‘Zimbabwe’s Education System Is A Deadly Human Conveyor Belt Into An Ailing Economy’

AS an educationist with extensive teaching experience at university level, I feel particularly saddened that the young people who are graduating in their thousands every year from all manner of colleges in the country are unable to obtain formal employment through which they can put their skills to use in assisting with the development of the country.

Zimbabwe is churning out no less than ten thousand graduates every year from its many universities and colleges. Ordinarily, I should be the first to express excitement that the fruits of my colleagues’ labour from several state and private universities, academic and agricultural colleges -are declaring ‘dividends’. With thousands of young people pouring out with respectable qualifications from scores of institutions, this should be a source of unrestrained joy and celebration.

But alas, this is a tragedy in the making. Back then, when our predecessors and us ‘qualified’ from any college, it was almost as if our parents and guardians were guaranteed a member of the the family who would join the working and/or professional classes. It was a case of which job, rather than when, one would be employed. The last year of university or college, amidst the anxiety of final examinations, would be buzzing with anticipation of career advisors, apprenticeship scouts and teaching practice supervisors. My detractors – and they are many – may offer a feeble defence that in the seventies and early eighties, we blacks had limited career choices, but my point is that whatever career trajectory one was on, they would land in a job.

Listen to the government media praising ruling party bigwigs for ‘capping thousands of graduates’;  claiming that the government’s investment in education infrastructure has ‘yielded unprecedented results’. You would think our young people would find employment ‘the day after graduation’. It is nothing like that at all. What we end up with is a massive human conveyor belt ‘dropping’ thousands of young people into the hopeless bottomless pit of unemployment already congested with experienced retrenchees.

How have we gotten ourselves into this untenable situation? Let me put this in context as you set aside the propaganda of sanctions and ‘global depression’ and focus on basics. Industry and commerce are experiencing an exponential contraction with thousands of companies closing down every year. Parastatals are bedeviled with corruption and bad corporate governance. Many are insolvent or on the brink of insolvency. Every provincial capital  in Zimbabwe– from Mutare to Masvingo to Harare to Lupane, etc – has one form of university or another. Some even have two. There is probably a technical or teachers training college every two hundred kilometers in Zimbabwe. Never mind the ‘professional colleges’ dotted all over the country.

Only last month, UZ Vice Chancellor Professor Levi Nyagura ‘presided’ over the conferring of degrees to three thousand five hundred students. He gloated: “ … we’ve 2,812 graduates getting their first degrees, 602 graduates receiving masters’ degrees, 18 receiving master of philosophy degrees, and we also have 14 graduates who will be receiving their doctor of philosophy degrees.”  And this ritual has repeated itself for the past ten years – from one university. The most logical calculation is that over a period of five years, UZ has churned out not less than twenty thousand graduates. Even if it costs $5 000 to create one job, would we not require no less than one hundred million dollars over the same period to accommodate each graduate?

By the time one considers other colleges, you realise that the $500 000 000 of ‘foreign direct investment inquiries’ that pass through the Zimbabwe Investment Centre, if they yielded anything, could only employ UZ graduates.

Reality check one is that with Zimbabwe’s productive capacity operating at thirty six percent, our graduates can only resort to vending, sell cell phone cards, second hand clothes or spend the day as public transport touts being ‘snooker boys’ in between or escape to the diaspora. The cruel tragedy of it all is that even Joice Mujuru who was conferred with a doctorate in 2014 is now technically unemployed!

If you do your maths right and believe that more than sixty percent of our population (8-9 million) is of school going age; if a mere one third of these (three million) are seeking employment at any one time but fail to secure a placement, all it needs is a spark of political dissent  and the country is swallowed by a fireball. It is from this pool of ‘ les desperados’ that one finds border jumpers, makorokozas, hawkers, vendors, petty criminals, junkies and targets of political party abuse.  In the thirteen or so universities dotted around the country, there is an annual 10 000-conveyor belt drop off and an ailing economy like ours has no hope in hell of absorbing them.

We in the MDC, we want to instill a sense of hope among the thousands of young Zimbabweans. When a nation loses youthful enthusiasm to despair, it is merely preparing an army of agitated malcontents. Thus, our plan is to ensure that all young people fully participate in the algorithm of national governance, so they choose leaders whose behavior and vision resonates with their needs; leaders with whom they share aspirations and can identify with, not tired and spent ninety-year old men. This is why it is critical for these young people to be registered voters. Waiting for elections to be the platform for Zanu PF benevolence is not participation but exploitation. It is only policies that create wealth – not simplistic distributive insanity – that will keep these young people in the bracket of working class splendor.

Being involved directly in local and national governance allows them to debate and decide on sustainable political alternatives. MDC does not just promise two million jobs and indigenisation. Propaganda and rhetoric cannot put mortar to brick. We have to engage directly with regional, continental and international investors to persuade them that we have the human capital for toll manufacturing and beneficiation. We have to argue for college curricula that moulds young people into creative geniuses who can fend for themselves outside the corporate comfort zone. MDC has to be a platform where young people can be elevated to brandish their skills and brag about their capacity. But unless they participate, it almost impossible to know where to find them.

MDC is not yet in government, but today, this Friday, I want to share the grief of and mourn with the parents of thousands of college graduates whose future has been shattered against the jagged corals of Zanu PF governance incompetence. We cannot keep losing these children to South Africa, Botswana and England. We do not know what desperation drives them to there. It is even more dangerous for the ruling party when these young people come back to the country, angry and no longer in a mood for negotiation. For MDC, it is now an opportunity to work with them and change things, permanently.  by Welshman Ncube

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