Moonlighting now a way of life for Zim workers
Watson Chimbira mingles with mourners at the Chitungwiza cemetery outside Zimbabwe’s capital, where he digs graves and paints epitaphs on metal plates that serve as temporary tombstones.
He’s skilled at both, but neither is his real job.
“I work as a driver for a local company, but the salary is too little,” he says. “I come here on my off-days to earn a little extra.”
“Municipal workers simply mark out where the grave should be and leave the rest for the mourners, who then hire me to dig for them.”
Chimbira charges $5 for a grave sign, and $5 to $10 to dig a grave, money that he says affords one decent meal a day for his wife and four children.
It’s a common scenario in Zimbabwe, where unemployment is estimated at 85%, and the lucky few who have jobs often need to moonlight to survive.
The Consumer Council of Zimbabwe estimates an average family of five needs $506 a month to cover food, rent, water and electricity.
“The sad reality is that workers in Zimbabwe are earning salaries and wages that are far below the poverty datum line which is $450 to $500,” said Wellington Chibebe, secretary general of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions.
“Our research has shown that most workers are earning an average of $200,” he said.
Salaries in the government, Zimbabwe’s biggest employer, begin at $180. Private sector jobs typically begin at $200 to $300.
To pay their bills, most workers resort to hawking things like perfume, clothes, jewellery, cellphone airtime, scones and sweets.
Tecla Mazanhi splits her time between her job as a computer saleswoman, her lead role in a local soap opera, and her cross-border trading in South Africa, Botswana and Mozambique to buy clothes for resale to top-up her salary.
“The salaries most people are getting are not enough, even if you are a professional with so many years of experience,” she says.
“When I joined the company I am working for, I told my boss the salary she was offering was not good enough and I asked that if she did not mind she should allow me to supplement by selling certain stuff which is outside their product line.”
“Some companies are quite strict, and people have to sell clothes and other stuff in the toilet, or they have to use the internet and say ‘Ladies at lunchtime, please let’s meet in the toilet’,” Mazanhi adds.
Memory Nguwi, head of the human resources consultancy Industrial Psychology Consultants, said companies were losing out as workers sought ways to earn more money.
After Zimbabwe abandoned the local currency two years ago in favour of US dollars, employees thought they would finally get a decent salary after a decade of hyperinflation, said Nguwi.
But the euphoria soon dissipated.
“The salaries are still low—except in the telecommunications, mining and manufacturing industries—because most companies are not operating to their full capacity,” Nguwi said.
“A lot of workers are resorting to selling goods at workplaces although the companies do not allow the practice,” she said.
“The problem is that the workers’ attention is divided and this affects production.
In some cases, individuals work for two organisations and they are loyal to no one, while some do part-time work on behalf of their employers’ competitors.” - AFP