WORSENING economic conditions, coupled with growing unemployment as most Zimbabweans struggle to eke out a living in the informal sector are among the major reasons why this week’s shutdown flopped.
Zimbabweans, most of whom engage in small businesses for subsistence, did not heed calls for a shutdown this week.
It is a tough ask to expect a mother selling wares to raise money for her next meal to stay home and not fend for her family.
As well as those who engage in forex trading and other street deals, staying at home means loss of the day’s business. It could cost them rentals or food money.
For an economy which is highly informalised, asking anyone to stay at home is tantamount to inviting hunger to pounce on them.
Asking Zimbabweans to stay at home would mean those working at Mbare Musika in Harare or Emkambo in Bulawayo will not have income for the day.
Zimbabweans are navigating a precarious livelihood and the streets daily guarantee their next meal or ticket to stay longer in the city.
While those who called for the shutdown are correct in demanding that government act on the economic problems, other methods should be employed to achieve this objective.
Apart from the failure by the organisers to widely disseminate information about #shutdownzimbabwe, it is apparent that times have changed.
The strategies of labour unions and other forces failed to recognise that the economic structure and organisations has shifted.
With companies folding and industrial capacity dwindling, it means more retrenchments and jobless people.
According to the Harvard University Centre of African Studies, about 80% to 90% of Zimbabwe’s population is in the informal sector.
The country comes only second to Bolivia.
“Zimbabwe’s informal economy has been an important source of resilience over the past decades, as successive financial crises, the collapse of commercial agriculture, and de-industrialisation have forced workers out of formal employment,” reads a paper on the university site, titled Innovation and Inclusion: Policy priorities for Zimbabwe’s Informal Economy published in July 2021.
Realising this factor, that most Zimbabweans are scrounging for a living in a shadow economy, shutdowns may possibly not be the best way to pile pressure on the government to act.
It is clear things have changed from the 1998 food riots to successful strikes in the 90s.
The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) has considerably become weakened over the years due to a shrunken formal workforce.
Its representation has been weakened over the years and so is its power to mobilise.
In the past, the ZCTU would mobilise its chapters around the country, making shutdowns a success.
But the paltry workforce that the workers’ body attracted on May Day is testimony to both its failure to mobilise and the realities of shifting times.
It is imperative for pressure groups to come up with other strategies to mobilise Zimbabweans to speak out on the economic downturn that has destroyed livelihoods.
While discounting intimidation from the security forces, who maintained a heavy presence on the country’s roads leading into major cities, the state of the economy was a huge factor in this week’s flopped shutdown.
The state also pre-empted the protests by opening the transport sector to private players after a torrid week during which thousands of Harare residents were stranded without transport. One could argue that the “shutdown Zimbabwe” movement was largely successful as the state was quick to rectify the emotive transport issue.