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Whither informal social security – Reflections on Zimbabwe social welfare provisions

Tatenda Nhapi

Publication date 2022-07-28


  1. 1 Abstract
  2. 2 Introduction and Background
  3. 3 Setting the Scene
  4. 4 Methodology
  5. 5 Conceptual Framework
  6. 6 Threats to the informal sector and security system
  7. 7 Socio-Economic Context
  8. 8 The Economy and Employment
  9. 9 Covid and Informality Impacts
  10. 10 Existence of a Robust Social Security Policy Framework
  11. 11 Donors’ Involvement in Social Security Provision
  12. 12 Informal Social Security Dynamics
  13. 13 Implications for Practice
  14. 14 Conclusion
  15. 15 Works Cited

1 Abstract

This article probes why it is argued that African informal social security scholarship is limited, explores some of the contributions being made by social development scholars and suggests contributions that social development scholars can make and establishes potential entry points for scholars who are interested in utilising current thinking in social security research. The article’s objective is to critically assess factors making informal social security incrementally more relevant. This is because of the unprecedented challenges bedevilling Zimbabwe including COVID -19 impacts, global socio-economic forces and natural climatic disasters.

2 Introduction and Background

The purpose of the article is to critique trends and domains regarding the unrelenting dominance of informal social security mechanisms in Zimbabwe. Informal social security has increasingly now become the viable fall back for many Zimbabwean citizens. This has been driven by intractable challenges of deindustrialisation, structural regression and exponential informal economy growth. Undeniably, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) highlights dominance of own-account workers and contributing family workers among the self-employed in Africa. This poses a challenge for how policymakers imagine, design and implement social security systems in Africa (UNDP, 2021).

The starting point for my analysis in each part of the article is the current pervasive socio-economic turbulence, but I reinforce this with reflections on versatility of informal social security as opposed to more formal state administered social security schemes. A central premise of the initial theoretical discussion is how social security and economic development policies can mainstream informal social security on the development agenda. In the next section the article’s conceptual framework is outlined. I then provide an overview of the socio-economic trajectory of Zimbabwe. I then go on to discuss findings of my study. The article concludes by offering research and practice implications regarding continuous enrichment of informal social security as the mainstay of the vulnerable who contend with limited social safety nets.

3 Setting the Scene

Providentially, there has been growing recognition of the intricate relationship between labour and social protection policies and their prioritisation in the sustainable developmental framework has been gaining growing recognition. To illustrate the labour and social policies relationship the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in 1999 developed the Decent Work Agenda (DWA) premised on four pillars namely (i) employment creation; (ii) workers’ rights; (iii) social protection; and (iv) social dialogue. These pillars are “inseparable, interrelated and mutually supportive”, implying failure to achieve one leads to the failure of achieving the other three pillars. This also means that employment and social protection policies are indispensable routes to socio-economic development, poverty reduction and human dignity, thus sustainable and humane –centred development (Chakanya, 2019).

On the back of the perceived formal social security systems absence in Africa at the academic, policy, practice and service delivery levels there has been an upsurge of initiatives calling for social security elevation (Noyoo, 2016). Francis (2019) notes that a formal definition of informality can be hard to come by, but is useful to distinguish between informal employment and those businesses that operate informally. In the same vein the article’s pre-occupation with Zimbabwean informal social security trends and dynamics is accounted for by an International Monetary Fund (IMF) study on shadow economies (informal economies) in 158 countries which ranked Zimbabwe 3rd with 60.6 per cent after Georgia (64.9 per cent) and Bolivia (62.3 percent) (Medina & Schneider, 2018). The study highlighted Zimbabwe’s ranking as the first in Sub-Saharan Africa in terms of the average size of the informal economy. In the same vein Durojaye and Mirugi-Mukundi (2020) assertions buttress the article’s interest in informal social security who states it is important to point out that poverty is not an inevitable end to be blamed on the poor, but rather a matter of social injustice. People do not wish to be poor; rather, they are often deprived of the opportunity to lead a worthy life. Poverty is not a sin; it is a failure by existing institutions to create opportunities for disadvantaged groups to live to their fullest potential (Durojaye & Mirugi-Mukundi, 2020).

 In the same vein, Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (ESAP) introduction in 1991 led to witnessing of massive Zimbabwean economy change in the 1990s (International Labour Organisation Zimbabwe country programme, 2017). International Labour Organisation (2017) rightly points out that a legacy of poverty and marginalisation was left due to ESAP’s underperformance and failure to shift the economy onto a superior and sustainable growth path.

It is worthwhile to mention that due to workers continued job losses throughout the 1991–96 ESAP period informal economy expanded. Notably, for workers who were able to keep their formal jobs fall of real income made informal economy secondary jobs necessary towards standard of living maintenance. Another informal social security driver is the challenge of employers non remittances to workers’ pensions.

As will be shown later, the dominance of informal social security is driven by the gridlock of gaps in formal social security programmes funding alongside the existing community mutuality and interdependence despite factors as economic fragility and breaking down of communities due to factors as migration.

Zimbabwe’s historical labour market setup and social security was such that the formal economy workers accessed contributory social protection schemes through their contributions to pensions (public and private) and medical aid schemes (Chakanya, 2019). This therefore meant that a formal (wage- and salary-earning) worker had a higher social protection coverage than an informal economy worker or those engaged in precarious work (contract or casual work) without traditional contributory national social protection schemes (Chakanya, 2019).

In its analysis UNDP highlights that the informal economy consists of unincorporated enterprises that are not constituted as separate legal entities independently of their owners. Informal employment consists of jobs that are not subject to national labour legislation, income taxation, social protection or entitlement to standard employment benefits (UNDP 2020). Zimbabwe spends 1.2 % of GDP or 7.3 % of total national budget on social assistance programmes which is inadequate compared to the current and emerging social protection needs. Zimbabwe should thrive to increase social spending to the levels of other regional peers of above 2 % of GDP on average (UNICEF Zimbabwe country Office, 2020). Furthermore, analysis of Zimbabwe’s informal security shows how 67 percent of social protection expenditure being devoted to public service pensions making up the bulk of Zimbabwe’s expenditure. However, as World Bank (2016) highlights in 2015 covered just 1.3 percent of the population.

Thus, this article’s interest in informal social security is grounded in part by how Zimbabwe’s latest socio-economic blueprint, National Development Strategy which aims to galvanise pro poor development, rightly points out that a mind-set change and a new way of thinking and doing business in Zimbabwe is needed (Government of Zimbabwe, 2020, p. 11).

Furthermore, Zimbabwe’s development trajectory was analysed by Chitambara (2010).He revealed that the inherited economy at 1980 independence had been moulded on a white supremacy philosophy which had evolved into a relatively well-developed and modern formal sector, co-existing with an underdeveloped and backward rural economy. Thus, Chitambara (2010) argued the ‘formal sector’ was the enclave part of the economy developed on the basis of the ruthless dispossession of land- the livelihood source of the majority blacks which forced them into wage employment. As Cain (2015, p. 1) mentions, Zimbabwe has been subjected to “gross violations of property rights, including state-sponsored expropriation and vandalism, corrupt politicians, restrictive business regulations and an abysmal monetary policy”.

Noyoo (2016) raises concerns regarding treatment in academic and policy parlance of indigenous social security systems as peripheral without consideration for formal policy inclusion. According to Noyoo they are referred to as “informal” or even pejoratively referred to as “insecurity” regimes, at times. Undeniably, there is increasing evidence that in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region informal arrangements are not merely an expression of African cultural values but serve as substitutes for the formal arrangements” (Olivier, Kaseke & Mpedi, 2008, p. 5).

On the same note, Chirisa and Tevera (2019) commented that as evidenced by a great number of social capital movements in operation in various socio-economic and environmental aspects of society Africa is rich in terms of the social and solidarity economy (SSE). Finally, Ocampo’s (2019) assertions justify the article’s focus on dynamics of social security. According to Ocampo increased frequency and severity of shocks challenge non-formal or community-based systems and other coping mechanisms effectiveness. The key contribution of this article is therefore to examine how contrasting mixtures of social and economic policies have affected versatility of informal social security to bolster enhanced social functioning of Zimbabwe’s rural and urban communities.

4 Methodology

A desk-based review of academic literature and government documents as well as a media search of both independent and government-owned media outlets informed my analysis. An extensive literature review was undertaken to contextualize the study and draw some insights from both the theoretical and empirical literature that provided a framework of analysis for the study. Documents were reviewed to get a general understanding of the Zimbabwean informal sector operating framework within the country’s socioeconomic context. Secondary sources of data, including review of policy and research documents were used for this article. The majority of socioeconomic status, population health, policies/​plans data and the dynamics of informal sector came from secondary sources. These included the World Bank, United Nations Development Programme, published peer-reviewed and grey literature and a detailed review of available social security policies, plans and other government documentation. Furthermore, non-governmental organisational (NGO) documents/​evaluation reports and academic publications online newspaper articles retrieved from various journals and internet sources were used.

5 Conceptual Framework

There are varied reasons for the dominance of informal social security on the social development agenda. Reflecting on available literature, as suggested by Noyoo and Boon (2018) several researchers and policy-makers in Africa and abroad have decried the abysmal weakness of social security systems in Africa calling for concerted efforts from state and non-state actors to crystallise social security efforts on the continent. Arguably most social security schemes locate themselves between an over-emphasis on formal social protection schemes like harmonised cash transfers being deemed as the outcome of globalisation and universalising social protection. However, informal social security schemes are thought of as the outcome of social and economic systems in which individuals are simply located and embedded without state reinforcing these important safety nets.

Simultaneously as Human Rights Watch (2020) notes under international human rights law, governments have an obligation to ensure people’s right to an adequate standard of living to live in dignity. Zimbabwe is a signatory to a number of international and regional conventions, covenants and declarations which refer to various aspects of social protection, although it is still to ratify some of the conventions. Nonetheless Zimbabwe’s social policies and social legislation are informed by these instruments. Internationally, these include the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of 1966, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1990), the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (1979), and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2006). Countries need to ensure equal access to these rights for all, without discrimination on grounds such as gender, race or ethnicity, age, or disability.

The focus on enduring relevance of informal social security in Zimbabwe is justified by how the Article 25(1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) sets out that

Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control (Human Rights Watch, 2020).

Concurrently, the AU Constitutive Act, the Ouagadougou 2004 Plan of Action on Employment Promotion and Poverty Alleviation, as well as the Social Policy Framework highlight empowerment and protection of the vulnerable and marginalized groups. These instruments emphasize consideration of the specific social protection needs of the working poor in the informal economy and the rural sector, when social protection policies are devised.

According to Toda, Tanha, Jachia and Schwarz (2020) informal social security clearly has the capacity to support and protect and it is a pre-existing system trusted by community members. Henceforth building on the fact that these practices are deeply embedded within communities and considering how existing support mechanisms that are based on social connectedness and trust can be harnessed in humanitarian aid is crucial (Toda, et al., 2020).

Of particular significance in this regard is the replacement according to Longo, Notarnicola and Taselli of traditional Beveridge-driven configuration of public welfare regimes as being solely responsible for social security has been replaced by institutional networks of various actors with a varied allocation of resources and responsibilities. Private and non-profit organisations, together with families, are becoming increasingly more involved in planning and providing health care and social welfare services (Longo, et al., 2015)

6 Threats to the informal sector and security system

Without sounding alarmist, this article exposes that there is evidence that despite their uncontested value in delivering essential social assistance, informal support mechanisms are threatened due to several phenomena. These phenomena include rural-urban and irregular migration, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, natural climatic shocks seriously undermined the household level traditional support systems. This results in persons retorting to negative coping strategies such as depleting productive assets, skipping meals, sending children to work or engaging in hazardous behaviour (UNDP, 2019).

When shocks affect entire communities, as it is the case with environmental and climate change-induced shocks or public health epidemics, the existing coping strategies are under severe stress, particularly when the communities are already poor. Humanitarian assistance, while bringing the necessary relief, offers only a short-term solution without making the necessary investments into building communities’ resilience to future shocks.

UNDP points to how the long history and rich practices of informal traditional support mechanisms have been largely ignored by contemporary social protection systems. Only a handful of countries acknowledge their existence and importance in their national policies (the few exceptions include Chad, Mauritania, Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania). Moreover, the existing conceptual and programmatic frameworks on social protection mostly remain silent on the informal forms of protection.

Chen (2020) is of the persuasion that the neo-classical economics notion of the informal self-employed as an entrepreneurial class choosing to operate informally to avoid regulations and taxations does not match the reality of most informal self-employed (Chen, 2020, p13). Informal economy working conditions are precarious, unsafe, and poor in terms of remuneration and occupational health and safety – including sexual harassment and violence against women. Informal workers, in particular rural workers, suffer also from market distortions where farmers are price takers and hardly experience the position of price negotiators. They are constrained by the absence of security and protection of their assets, including their skills.

Urbanisation, industrialisation and globalisation processes have gradually weakened the cohesiveness of the extended family system, thereby undermining its capacity to provide social support and care to its members. This void is increasingly being filled by the state and non-state actors but they are constrained by lack of adequate resources to provide meaningful social support and care (Zimbabwe National Social Protection Framework, 2015). Traditional saving mechanisms are primarily microfinance savings and credit schemes serving social security purposes. The proceeds are also used to meet health care needs and unemployment burdens, among others.

However, like formal sector schemes, informal arrangements face many challenges. The schemes are usually founded on mutual understanding among group members without organizational structure. Often times, contributors lose their saving to unscrupulous people who bolt away with accumulated savings (Kalusopa, 2012).

Related to the foregoing Help Age International (2020) also reasoned that in most Global South countries, poverty increases in older age, leaving older people not just highly vulnerable with few resources to protect themselves due to declining work opportunities and patchy pensions access.

While 67 per cent of people above a country’s statutory retirement age receive a pension globally, in most low-income countries less than 20 per cent do. In Sub-Saharan Africa only 22 per cent of people above the retirement age receive a pension and large coverage gaps remain in Southern Asia (23 percent coverage) and the Arab States (27 percent) (Help Age International, 2020).

Cameron (2019) add another twist to the debate from her gender perspective Many women work in informal, home-based jobs that provide the flexibility to work while managing a household and caring for children, but such home-based work arrangements also expose women to exploitation. Women's greater representation in the informal sector, including informal home-based work, results in lower pay and limited access to most social protection programs, which are typically designed with formal sector workers in mind (Cameron, 2019). It is disheartening to note that only 516 out of the 7852 women who are members of the Zimbabwe Chamber of Informal Economy Association (ZCIEA) accessed this fund with very low allocations of between ZWL280 and ZWL600 each (USD3.20 and USD6.90 respectively) (Action Aid, 2021).

Invariably, it can be stated with some conviction that informal social security contributions in the analysis of African social development are largely insufficient. The question of whether informal is the new normal re-emerges with a new urgency. Not only have all governments agreed to deliver full employment by 2030, with a commitment to fast-track progress for the poorest and most marginalised, but the demographic bulge and a new understanding of the real scale of unemployment makes this already Herculean task more challenging still(Stuart 2018).Patel on an epistemological level postulates that developmental welfare interventions are framed as social investments in human capital development, rather than wasteful consumption expenditure, as argued by the critics of state welfare provision. According to Patel (2018) combining government interventions with individual and community actions promotes economic development. Patel (2018) conceives this is through maximizing people’s income through social assistance, peoples’ livelihoods strategies strengthening, asset building and social interventions that are inclusive and equitable.

7 Socio-Economic Context

The following section enumerates Zimbabwe’s socio-economic trajectory domains. Zimbabwe has a rich social protection tradition with a range of social protection instruments being implemented under different social protection pillars. These include cash and in-kind transfers, public works programs, health and education assistance, child protection services, social insurance programs, resilience and livelihoods rebuilding programmes. Despite these initiatives poverty and vulnerability continue confronting Zimbabwe.

In the current Zimbabwean context most informal income-earning activities are cross-border trade, petty trading, informal transport services, small-scale industries and services (Famine Early Warning System Network FEWSNET 2021). According to FEWSNET (2021) continued living costs increases for more households subsisting below the poverty lines due to low and inflation-eroded incomes. A public and private sectors national salary survey reported 70 percent of employees earning below the poverty datum line in December 2020, with the majority pegged in local currency (Famine Early Warning System Network, 2021).

8 The Economy and Employment

FDI to Zimbabwe doubled to US$745 million in 2018 from just US$345 million in 2017 before plummeting 62 % to a paltry US$280 million in 2019. According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development’s 2021 World Investment Report, FDI inflows declined significantly to US$194 million in 2020. On the same note Zimbabwe ranked 140th out of 190 countries listed in the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business Report, gaining 15 places from the previous year’s report. Policy inconsistency, administrative delays and costs, and corruption are some of the challenges hindering business facilitation in the country. Zimbabwe has experienced structural regression characterised by de-industrialization (job destruction) and informalization of labour and economy. For instance, from 2011 to 2014, a total of 4,160 companies closed, resulting in 55,443 jobs being lost (Chakanya, 2019). Furthermore, the national statistics body, Zimstat, revealed that 314 304 jobs were lost during the fourth quarter of 2021.

In terms of the labour dynamics people in the working age (15-64) make up the majority of the population (53.3 per cent) and is expected to rise rapidly in next 15 years. The overall Labour Force Participation Rate in 2014 was 91 per cent, up from 87 per cent in 2011. Out of the 7.1 million economically active persons in the 2014 Labour Force and Child Labour Survey (LFCLS), 88.4 per cent were employed, of whom 52.3 per cent were own account workers (communal and resettlement farmers), 13.7 per cent permanent paid employees, 12.5 percent own account workers (other), 7.9 percent casual paid employees, 1.4 per cent contributing family workers, 0.2 per cent member of producer cooperative and only 0.4 percent employers (International Labour Organisation, 2020). Treasury reported in the 2022 national budget statement that as at the end of 2021, formal employment was about 963 200, but many more people are working in the informal sector (Zvinoira, 2022). According to African Development Bank (2021) about 73 % of informal sector employees are between 20 and 44 years old, and 51 % of employees in high-risk and decent labour deficient jobs are youths. Unemployment-related pressure in urban areas have been mounting as employment opportunities dwindle in mining, manufacturing, and services amidst the austerity measures introduced in 2019 and the onset of COVID-19, which caused many Zimbabweans to return from other countries. The July 2020 Poverty Income Consumption and Expenditure Survey (PICES) established that 21 % of those who were working pre-COVID no longer worked (urban dwellers are the most affected). Of all urban respondents who worked pre-COVID, 23 % no longer worked in July 2020. The number was 19 % in rural areas. The most common reason for working pre-COVID but not in July 2020 were business closures due to the lockdown (67 % in urban areas, 42 % in rural areas); the seasonal effect (39 % in rural areas); and layoffs as business continued (15 % in urban areas, none in rural areas). About 40 % of urban wage workers who kept working had pay reduced. This impact was lower in rural arears – fewer rural dwellers are wage workers (38 %) (Africa Development Bank, 2021).

The 2015 Supreme Court judgement that reasoned that employers had a common law right to terminate a contract of employment was another development that sought to exercise labour market flexibility. The current Labour Act had no provision barring an employer from resorting to common law in terminating an employment contract. The immediate result was the dismissal of over 20,000 workers in period of less than two months although the figures were disputed by the Employers’ Confederation of Zimbabwe (EMCOZ), which put the figure at about 4,800 without any justification (Chakanya, 2019). The judgement resulted in a lot of commotion in the economy and was met by immense criticisms by the labour movement and other economic actors. The ZCTU demanded for the amendment of the Labour Act Chapter 28:01 to stop termination on notice which resulted in the enactment of the Labour Amendment Act No. 15 of 2015 which banned termination on notice and provided that affected workers be given one month’s salary for each two years of service or the equivalent lesser proportion of one month’s salary or wages for a lesser period of service as compensation. The Constitutional Court further ruled in favour of pay compensation in retrospect to the affected workers (Chakanya, 2019). In April 2022, the Insurance and Pensions Commission (Ipec) said it was putting measures to improve benefits for pensioners after 53 % of the complaints it handled in the fourth quarter of 2021 were related to low pension values.In a letter seen by NewsDay Weekender, a pensioner who had worked for 21 years was set to receive $14 025 after loyal service, which is almost US$30 (Newsday, 2022).

Zimbabwe is currently characterised by a huge public debt. As at end of 2019, the consolidated public sector debt for Zimbabwe stood at about US$10.4 billion, with public and publicly guaranteed external debt constituting the bulk at about US$9.87 billion (Action Aid, 2020). According to the World Bank’s Global Economic Prospects report, Zimbabwe’s real GDP growth declined by 10 % in 2020 against Treasury projections of 4,1 % (Chikono, 2021). In 2021 Zimbabwe’s economy is expected to register a modest 2,9 % growth from a negative dip recorded in 2020.The Bank’s projected growth is much lower than the 7,4 % projected by the Zimbabwean government in the 2021 National Budget (Chikono, 2021).

Furthermore, World Bank predictions suggested Covid-19 induced economic crisis would result in sub-Saharan Africa remittance flows dropping by 23.1 % from US$48 billion in 2019 to US$37 billion in 2020.However, figures show that the opposite was true in Zimbabwe due to a 33 % increase in diaspora remittances to US$466,2 million as at 31 July 2020 compared to US$349,7 million at the same time in 2019 (Gagare, 2021). According to a Monetary Policy Statement released by Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) governor John Mangudya foreign investment declined from US$53.47 million to US$40.06 million in 2020 while international and diaspora remittances increased by 57.6 % to US$1.002 billion.Weakened social protection systems and wages, salaries and social security schemes erosion through hyperinflation makes diaspora remittances a social protection buffer for the majority of Zimbabweans keeping households afloat serving as a hedge against complete collapse of families (FES and WLSA, 2019).

According to Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor, John Mangudya in November 2020 official remittances from the diaspora were up 45 % during the January-September period from 2019 at US$657.7m (Gagare, 2021).Notably in the 2021 national budget statement the finance minister announced that during the year government would institute pensioner compensation, pension and insurance legislation review (Tarusenga, 2021). Item 576 of the budget statement stipulated pensioner compensation arising from currency losses sustained by pensioners as the United States dollar to the RTGS$ exchange rate was initially fixed at US$1 to RTGS$1 on February 20, 2019 through Statutory Instrument (SI) 33 of 2019, and subsequently to US$1 to RTGS$2,5 (Tarusenga, 2021). Item 577 of the budget according to Tarusenga (2021) stipulated pensioner compensation based on the Justice Smith Commission of Inquiry recommendations, this compensation form being distinct from the 2019 instigated pension currency losses.

9 Covid and Informality Impacts

This section summarises COVID-19 impacts on Zimbabwe’s socio-economic fabric. Pertinently, even before COVID-19 pandemic onset, Zimbabwe was facing a severe drought and macroeconomic policy missteps with significant adverse implications for economic stability and growth and the humanitarian situation (International Monetary Fund, 2021).

The health and economic impacts of the COVID19 pandemic have been devastating. The rise in urban hunger has been one of its most tangible symptoms. Urban hunger has been exacerbated by COVID-19, and the World Food Programme (WFP) together with partners has been supporting government to ringfence developmental gains achieved in the past shrinking disposable income meant less money in people’s pockets to buy food while market and supply disruptions due to movement restrictions have created challenges to access food (United Nations Zimbabwe Country Programme, 2021).

However, globally,social assistance, insurance and active labour market programs in response to Covid-19 continue to rise. As of December 11, a total of 215 countries or territories had announced plans or implemented 1,414 social protection measures. Social assistance still accounts for most, or 62 %, of global responses, with cash transfers emerging as the most widely used form of social assistance (Gentilini, 2020).The Government of Zimbabwe declared the Covid-19 pandemic a national disaster and has enforced lockdown measures. It has set up a Covid-19 task force, excluding social partners, which has put forward responses that include an economic recovery and stimulus package and scaling up funding for medical expenses and towards Covid-19 related mitigatory measures. However, these measures have limited coverage with only two per cent of the population is covered by some sort of social security, leaving 98 per cent of the population at risk (International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), 2020). Chitambara (2010) opines that in Zimbabwe like in most African countries the evolution of social protection was shaped to a great extent by colonial considerations as initially the colonial regime extended social protection to white expatriates. Coverage was later extended to African workers although mainly concentrated in urban areas and formal sector leaving the majority of the workers beyond the scope of such coverage (Chitambara, 2014).

Social protection coverage and free access to healthcare need to be extended, and social protection support should be benchmarked with the national Food Poverty Line to ensure households have at least food on the table. Although measures such as paid sick leave and managed reduction of working hours are in place, these have not been accompanied by income security, and the majority of the workers, either with non-permanent employment or in the informal economy, are not benefiting from them. One of the ways the government has been trying to address the effects of COVID-19 on various sectors in Zimbabwe has been through the introduction of the ZWL18 billion (USD209.3 million) Economic Recovery and Stimulus Package (Action Aid, 2021).

The COVID-19 pandemic sent shock waves through societies and economies around the world. The impacts of the disease and of measures to control it have raised questions about epidemic preparedness and more generally about development, past, present and future (Leach, et al., 2021). The Zimbabwe Statistical Agency (ZIMSTAT) collaborated with World Bank and UNICEF, in designing a high-frequency households telephone survey measuring the COVID-19 socio-economic impacts in Zimbabwe (World Bank 2021). The survey built on the Poverty, Income, Consumption and Expenditure Surveys (PICES) of 2017 and 2019 and uses a sample of 1747 households from all ten provinces of Zimbabwe. The Covid 19 pandemic had a considerable impact on employment. Roughly 64 percent of respondents reported having a job before the imposition of mobility restrictions and this was reduced to 51 percent in July 2020. Urban areas were most affected by job losses as 18 percent of respondents were working before Covid-19 but were no longer working in July 2020 (World Bank Zimbabwe country programme, 2021).

The majority of persons with disabilities survive on informal activities such as vending, begging in city centres and buses, cross-border trading, buying & selling groceries & clothes, or selling airtime, etc. Due to COVID-19 movement restrictions and the banning of informal activities, persons with disabilities are unable to undertake these livelihood activities. According to the study, income per month for persons with disabilities considered in the sample shrunk by 50 % from ZW 2160.00 (US$43) per month pre-COVID-19 to ZW1080.00 (US$13) per month during COVID-19 period. This is against a poverty datum line of ZW 17957.00 (US$219) per month for a family of five. Support from government, individuals, and organisations to assist persons with disabilities to overcome multiple barriers presented by COVID-19 has been low due to access and operational challenges (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), 2020).

On the same note the World Bank according to Parek and Bandiera (2019) predicts that the pandemic will result in the first increase in extreme poverty (the number of people living on an income below the international poverty line- $1.90 per day) to take place in the last 20 years. This will essentially wipe out the progress made since 2017, and push between 71 to 100 million people into extreme poverty.

In the following sections I discuss the dominant narratives emerging from my analysis regarding social security in Zimbabwe.

10 Existence of a Robust Social Security Policy Framework

It is laudable that Zimbabwe’s boasts of a well-oiled social security policy framework. World Bank Zimbabwe country office (2016) notes since Zimbabwe’s independence attainment in 1980, social protection has been part of all development policies and national poverty reduction strategies. Indeed, Zimbabwe had a social safety nets tradition even in colonial times, when the English Poor Laws influenced support for social welfare, particularly targeting the urban poor which was the visible face of poverty (World Bank, 2016). Zimbabwe’s constitution founding provisions section 30 of Chapter 1 generally defines the right to social security and social protection (United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, n.d). Sections 81, 82 and 83 of this constitution provide for children, older persons and persons with disabilities’ rights. According to United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs section 71 providing for property rights defines ‘pension benefit’, but does not contextualise such a pension benefit in social security and social protection principles and practices.

Zimbabwe’s Enhanced Social Protection Programme, acknowledged as one of the best in Africa became significantly eroded due to chronic underfunding and a general social service delivery breakdown (Angeles, et al., 2018). Furthermore, due to the HIV epidemic and the socio-economic decline the number of children and families in need of social protection has grown (Angeles, et al., 2018).Historically, according to Mate (2018) free health care entitlement for persons earning less than ZWD 150/month (about USD 90) was upon producing a payslip, an identity card, an employer letter or Department of Social Services assessments indicating the bearer(s) were on public assistance

As further noted by World Bank (2016) a substantial 67 percent of social protection expenditure is devoted to civil service pensions, but covers just 1.3 percent of the population. It must be noted that Zimbabwe’s basic social safety net programs have low and unpredictable coverage reaching only a small share of the poor. Undeniably, most programs impair social security due to weak targeting mechanisms and insufficient information efficacy except for the Harmonized Social Cash Transfer System (HSCT). HSCT imposes strict eligibility requirements and household and proxy means testing as beneficiary identification mechanisms (World Bank, 2016). HSCT is an unconditional cash transfer program targeting labour constrained and ultra-poor households. The programme’s objectives are towards increased consumption to above the food poverty line by beneficiary households and number of ultra-poor households’ reduction and avoidance of risky coping strategies like child labour and early marriage. The HSCT Programme is positioned to become Zimbabwe’s primary social protection program and will eventually cover the whole country (Angeles, et al., 2018).

The HSCT targets both labour constrained and food poor households as defined by the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare (MPSLSW) (Angeles, et al., 2018). Targeting is done first in designated expansion districts, with a census conducted in all wards and basic socioeconomic and demographic information collected. MPSLSW then identifies eligible households. The transfer value is $10, $15, $20 or $25 a month for households with 1, 2, 3 and 4+ members respectively over half of all beneficiary households receive $25 (Angeles, et al., 2018).

Donor influence was prominent in the HSCT 2011 establishment, which overshadowed existing interventions to become the flagship national social protection program, and as well as the 2016 National Social Protection Policy Framework (NSPPF) development. Zimbabwe’s development partners used “policy transfer” strategies developed elsewhere in Africa to drive the social protection agenda in Zimbabwe (Devereux & Kapingidza, 2020).

 Scarnecchia in Mate (2018) highlighted that at the 1981 donor conference over USD 1 billion, multi-sectoral policy advice, human and material support was pledged targeting resources mobilisation for independent Zimbabwe. However, pledges were paid piecemeal because of the Cold War and other geo-political calculi (Mate, 2018). Angeles, et al., (2018) observe catastrophic economic collapse that peaked in the late 2000s drove the introduction of new forms of social protection. In addition, Angeles comment international development agencies promoted social protection as an instrument to fight rapidly rising poverty and vulnerability levels.

11 Donors’ Involvement in Social Security Provision

According to Musonza,Chitambara and Zamchiya(2022) NGOs have also played a critical role in bridging the huge financing gap in the critical sectors of the economy such as social protection, education, health, water and sanitation.According to the 2022 National Budget statement, during the period January to September 2021, the country received development assistance amounting to US$647.8 million, of which US$401.9 million was from bilateral partners and US$245.9 million from multilateral partners (Chitambara Musonza and Zamchiya 2022). A further US$202.4 million in development assistance is projected during the fourth quarter of 2021, giving cumulative receipts of US$850.2 million for the year. In 2022, support from the Development Partners is projected at US$761.5 million, broken down as, US$274.3 million and US$487.2 million from multilateral and bilateral partners, respectively. Importantly, a lot of the gains that have been registered key health and social indicators have been on account of the partnership between the Government and NGO(Chitambara Musonza and Zamchiya 2022).

In their analysis of HSCT Devereux and Kapingidza (2020) argue strategic investment in capacity-strengthening in Zimbabwe, became a vehicle for external actors to ensure technical assistance channelling toward their preferred programs and policies. Thus, technical support to the MPSLSW was intended to influence HSCT adoption (Devereux & Kapingidza, 2020).

Finally, monetary child poverty prevalence is at an estimated 61 % and UNICEF recommends government’s social assistance programmes ramping to above the current 10 %. This ramping up should be focused on the most vulnerable and marginalised children, including persons living with disabilities. UNICEF (2020)highlights extreme poverty eradication is achievable by enhancing resilience Zimbabwean communities’ resilience building through well-targeted and shock-responsive social protection programmes. Ensuring that more resources are directed towards the productive sectors of the economy such as health, education, social protection, water and sanitation, agriculture and physical infrastructure stimulates inclusive economic growth (Government of Zimbabwe, 2020). Importantly, investments in these sectors have a positive effect on the accumulation of human and physical capital as well as total factor productivity, which are critical in harnessing the demographic dividend. It can be argued that should ramping up of government social security be achievable then can informal social security influence be lessened. However, the current obtaining socio-economic trajectory suggests otherwise.

12 Informal Social Security Dynamics

In this section key intersecting factors leading to informal security prominence are outlined by identifying key intersecting factors that lead to its prominence. In Mushunje and Kaseke’s analysis from the colonialism period until independence attainment in 1980, Zimbabwe virtually had no formal social security extended to the indigenous African and black majority. The understanding was that the blacks were in the urban areas on temporary basis and only there to work and would go back to their rural homes upon retirement. As Mushunje and Kaseke further posit African traditional values of solidarity, collective responsibility, compassion, equality, unity, self?determination, human respect and human dignity that individuals subsist as families and that families become closely interlaced communities which form a large society. In Southern Africa according to Nhongo (2013) the chief’s fields concept (Zunde raMambo in Zimbabwe) guaranteed food security for the poor members of society. Furthermore, Nhongo highlights government workers on retirement receive civil service pensions either paid by the state or through employee contributions while private sector workers have access to contributory private pensions. Nhongo (2013) asserts mostly urban based formally employed workers in the public and private sectors are covered, but this rarely extends beyond 10 % of the population. On this basis these ‘uncovered’ groups typically comprising the poorest and most vulnerable sections of the population are a major social security extension challenge. According to Devereux and Cipryk (2009) arguments against ‘extending social security to all’ include unaffordability, remoteness and administrative capacity constraints.

Those working in the informal economy have limited access to social and labour protection, finance and property and have low returns on their labour. For instance, the 1998 Social Welfare Assistance Act provides limited public assistance to destitute people incapable of work and to people aged 65 or older or with a disability. Currently, Social protection coverage remains limited and inadequate. According to the 2019 Labour Force and Child Labour Survey (LFCLS), about 249,000 persons, which is approximately 2 % of the population, were receiving a monthly pension or any social security fund or both (Government of Zimbabwe, 2020). In addition, according to the Government of Zimbabwe (2020) with respect to medical insurance, about 984,000 persons, representing about 7 % of the population, indicated they were members of a medical aid scheme.

The high levels of informality are a major factor behind these weak social and economic outcomes. Working poverty remains a reality in Zimbabwe’s informal economy with 65 per cent of adults earning $100 or less per month (International Labour Organisation, 2020).Workers in the informal economy have developed their own social security schemes. The first type combines micro-credit and social security scheme known as kufusha mari where members deposit an agreed sum at the end of each day (Labour and Economic Development Research Institute of Zimbabwe (LEDRIZ), 2015). Money can be loaned to members at a fixed rate of interest. LEDRIZ highlights these funds are typically used in times of sickness and to pay school fees. These arrangements are validated by Otoo & Osei-Boateng’s (2012) observation that the majority of Africans’ social security exclusion has resulted in informal arrangements dependence for social protection. However, urbanisation and the diversification of sources of livelihoods, shrinking family sizes, and ageing populations have all contributed to the erosion of informal systems (Otoo & Osei-Boateng, 2012).

Based on insurance principles, contributors pool resources to meet life contingencies. The common benefits shared through mutual associations among informal sector operators include medical care and funeral cost (Otoo & Osei-Boateng, 2012).Thus as suggested by Dafuleya and Tregenna (2020) traditional saving mechanisms have become important social security schemes, since the proceeds are also used to meet health care needs and unemployment burdens, among others.

In a study in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second capital, Dafuleya and Tregenna (2020) established that when combined with formal insurance informal funeral insurance makes significant difference in avoiding funeral shocks adverse effects on household food consumption, but is more effective. This, according to Dafuleya and Tregenna (2020) provides evidence for the enhanced effectiveness of informal insurance when combined with formal insurance. Furthermore, insurance is found to be effective in protecting household assets against being sold to finance food consumption post-burial when households experience a funeral shock. Again, informal insurance is found to be effective, but the combination of formal and informal insurance is more effective (Dafuleya & Tregenna, 2020). However, Mushunje and Kaseke (Mushunje & Kaseke, 2018) argued that the current urban lifestyle and tendency to emulate the Western nuclear family are also playing a role in eroding the concept of the extended family support system.Funeral rituals and expenses which were once an affair of the whole community are becoming a household burden.

13 Implications for Practice

As discussed earlier, poverty and inequality are a constant phenomenon persisting in many African countries. As Africa continues to grow economically stronger, poverty and inequality remain ‘unacceptably high and the pace of reduction unacceptably slow’ (World Bank, 2013). This section, like the rest of the paper is not prescriptive but, a piece for further critical thinking.

My analysis thus reveals the need for development approaches to be incorporated in informal social security studies that can anticipate and respond to future, uncertain shocks whether pandemics, climate change, financial turbulence. This means both revealing and challenging the structural conditions, power relations and political economic orders that create risks and vulnerabilities in the first place, while also accepting the need for flexible, contingent and negotiated responses in the face of uncertainty and context-specific complexity.

Having outlined some of the key trends and dynamics of informal social security, in this section implications for social policy planners and administrators are outlined. Clearly, there is no question that the core of informal social security narratives in Zimbabwe is about buttressing these schemes as the basis for universalising social security for a predominantly informal livelihoods-based economy. As suggested by Mushunje and Kaseke (2018) to deal with the various challenges brought on by economic deterioration in the absence of comprehensive social security, households have been forced to look beyond the state for support and engage in other forms of coping mechanisms. Thus, academics and development actors should advocate for government crafting of a national strategy on the informal economy and informal social security that recognises its economic and social importance to the nation. Still on contributions of government in reinforcing informal social security, Mushunje and Kaseke (2018) raised critical suggestions that this article thinks social development practitioners can advocate for. This is for government engaging in training to improve the managerial skills and investment abilities of members of indigenous social security schemes and provide subsidies to enhance the financial base of informal social security schemes, as well as technical assistance to help indigenous social security schemes manage risks associated with their enterprises. Likewise, as crucially argued by FAO (2014) safeguarding the poor and vulnerable when crisis hits is by effective social protection systems. Yet, in many countries, such systems remain limited in coverage and need significant upgrading to respond to a pandemic like COVID-19 (Bodewig, et al., 2020). Evidently, most informal social security beneficiaries’ livelihoods in sub-Saharan Africa are predominantly subsistence agriculture and rural labour markets based. The exit path from poverty is not necessarily the formal (or informal) labour market, but self-employment generated by beneficiary households themselves. Apart from the above, the article argues that sociology of climate change adaptation needs to be extended and be more grounded and, dynamic so as to be able to capture changing structures, processes and conditions underpinning adaptation specifically in local contexts.

At the same time, UNICEF (2020) asserts that for streamlining efficiency and impact gains of social security a thorough review of the wider social protection portfolio in Zimbabwe is needed. Leach points to an understanding that questions of social protection, basic income for sustainable livelihoods, supporting informal economies, as well as universal health care provision, are today being posed across the world, and not just as an ‘othered’ form of ‘development’, only relevant somewhere else. In the context of COVID-19, access to predictable social assistance, in the form of cash or in-kind transfers, as well as specific labour-related guarantees, is key to mitigating the direct economic impacts of the pandemic on households and communities (UNICEF Zimbabwe country Office, 2020).Henceforth as of 2021 MPSLSW has budgeted 3,5 billion Zimbabwe dollars to cushion over 500 000 vulnerable households that will receive cash pay outs to mitigate the impact of Covid-19. Allowances for vulnerable persons have since been raised to $800 from $300 and will be shared by more than 500 000 workers in the informal sector, 5 000 returning residents in quarantine centres and 700 children living in the streets. The programme is set to run for six months and will see households receiving foodstuffs during the lockdown period and beyond (The Sunday Mail, 2021). While it can be acknowledged that generally literature on informal social security dynamics continues to grow very few social development scholars are exploring intersections between informal social security, youths, women thus more applied action research informed studies are needed into the ways in which the material and discursive dimensions of informal social security are deeply gendered as well as capturing youths’ experiences.

In some African countries, community involvement, citizen empowerment and citizen accountability initiatives are integrated in social protection programs. Despite exclusion in the existing NSSA social security schemes the informal economy has grown substantially. In addition, perhaps more critical is the need for NSSA’s collaboration with the informal economy actors and associations to come up with adaptable and innovative social security systems appropriate for the informal economy. This would be as part of the nation’s formalisation of the informal economy agenda. Accordingly, in 2021 NSSA sold stock in listed companies as Turnall, First Mutual and its mortgage lender National Building Society (NBS), as part of a plan to “refocus” its vast investment portfolio (Newswire Zimbabwe, 2021). The pension fund has for years been weighed down by corruption and poor investment decisions, whose impact is reflected starkly in the poverty of pensioners (Newswire Zimbabwe, 2021). Thus, when only NSSA can robustly support Zimbabweans who become indigent at retirement can informal social security dominance be insignificant. From April 2022 onwards the Insurance and Pensions Commission (Ipec) putting measures to improve benefits for pensioners after 53 % of the complaints it handled in the fourth quarter of 2021 were related to low pension values. In a letter seen by NewsDay Weekender newspaper, a pensioner who had worked for 21 years was set to receive $14 025 after loyal service, which is almost US$30 (Buwerimwe 2022). Figures from the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (Zimstat) show that the cost of living for a family of six in June soared to ZW$110 550 (US$297) from ZW$14 041 (US$38) for monthly expenses (Kairiza 2022).

14 Conclusion

Reflecting on the broader literature on social security, the article has exposed that whereas intriguing and assorted there are significant obstacles to Zimbabwe meeting the targets set by SDG 8 (promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all). The article has enumerated a wealth of evidence regarding trends and dynamics of social security administration in Zimbabwe. It has outlined dominant narratives that underline social security funding and how informal social security is being overshadowed by intractable challenges of socio-economic turbulence and influences of international development actors. It is imperative that informal social security be prioritised in Zimbabwe’s development agenda like the current National Development Strategy (NDS) 2021–2025. These lessons centre on the need to embrace fundamental, transformative change, to navigate uncertainty and prepare for turbulence as a central requirement of development, North and South. Furthermore, there is no question that tapping into informal social security mechanisms guarantees enhanced social functioning of the majority of Zimbabweans given dominance of informal workers in rural and urban areas. This is more than urgent given the pervasive and on-going COVID-19 pandemic which has had far reaching impacts of livelihoods and safety nets. The existing social protection benefits in Zimbabwe are largely tied to an employment relationship. However, with the expanding informal economy and informalisation of jobs, such a traditional system becomes threatened and increase social protection deficits. A more radical solution would be the application of university principle to social protection provision. This does not necessarily mean putting pressure on the fiscus to finance this scheme. The main challenge for Zimbabwe is not the lack of resources but corruption, lack of stewardship of national resources, resource leakages and lack of prioritisation of social service delivery.

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Written by
Tatenda Nhapi Tatenda Nhapi
Tatenda holds a Bachelors’ degree in Social Work (University of Zimbabwe) and Graduate, Erasmus Mundus MA Advanced Development in Social Work. a joint Programme between the University of Lincoln (England); Aalborg University (Denmark); Technical University of Lisbon (Portugal); University of Paris Ouest Nantere La Defense (France); Warsaw University (Poland).

Tatenda started his career in Zimbabwe (2008-2013) working in Relief and Development and Social Research; focusing on child welfare and gender issues. Whilst employed in Zimbabwe’s Department of Social Services, Tatenda’s work focused on policies and protocols implementation pertaining to care and protection of children, older persons, Persons with Disabilities, disadvantaged persons and households in distress. Tatenda is a Research Associate with University of Johannesburg, South Africa Department of Social Work and Community Development. Tatenda’s research agenda revolves around social policy and implementation of developmental programmes in their attempt to address issues such as poverty, inequality, HIV/AIDS and poverty traps of vulnerable groups such as women, children, older people and youths. Tatenda has high academic standing with a growing reputation in research, evidenced by an emerging portfolio of internationally recognised publications.

Cite this publication
Nhapi, Tatenda, 2022. Whither informal social security – Reflections on Zimbabwe social welfare provisions In: socialnet International [online]. 2022-07-28. Retrieved 2023-11-30 from

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