Connect with us

Support The NewsHawks


The effects of poverty in Zimbabwe




HAVING previously discussed the levels of poverty in post-colonial Zimbabwe, this instalment will explore effects of poverty. The aim is to demonstrate some of the harms that have resulted from black-on-black injustices in Zimbabwe.

Many studies have shown a link between indicators of poverty and the risk of mental disorders (PatelI, & Kleinman, 2003).

There has been notable increase in mental health cases, particularly in the 1990s at a time when the Zimbabwe economy began to experience rapid decline. For instance, Bowden (2013) states that:

“This increase in mental health cases throughout the country, which individually can range anywhere from mild and increasingly common depression to high levels of uncontrollable anxiety and borderline manic episodes likely to be brought on by the likes of post-traumatic stress, is widely considered to be reflective of the current instability being endured by many Zimbabweans.”

The quote identifies a connection between mental health problems among Zimbabweans and hardships being experienced. This may be attributed to the fact that poverty makes society feel insecure and hopeless.

For PatelI, & Kleinman, (2003) factors such as insecurity, hopelessness, rapid social change and the risks of violence may explain the greater vulnerability of the poor to common diseases, for example, mental disorders.

The World Bank echoes the relationship between poverty and diseases (World Bank, 2000).

For instance, the World Bank study, named Voices of the Poor, set out to investigate the link between poverty and disease (World Bank, 2000). The study gathered views of more than 60 000 poor people across the world. It looked broadly at poverty, its determinants and consequences, and concluded that health and ill-health are the central concerns of those who were interviewed (World Bank, 2000).

The results of the 2000 World Bank study carries a meaning when contextualised from a Zimbabwean perspective. For instance, Zimbabwe was in 2008 blighted by a cholera outbreak in which over 4 000 people were estimated to have died (Mbiba, 2013).

Cholera is a bacterial infection caused by drinking contaminated water or eating food that has been in contact with contaminated water (United States Government, 2013).

In 2013, David Parirenyatwa, Zimbabwe’s then minister of Health and Child Care, stated that at least 440 children under the age of five died of diarrhoeal diseases (Mbiba, 2013).

“These cases are more prevalent in children aged five years and below and are a major cause of deaths in that age group. This year alone, over 48 000 cases and 440 deaths from common diarrhoea have been reported countrywide. The deaths reported have happened in health facilities with diarrhoea as the cause of death,” Parirenytwa said. “Dysentery has accounted to date 40 756 cases and 59 deaths while typhoid cases reported in 2013 were 1 475.”

Furthermore, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has reported that as of 1 December 2008, there was a total of 11 735 cholera cases with 484 deaths since August 2008, affecting all provinces in Zimbabwe (WHO, 2008).

However, Mbiba (2008) states that up to 4 000 Zimbabweans died of cholera while WHO (2008) observes a 4% overall fatality rate which however, rose to 20%–30% in remote rural areas.

Out of the total number of cases, 50% have been reported from Budiriro, a high-density suburb of the capital city, Harare. Beitbridge, a town bordering South Africa, has reported 26% of all cases.

Two additional areas have been affected: Chegutu (in Mashonaland West province) and Mvuma (in Midlands province) (WHO, 2013).

The section has attempted to identify risk factors of socio-economic disadvantage in the context of Zimbabwe. It has attempted to explore the increase of ill-health, and its connection with poverty in Zimbabwe.

Apart from the relationship between poverty and diseases, it has been shown that socio-economic disadvantage produces adverse effects such as insecurity and hopelessness within society.

What caused poverty in Zim?

This section explores four critical factors that may have led to the impoverishment of post-colonial Zimbabwe under the stewardship of President Mugabe. The first claim relates to the embracement of the World Bank’s Economic Structural Adjustment Programme.

The second relates to question of economic mismanagement which will include the looting of Marange Diamonds Mine Field estimated to be the biggest diamond field to be discovered this century. The third claim relates to the abolishment of property rights, followed by the legacy of colonialism. The section begins with an analysis of Zimbabwe’s Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (Esap).


Zimbabwe is among several developing countries that adopted Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (Esap) under the pretext of transforming and developing the country’s economy following the end of the Rhodesian bush war. Saunders (1996) details how Zimbabwe embraced Esap which may have inadvertently contributed to the creation of absolute poverty.

Saunders (1996) believes that Zimbabweans deserve apology over Esap, noting how society was stripped of many of the state functions such as education and health services through the economic programme.

Saunders (1997) blames Esap in the creation of poverty, arguing that the World Bank-inspired economic reform laid the foundation for biting poverty. It is noted that while Esap was introduced in the 1990s, its adverse consequences are beginning to be seen more now.

Kanji (1995 p39) develops this view:

“Since the initiation of Esap, there have been retrenchments in the agriculture, textile, clothing, leather and construction industries. Estimates of numbers retrenched since 1991 vary, particularly since government figures do not include seasonal and casual workers.”

From the quote, it can be argued that free market principles that come with Esap allow business to do as they please. They can retrench and hire as they want, without restraint from the government. This may be a source of social misery because workers are always at risk of being sacked.

In many cases, losing a job creates poverty, considering that many workers are usually bread winners. It may mean that a child would not be able to pay school fees and there is no-one to put food on the table. Consequently, absolute poverty is created.

According to Kanji (1995), by the end of 1993 up to 60 000 workers were retrenched from both public and private sectors.

This figure is corroborated by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions. By 1995, Esap had reduced civil service staff by 25% (Kanji, 1995).

With all this in mind, it can be argued that the poverty problem in Zimbabwe was triggered by Esap which allowed ruthless processes of economic deregulation. Standing (1991) is critical of an economic approach such as Esap, pointing out that as a result of deregulation, forms of labour security around the world have been eroded and conditions of work have deteriorated.

Standing (1991, p39) states that:

“Under Esap, a system of collective bargaining for wages and conditions has replaced government intervention in wage-setting except for farm workers and domestic workers. Wage rises, however, have been completely eroded by inflation”.

The quote reflects how living standards of workers who remained employed were eroded through less powers in bargaining for wages and other working conditions. This represents a serious depletion of workers’ rights to protect themselves against unscrupulous employers.

It reflects the vagaries of the processes of Esap. Henceforth, it can be argued that Esap imposes harsh economic measures in countries where it has been implemented. It deepens poverty and undermines social security, resulting in unsustainable means of life and suffering.

About the writer: Dr Admore Tshuma is a former Zimbabwean journalist, now an academic at the University of Bristol. He did his PhD in Social Policy at the University of Bristol’s School for Policy Studies. He previously worked at the University Centre of Southend as a programme director for the BSc (Hons) Psychology and Sociology course, in partnership with the University of Essex.

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *