills some of their time is spend attending to industrial action. For example, in 2011 alone, nearly 30 million workers’ days were lost to industrial action and wage demands.
Just like Zanu PF, the African National Congress (ANC) has been captured by its historical foundation as a socialist party. The efficacy of socialism presumes a well-functioning economy to which everyone must have access to free services.
The ANC was elected by a racially marginalised people, whose wish is to be part of the economic game, therefore, any policy that fails to speak to redistributive demands will suffer political ramifications. The current situation requires a policy shift, but that change comes at a huge political cost.
For instance, the South African government’s policy of job retention, by making it complicated to release non-productive workers, has as negative impact on the economy.
The government cannot shift to pro-business policies without evoking labour movements’ ire — who remain the main stakeholder in the political dynamics in South Africa.
Tapiwa Gomo is a development consultant based in Pretoria, South Africa