Guest Column: Fr Oskar Wermter SJ
I WAS having a swim on a scorching day under a brilliant sun in our neighbour’s swimming pool when a girl-student from a nearby university came to have a look. She seemed to be envious of me enjoying the cooling pool. Was she even able to swim? I asked, I also wanted to know what she was studying at the University of Zimbabwe? She was a third year economics student, she said, about to do her final examination.
I congratulated her on her choice of subject, adding that we needed good economists more than political scientists or lawyers. “Will you be able to sort out the mess our economy is in?” I asked. “Oh, that is not a matter of sheer mechanics. That needs a spiritual conversion. But first I need a job,” she replied.
I was surprised. She sounded like a dedicated disciple of the local university chaplain. The people running our economy seem to be “walking in the valley of darkness”, and needed some biblical light to shine on them. When we are discussing our economy, I tend to say our greatest fault in economic matters is that leaders spend more than is budgeted for by government. One cannot spend more than they have. It just cannot be done.
We need honesty and openness. We have to get rid of greed and avarice. We have to act in solidarity and avoid spending more than we generate as a country. The troubles of my brother are also my troubles. Our economy must support us all. It is meant to serve the common good and to help all.
A man I might have known many years ago phoned me to ask for a sizable sum of money; very much more than I had in my pocket. In desperation, we go and beg. That will not get us out the deep ditch into which we fall occasionally.
There are countless friends out of work. We cannot dish out money to all of them. But we can share ideas and fresh thinking. An unemployed insurance broker is now growing vegetables for a supermarket. Somebody else was astonished to see so many plastic bottles and flattened beer cans on the road; he started collecting them with his children and some friends. He now runs a re-cycling company .
Many give up on Zimbabwe and dream of prosperity never seen before; which they hope to find beyond the Limpopo and even oceans. But do we not need their skills and expertise here at home? Should we not become creative and inventive ourselves here on the local labour market?
Our skills and expertise are not just our private property. They belong to all of us. Perhaps you have learnt a trade in a foreign country. Will you come back and share your privileged position on the labour market with your brothers and sisters at home?
That young woman at the swimming pool took a very spiritual view of the economy. What did she mean? There are medical people or engineers who have qualified overseas. They have come back to serve their own people at home. That is the right spirit!
There are far too many school leavers without access to the world of work. Unemployment is like a cancer that eats into me. Creating jobs and working opportunities is a service of charity and justice. It liberates youngsters who feel rejected and useless. If we can receive them into this working world, we heal their feeling of not being wanted or able to contribute to the needs of the country. It gives some young men and women a place in society and self-confidence. Making them feeling welcome in this harsh world is a spirit of friendship and solidarity at work in us.
Work is not a curse, as we are told by some misguided prophets. It is companionship with our neighbours, brothers and sisters. It is a gift and light on our path. Being offered a work place is an act of liberation.
Fr Oskar Wermter sj is a social commentator. He writes in his personal capacity.