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Poverty shreds human dignity

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WHAT is happening in Zimbabwe is heart-rending. Unlike during the hyperinflation of 2008 when shop shelves ran out of everything except salt and toilet paper, in today’s chronic high inflation the supermarkets are full of goods – but most people simply cannot afford the astronomical prices.

The poor – who now constitute the majority – can be observed forlornly staring at the sumptuous goodies on supermarket shelves while salivating helplessly in the vain hope of one day placing their hands on decent food. Pushing a large shopping trolley has become a status symbol in this country.

The World Bank defines  “extreme poverty” as living on less than US$1.90 per person per day. But the Bretton Woods institution must surely devise a new definition, in view of what the world is witnessing in countries like Zimbabwe.

The 2022 Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee (ZimVac) report has revealed astonishing levels of poverty in rural areas, with the average household in Matabeleland North surviving on shoestring expenditure of US$16 per month.

On the national front, the average household is surviving on US$27 expenditure per month. Comparatively, there has been a drastic decline in household expenditure this year compared to the corresponding period in 2021.

It must trouble the conscience of every Zimbabwean that there are families surviving on monthly expenditure as low as US$16. It works out to US$0.53 per household per day – and remember a family may have up to 10 members.

Although the poverty picture is generally dire countrywide, Matabeleland North seems overly vulnerable. The ZimVac report reveals that 92% of households in Hwange district consume poor diets. This is almost the entire population. The district is home to Victoria Falls, the world’s largest waterfall; Hwange National Park, which boasts the highest diversity of mammals of any national park in the world; and vast coal, timber and electricity resources. Clearly, the locals are not benefitting.

Poverty is running riot in Zimbabwe. The report shows the average household monthly income has decreased from US$75 to US$57. In Matabeleland North, it is US$38. Some propagandists are already desperately attempting to rubbish the new report, but they will not fool anyone. ZimVac is a consortium of government, donors, UN agencies, non-governmental organisations and academia. The government is fully represented in the livelihoods surveys and the methodology is a settled matter.

The extreme poverty in our communities is real.

Poverty is dehumanising; it strips you of dignity. Most people are not scrounging for freebies. Not at all. They want to work for themselves, earn a decent living and look after their families.

Policymakers have a responsibility to get out of their ivory towers and go to the grassroots. That is the only way they can be responsive to the needs of the long-suffering masses.

To break the intergenerational cycle of penury, society must address the effective  and efficient delivery of education, health and other social services.

These challenges require specific interventions.

Zimbabwe cannot expect to re-invent the wheel. From the experiences of East Asia and Latin America in the last few decades, we have learnt that the most sustainable strategy for tackling poverty is the stimulation of economic growth.

And when we talk about economic growth we are not referring to the theoretical postulations which self-serving politicians are fond of spouting. The economic growth must be organic, people-centred and equitable. It has to create opportunities for ordinary citizens, catapulting entire communities into mainstream economic activity.

At the governance level, one tool for achieving this is devolution. Devolution is a constitutional imperative. Sadly, the Zanu PF government is afraid of people-power and has subverted devolution. Taxpayer funds meant for devolution are now at the mercy of unaccountable politicians. We cannot tackle poverty with this mindset.

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