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Zimbabwe: Economy dominates polls agenda

As Zimbabwe heads for 2023 presidential elections, there are key things voters should watch out for in the social protection promises made by candidates, says the writer. File picture: Zinyange Auntony/AFP

As Zimbabwe heads for 2023 presidential elections, there are key things voters should watch out for in the social protection promises made by candidates, says the writer. File picture: Zinyange Auntony/AFP

Published Jun 5, 2022

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By Gift Dafuleya

Zimbabwe is heading for general elections next year amid a continuing macro-economic crisis. In the decade starting from 2001, the state-led economy started to show signs of strain.

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Unemployment reached 85%. Inflation, which was a staggering 79 000 000% in 2008, came down but has been rising in the past two years. The economic crisis has heightened the need for social protection to prevent hunger among poor households, complement the risk mitigation mechanisms of informal workers, and improve access to social services such as education, health and water.

It is highly unlikely that the formal economy will turn the tide soon to create formal employment and reduce the need to support food insecure households. In the 2018 presidential election, several candidates promised to provide social protection for citizens.

The governing party, the Zanu-PF, promised to create safety nets and enhance access to health and education services. Safety nets are also called social assistance and typically include cash and food transfers, public works, subsidies and fee waivers for education and health.

The Zanu-PF government’s safety net package includes cash transfers to 52 049 households, monthly maintenance allowances of food and or cash to 6 688 households and paltry tuition grants and examination fee subsidies for underprivileged students.

The opposition party, MDC Alliance (now Citizens Coalition for Change), promised to bolster social protection and reform the National Social Security Authority. Little-known opposition parties also made promises. Voters must judge candidates by the soundness of their promises.

There are a few key social protection measures to consider. Among them are social insurance, such as pension, sickness, maternity and unemployment benefits. These depend on contributions from formal economy workers and their employers. The coverage of the Harmonised Social Cash Transfers programme is limited to 52 049 households.

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So, it covers only 6% of the food insecure households. But more than 4 million Zimbabweans, out of a population of 15 million, are food insecure.

The flagship social assistance programme gives households between $20 to $50 (about R320 to R770) bimonthly, depending on household size.

Since inception in 2011, the programme has covered less than 20 districts. There are 59 districts in Zimbabwe and all have food insecure households. Then there’s social insurance which covers pensions and worker compensation. But this doesn’t cover the risks faced by most workers as it only applies to formal employment.

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Only 15% of Zimbabweans are employed in the formal economy while 85% work in the informal economy. It’s important to address two issues when it comes to social protection in Zimbabwe.

In a constrained macroeconomic environment such as Zimbabwe’s, funding social protection among other competing needs is about budget priorities more than it is an issue of sourcing new revenue.

Where there is high unemployment and food insecurity, it is socially and legally justified for the poor to depend on social assistance as it is their right, for which the government must be held accountable.

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* Dafuleya is a lecturer in economics at the University of Venda.

** This is an edited version of his article that was first published on theconversation.com

The Conversation

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