What it means to be young and Zimbabwean

An opinion piece by Grace Mashingaidze - Harare, Zimbabwe



Today, the only thing that seems certain in Zimbabwe is uncertainty itself. The country has been marked by a deteriorating economy which has seen hyper-inflation, a rise in unemployment, a shortage of commodities such as sugar, fuel and cooking oil, and now a global pandemic. Such is the environment that 20 something Zimbabweans, myself included, find themselves having to navigate their way through.


But let’s start from the beginning. Post-Independent Zimbabwe brought in a wave of optimism. Many young and black Zimbabweans looked forward to living lives that were better than those of previous generations. Grants were available for students in tertiary institutions. The prospects for employment were good as industries opened their doors for educated professionals. There was also quite a large amount of foreign investment in the country. The formula seemed pretty simple; work hard and attain the required educational qualifications equals get a good job, with a house, a car etc. However, it became awry during the nineties and early 2000s due to political turmoil, alienation from the international community, a continued economic decline, and the subsequent brain drain.


Now, we are here, an entire generation that continually masters and remasters the art of survival. This has become our normal as many of us, possibly all, were children when we last experienced “real” normalcy. Each challenge gives birth to yet another method of adaptation. Here is what it means to be a young Zimbabwean;


Exhausted

Advancing your career and planning for your future can be an uphill battle. It is said that getting and keeping a job is becoming more and more dependent on who you know than what you know. With just 32% of the population formally employed, a lot of young people live from paycheck to paycheck or in this case from Ecocash to Ecocash, from bond notes to bond notes. Even being formally employed doesn’t guarantee that you earn enough to plan or save for the future nor does it guarantee upward mobility in terms of your career. A friend told me she felt uncertain as to whether she would be able to make the leap from the small accounting firm where she currently works to a big one as many big firm employers tend to hire within their circle. In addition to this, some turn to part-time jobs, also known as side hustles, to supplement their income. The results of all this? Fatigue, a lack of fulfilment, frustration and anxiety. These pressures contribute to the rise of mental health issues in the country.


And starting afresh

In the 2000s a mass exodus of young people to other countries began and this still persists to this very day. Zimbabweans have created lives for themselves in the so-called greener pastures with varying degrees of success. Some have managed to attain a standard of living and enjoy a lifestyle that they otherwise wouldn’t have attained in their homeland, and others are not as successful in their efforts. What is common in all of these experiences is the feeling of being “othered,” as another friend described it to me. The feeling of not really belonging, or the feeling of displacement. Being away from your family and friends, and transplanting yourself into another setting and culture takes some adjusting. As the “other” you may find yourself working twice as hard, being passed over for some opportunities being unable to participate in the political processes of your resident country, or in some instances, being treated with contempt or suspicion (can anyone say xenophobia fast enough?).


But not defeated

I think young Zimbabweans are among the strongest and most resilient in the world. I could be biased because I am one, but it is a bias that I will gladly hold on to. They have dealt with incredibly tough situations with a sense of optimism and innovation. There are many who are adamant that they will make it (some have already achieved the goals), and will not let the prevailing situation determine the course of their lives and destiny. They continually strive to turn hardships or unwelcome changes into new opportunities. Although oftentimes tired and frustrated they keep moving on with a desire to achieve their purpose, and if they are idealists, to make the country better.


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