Is anyone working at all in Zimbabwe?


I walked into a hardware shop the other day wanting to buy a kitchen top board. The two assistants, who were chatting to each other, looked at me as if I was a zombie. No greeting. Nothing. Just stared at me as if I was intruding into their conversation and carried on. It was only when I asked them whether they had the board I wanted that one of them replied, almost absent mindedly that they did not. They only sold what I could see for myself.

I asked myself, did these workers really expect a salary or wage at the end of the month? Where did they think their salaries came from when they treated customers like this? But I knew they were not alone.

The serving culture has died in Zimbabwe. Workers want to be paid but not to work. If you want service, if you want to be treated like a king, go to the informal sector. They will greet you even before you enter the door. They know where their money comes from- the customer- and they will go to any length to serve and please the customer.

I was reminded of this incident when I learnt that the government had failed to pay civil servants on time. It had no money. Several questions popped into my head. Everyone knows that the government has no money but everyone expects to be paid on time. It is their right. But the question is: What are they being paid for? Are they doing any work?

Of course, some are, but others are not. It has become some form of entitlement. They must be paid for doing nothing or doing their own private jobs during government time. And they seem to have the protection of the politicians. In fact, I was shocked when President Robert Mugabe reversed a decision by Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa not to award civil servants a bonus. Mugabe argued that it was their right. My! I may be old-fashioned, but I was of the understanding that a bonus is a reward for outstanding performance, but Mugabe is saying it is a right for every government worker.

It reminded me of a meeting we once had which was attended by Chinese journalists. Local journalists complained that they were overworked and underpaid. When they disclosed how much they earned and how many hours they worked, the Chinese journalists laughed because in their newsrooms journalists worked 16 hours on average and not eight and they were getting half what the local journalists were complaining was too little.

I was even more shocked when I read a Gallup report which said only 10 percent of workers in Africa are actively engaged in their jobs.  The survey was carried out in 26 African countries including Zimbabwe. Some 57 percent are not engaged at all while 33 percent are actively disengaged.

According to Gallup:

  • Engaged employees work with passion and feel a profound connection to their company. They drive innovation and move the organization forward.
  • Not Engaged employees are essentially “checked out.” They’re sleepwalking through their workday,
  • putting time — but not energy or passion —into their work.
  • Actively Disengaged employeesaren’t just unhappy at work; they’rebusy acting out their unhappiness. Every day, these workers undermine what their engaged coworkers accomplish.

The poll did not have a breakdown for Zimbabwe, but if the South African figures are anything to go by, Zimbabwe could be worse.

The poll showed that only 9 percent of the workers in South Africa were actively engaged. Some 46 percent were not engaged while a staggering 45 percent were actively disengaged.

With these figures in mind, I wonder, why we should waste 92 percent of our money on civil servants if less than 10 percent are serious about their work. Worse still why should we pay them a bonus?


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Charles Rukuni
The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.


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