While youth unemployment rates in many sub-Saharans countries hover around 60 percent, the figure in Zimbabwe so high that many of the country's youth find themselves crossing the border to neighbouring countries such as South Africa, Botswana, and Namibia in search of a better life. It is estimated that about two million Zimbabweans now live in South Africa. But in the face of those surging unemployment rates a rare breed of entrepreneurs is emerging who have taken it upon themselves to juggle books with a splash of water and a taste of beef to live a life worth comparing to their European counterparts. But how do these Zimbabweans combat youth unemployment? How do they survive in a declining labour market?
While the government continues with its efforts to curb high unemployment rates, enterprising youngsters are taking it upon themselves to create their own sources of wealth by starting successful small businesses.
One of the most popular income catalysts in Bulawayo is the car wash business, which virtually thrives on little capital.
When Andrew Mathe matriculated in 2007, his hopes of pursuing his education further halted after he failed to secure funds to enroll at a tertiary institution. Raised by a single parent, his house keeper mother, Mathe knew that he had to jump start his journey to adulthood by earning money to look after his ageing mother and young siblings.
“It is common to find many young men fending for their families instead of pursuing their studies. Reasons for this trend vary, but in my situation, poverty literally forced me to find a sustainable source of income. After many months of job hunting and getting turned down, I survived on menial jobs, and it really hurt when I would go many weeks without finding even low level work”, he recalled.
Mathe eventually realised that he could resort to selling fruit on the street between his menial jobs, and that is how his small car wash business was born.
“I started off by selling fruits and cigarettes until I raised enough money to buy my equipment. It was such a challenge, because I had to put my old habits on hold in order to save money. I deprived myself of new clothes, shoes, going out with friends, etc., but today I am very grateful,” testified Mathe, who makes enough money from his car wash business to look after his mother and send his siblings to school.
“It is disgusting to learn that our country is still lagging behind in entrepreneurship. It is self-evident that a country that has no regard for entrepreneurship is doomed to failure. Entrepreneurship can reduce poverty and bring about sustained growth in Zimbabwe,” he said.
Selling various wares in the streets has also become another source of livelihood amongst various young people in Zimbabwe. Though several of them are unlicensed and often engage in running battles with the council police, this is the only source of financial hope that they have.
Their wares range from cellphone airtime, cellphone covers, fruits and vegetables to edible snacks such as sweets, chewing gum and chips. Some even sell second hand clothes and pirated DVD discs.
Twenty-two-year-old Petros Shambarume, who sells airtime and other cellphone accessories on a street in Bulawayo, divulged that he resorted to being a street vendor after failing to secure a job.
“I started selling on this street corner after I finished school some two years back. Unfortunately, my results weren’t up to standard and I had to look for a job in order to bring home something. It isn’t easy standing on the streets all day; but hey, one has to be clever otherwise you will die of hunger. Many young people spend their time just sitting at home because they have failed to get any sort of work. I would just say they are lazy. If you really want money, then you have to come up with some means of making that money without committing a crime,” said Shambarume, who one day dreams of becoming a cross border truck driver.
While Andrew Mathe moved from selling on the streets to starting his car wash business, Shambarume remains hopeful of securing a driver’s license, which will enable him to give another go at the formal employment market.
Zimbabwean women, just like women everywhere, also love looking good; and some enterprising young ladies have taken advantage of this by setting up flea market stalls that sell hair weaves, makeup kits, and other such accessories. Most of the stuff that they sell is imported from neighbouring South Africa.
The weakening Rand has given these women a humdinger of a bargain by ordering their stock with the Rand and selling it for a higher price with US dollars.
Flea markets are popular shopping ‘gems’ in Zimbabwe, because unlike department stores, they give customers a chance to negotiate prices.
Zimbabwe abandoned its local currency some years back and is currently using a multi-currency system that includes the South African Rand, Botswana Pula, British Sterling Pound and the always popular American Dollar.
“The falling Rand has worked to our advantage as cross border dealers because most of our customers buy using the Dollar. Business has really been booming for me since late last year. I used to do menial jobs in Botswana, but I saved up my money so I could do better,” said one hair weave vendor who requested anonymity.
One can only hope that Zimbabwe’s young emerging business workaholics can take the country’s ailing economy to a turning point. After all, business is what the doctor ordered.
All your donations will be used to pay the magazine’s journalists and to support the ongoing costs of maintaining the site.