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Country Portrait Zimbabwe: The trajectory of Social Welfare and Social Work Systems

Tatenda Nhapi

Publication date 2022-01-05


  1. 1 Abstract
  2. 2 Country Portrait: Data on Zimbabwe
  3. 3 Context
    1. 3.1 Geography, climate, population
    2. 3.2 Economy, Policies and Humanitarian Development
    3. 3.3 Historical and Cultural Influences
  4. 4 Land Reform and its impact on health care and social services
  5. 5 The Welfare System
  6. 6 Organisation and administration of social protection in Zimbabwe
  7. 7 Current issues and challenges
  8. 8 Works Cited
  9. 9 Further reading

1 Abstract

This chapter provides an overview of the Government of Zimbabwe (GoZ)’s social welfare framework and frontline social work systems. The purpose of the portrait 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 poverty traps including deindustrialisation, structural regression and exponential informal economy growth alongside rudimentary and fragmented social protection mechanisms. Social work roles to overcome poverty and indigency are explored alongside analysing robustness of GoZ social protection mechanisms.

2 Country Portrait: Data on Zimbabwe

Basic data on the population, expenses and debts
Number of inhabitants 14.8 million
Gross Domestic Product US$ 20.563 billion
External debt US$ 10.4 billion
Gross Domestic Product per capita US$ 1,463.99/ZW$529,817.98
Poverty rate 38.3 %
Unemployment rate 11 %
Social Expenditure US$ 117 million (in 2020)/ZW$4,234,230,000 billion
Share of Social Expenditure on youth welfare US$ 9.524.730 million / ZW$ 3.447 billion
Health Expenditure US$ 294,1 million/ZW$ 25 billion

3 Context

3.1 Geography, climate, population

Zimbabwe is a landlocked country located in southern Africa, between the Zambezi and Limpopo Rivers, bordered by South Africa, Botswana, Zambia, and Mozambique. It has a tropical climate with high plateau and mountains in the east. Zimbabwe is a country of roughly 16 million people with Harare as the country’s capital. 16 official languages are spoken in Zimbabwe with English, Shona and Ndebele being the most commonly used (British Council 2021). The 2012 census findings showed that two-thirds of Zimbabwe’s population lived in rural areas and that 52 percent of the population were females. As many as 9 % of the total population were living with at least one disability, which placed them at a disadvantage with respect to sustainable development (UN Zimbabwe Country Team, 2021).

3.2 Economy, Policies and Humanitarian Development

There are 8 rural provinces and 2 metropolitan provinces, which are further divided into 63 districts and 1200 wards. The majority of Zimbabwe's economy comes from the service sector (65.8 %), followed by industry (22.2 %) and agriculture (12 %) and informal economy is responsible for 60 % of all income; the rate of formal unemployment is extremely high (WHO 2020).

Zimbabwe depends heavily on mining and agriculture jointly accounting for approximately 30 % of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Mining and agriculture are noted by UN (2021) as catalysts for growth in secondary sectors including manufacturing, tourism and service sectors. In the first decade of independence the economy recorded its strongest performance, anchored on policies that promoted large-scale investment in agriculture and manufacturing sector. However, between 2000 and 2008, the economy sustained a cumulative decline of nearly 50 percent in real GDP on the back of declining agriculture productivity and de-industrialisation following the Government’s Fast Track Land Reform Programme (FTLRP), capital flight, and low investment (UN Zimbabwe Country Team, 2021). In his analysis of Zimbabwe’s development trajectory Chitambara (2010) highlights that the economy inherited at the 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 of blacks which forced them into wage employment.

 According to Moore (2020) forms of Zimbabwe's crisis-ridden politics could be located in the context of the multiple transitions the new Zimbabwean state faced. These according, to Moore, have included decolonization; de-racialisation of the economy; economic liberalisation and the dismantling of the sanctions-related control measures of the settler colonial period; attempts at democratisation and agrarian transformation. Faced by these challenges and the repressive politics that accompanied them, Zimbabwe slipped into an eviscerating economic decline from the late 1990s.

As a result of persistent climatic and economic shocks Zimbabwe continues to experience a protracted humanitarian crisis. Key findings indicated that 3.4 million people were food insecure and in need of humanitarian assistance during the peak of the lean season, from January to April 2021 (World Food Programme 2021).

Zimbabwe’s Human Development Index score in 2019 stood at 0.571— ranking at 150 out of 189 countries. The Gender Inequality Index score of Zimbabwe was 0.527, ranked at 129 out of 162 countries in 2019. Zimbabwe made remarkable progress in the first decade of independence with quantum improvements in social wellbeing. The latter decades recorded moderate improvements in key development areas. Regrettably, the country also registered a decline in some socio-economic indicators. These were largely due to prolonged periods of economic recession, political challenges and more regular climate-induced humanitarian crises. These disruptive shocks and crises continue to impede the country’s progress in achieving the United Nations (UN) Agenda 2030, Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) (UN Zimbabwe Country Team, 2021).

In 2019, Zimbabwe was in a deep recession. The economy contracted by 8.1 percent in 2019, the deepest decline in a decade—even amid progress on several fronts including “Doing Business” reforms. A severe drought and Cyclone Idai significantly reduced economic activity and particularly affected the agriculture, water, and electricity sectors, while generating ripple effects on other economic sectors (World Bank, 2021) According to the World Bank Zimbabwe Economic Update in 2021, after a two-year recession, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth in Zimbabwe is projected to significantly reach 3.9 percent led by agriculture’s recovery. However, the World Bank (ZEU) highlights COVID 19 disruptions will continue to weigh on economic activity, limiting employment growth and improvements in living standards. Allocation of social protection to all vulnerable groups in Zimbabwe’s 2021 national budget is ZW$6,9 billion (US$793 million) advanced to the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Services. This is 1,64 % of the budget, down from the 2020 percentage share of 4,3 % (Mapungwana, 2020).As noted by UNICEF (2020) increased public sector financing was commendable to cover the gap created by declining donor support.

Henceforth the chapter’s objective is to explore programmatic interventions by state and none state actors that galvanise social protection to build resilience to shocks and stressors. This chapter synthesises literature and provides insights for policy direction. Specifically, evidence on some of the social policies, are reviewed. The chapter aims to create a starting point for a research agenda and strong research questions with regard to dominant narratives to Zimbabwean social policy. This chapter is grounded on an extensive review of literature focusing on social policy dynamics within socio economic domains currently obtaining in Zimbabwe.

3.3 Historical and Cultural Influences

From time immemorial, African social problems were handled using local indigenous methods. Like many other Africans, Madzimbabwe (people of Zimbabwe) have several ways of preventing social ills and ensuring the social functionality of their families, villages and societies at large (Mugumbate & Bhohwasi, 2021). Before the inception of western social welfare and social services (and later social work) in Zimbabwe, the phenomenon could have been defined as services targeting the needy through the nuclear, extended family, community and nation at large for social challenges prevention and eradication and bring about social functioning and wellbeing. The indigenous Zimbabwean context had key providers of social services comprising the immediate family (parents and siblings), near-immediate family (vatete - father’s sister, sekuru - mother’s brother), extended family or clan structures such as sahwira – a family friend (Mugumbate & Bhohwasi, 2021). In the 1930s by hiring British probation officers the colonial government in Zimbabwe later imported this help from Britain.

The probation officers dealt with vagrancy, delinquency and destitution issues among white children and youths. Social work training was formally introduced in 1965 when the Jesuits missionaries’ run School of Social Work begun its intake of social work students. When the school was first established, it offered a one-year Certificate Course in Group Work. Further expansion of the School of Social Work saw the introduction of the Bachelor of Social Work degree in 1975 for those holding the Diploma in Social Work; students were only required to study an additional year to be awarded the degree, which offered them an opportunity to specialise in such areas as residential and industrial social work, as well as the mainstream social work course (Chogugudza 2009). More black social welfare workers training resulted in extension of services to black urban communities for dealing with homelessness and unemployment issues. According to Mugumbate and Bhohwasi (2021) no proper social work definition existed at this time due to lack of official professional social work recognition in Zimbabwe.

However, social welfare officers of this period contended with the neglect of indigenous social services. These indigenous social services were pillars in promoting social functioning among most Zimbabweans and provided the contemporary Zimbabwean social work profession foundation (Mugumbate & Bhohwasi, 2021).This contemporary social work foundation has seen social workers working in the government run Department of Social Services, municipalities’ housing and community services, NGOs amongst other employers.

The enduring ubuntu, the grounded Zimbabwean traditional practice of having Zunde raMambo (Chief’s Granary), guaranteed feeding of vulnerable groups in times of drought or famine or when experiencing food insecurity. This was a particularly effective safety net for older persons, orphans and widows. Community members’ contributions to the Zunde ra Mambo were under traditional chief’s general supervision (Olivier, Kaseke, & Mpedi, 2008). Up to the present time due to erratic social assistance programmes due to Zimbabwean intractable socio-economic challenges, these ubuntu grounded approaches remain to robustly support the vulnerable.

Social services provision was according to custom thus indigenous due to lack of foreign influence. This phase consisted of customary, traditional or indigenous social support systems. Social problems were seen as a result of individual shortcomings, evil spells or family failure. Ubuntu was the guiding principle towards family and community, and theorised that an individual person becomes human only through working with, and contributing to their family and community (Mugumbate & Bhohwasi, 2021).

In contrast, during and post the colonial period individualistic remedial approaches have dominated as effective forms of social policy and administration since, during and after colonialism. Remedial approaches expect that an indigent or vulnerable individual relies on state administered social security interventions after undergoing robust means- testing by DSS social workers. Social workers are also involved in collaborating with other frontline professionals in implementing community and rural development interventions.

Frontline social work and training inception between 1936 and 1966 laid foundations for modern day Zimbabwean social work. Modern Zimbabwean social work would be encompassing targeted approaches to mitigate individual and social pathologies including being indigent due to illness and unemployment, juvenile delinquency and public assistance.

 However, before the welfare funding cut backs onset, due to structural adjustment programmes and ensuing socio-economic turbulence, DSS administered Public Assistance grants reliance was traditionally a stigmatising safety net amongst Zimbabwean communities. Exceptions could have been if one assimilated in modern day Zimbabwean society after originally having been a migrant emigrated into the then Southern Rhodesia.

4 Land Reform and its impact on health care and social services

As asserted by Zeng Lannes, & Mutasa (2018) during the 1980s and most of the 1990s, Zimbabwe’s economy was on the path to middle-income status. Primary and preventive health care investments was by primary health care services roll out within ten kilometres of at least 80 % of the population. However, the 1990s economic situation deterioration and resultant government financing decline led to various forms of user fees’ introduction by public and not for- profit health providers (Zeng, Lannes, & Mutasa, 2018).

This continued up to twenty years after Zimbabwe’s independence to the current epoch. Of 15.8 million people making up Zimbabwe’s population 52 % female and 67 % live in rural areas. At least 9 % of the population has a disability while life expectancy in 2017 was estimated at 60 years. The population is young with about 67 % being below the age of 25, and the 2017 Poverty, Income and Consumption Expenditure Survey, whose results were published in 2019, estimated that 71 % of the population are considered poor (Food and Agricultural Organisation Zimbabwe country programme, n.d). Over the past three decades, Zimbabwe has suffered 15 incidents of drought, six of which were severe to extreme having affected between 2.5 and 7 million people. The worst and most recent of these incidents saw the government spending USD 220 million more than its usual social safety net schemes to provide emergency food relief to vulnerable Zimbabweans (World Food Programme Zimbabwe, 2020).

Two decades after Zimbabwe’s independence, in the year 2000, the country embarked on a contested Fast Track Land Reform Programme which has been acclaimed by academic proponents of the discipline of rural development studies like Ian Scoones.

Zimbabwe’s Fast Track Land Reform Program (FTLRP) formally began with the Land Acquisition Act of 2002. FTLRP effectively co-opted the farm occupations since 1998, redistributed land from white-owned farms and estates, as well as state lands, to more than 150,000 farmers under two models, A1 and A2. As highlighted by Mkodzongi and Lawrence (2019), the A1 model allocated small plots for growing crops and grazing land to landless and poor farmers, while the A2 model allocated farms to new black commercial farmers who had the skills and resources to farm profitably, reinvest and raise agricultural productivity.

Around the same time, there was a marked exodus of a critical mass of skilled social workers who previously superintended over Zimbabwe’s then robust social services. The social workers migrated to countries as South Africa, United Kingdom, Australia amongst others.

Staff attrition in social services is because of two factors: Zimbabwean social work training has an international appeal and poor conditions of service has been motivating social workers to explore greener pastures. Lack of resources, such as reliable modes of transport, basic equipment like computers and low salaries, to robustly target service users is to blame for this exodus.

5 The Welfare System

It is laudable that Zimbabwe boasts of a well-oiled social security policy framework. The 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, even in colonial times Zimbabwe had a social safety nets tradition, when the English Poor Laws influenced social welfare support particularly targeting the urban poor who were 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. 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).

As for Zimbabwean social assistance provisions and for the advancement of the social protection agenda the Government developed a National Social Protection Policy Framework in 2015, but it is not yet operationalised. This policy framework recognises Zimbabwe’s commitment to poverty eradication in the Constitution; the Sustainable Development Goals; and other international declarations that identify social protection as a basic human right (World Bank, 2016). The country’s primary social protection programmes are the Basic Education Assistance Module (BEAM) and the Harmonised Social Cash Transfer Programme (HSCT). The country’s core social protection programmes include: the Basic Education Assistance Module (BEAM); Children in difficult circumstances; the Strategic Grain Reserve; the Health Assistance; Support to older persons; the Food Deficit Mitigation Programme; Harmonised Social Cash Transfer (HSCT) programme and the Food for work programme. Under the BEAM which was introduced in 2000, the GoZ gives assistance to vulnerable children in the form of school fees, tuition, levies and examination fees. It covers all schools both primary and secondary as well as special schools for children with disabilities. BEAM only has a coverage of about 530 000 out of the about 1 300 000 million children in need, while the HSCT programme, which is implemented by government and supported by the United Nations, only covers about 55 509 very poor and labour-constrained households in 20 districts (Chitambara, 2020).

Currently, GoZ offers workers two mandatory social security schemes under NSSA: the National Pension Scheme (NPS), which supports retirees above the age of 60; and the Workers Compensation Insurance Fund (WCIF) for workers injured or killed in work-related accidents or suffer from work-related diseases (Towindo, 2020). Furthermore, National Building Society (NBS) a NSSA subsidiary has created a tailor-made loan facility for pensioners. Under the scheme the pensioners would receive loans amounting to ZW $100 000 (310.56 US Dollars) to fund income-generating projects. NBS acting managing director Mr Alfred Chaavure stated this is a loan facility designed for individuals who receive their NSSA pay-outs whether as pensioners or beneficiaries through an NBS bank account.

In November 2020, GoZ launched its latest economic blueprint, the National Development Strategy (NDS 1) 2021–2025.For social protection NDS stipulates that several programmes, projects and interventions will be implemented to reduce extreme poverty and improve access to basic social services across the life cycle of vulnerable groups as follows: -

  • Provision of food assistance, social cash transfers, health assistance, holistic education support including school feeding and provision of sanitary wear for female learners in schools;
  • Provision of discretionary assistance in funeral and transport assistance;
  • Support towards disaster preparedness and response programmes to build resilience in communities; and
  • Strengthen social protection delivery systems inclusive of shock responsiveness (Government of Zimbabwe, 2020).

The GoZ is transitioning from social protection to social development in view to enhance self-reliance of vulnerable groups through livelihoods support outside the conventional traditional social safety nets provided by the government. There are considerable women empowerment projects which help in poverty eradication such as the start-up capital projects provided for women in small to medium enterprises by the Women's Bank and Youth Empower bank alongside internal savings and lending schemes facilitated by NGOs and the Ministry of Women Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprises (National Assocaition of Non Governmental Organisations(NANGO, 2021).

6 Organisation and administration of social protection in Zimbabwe

GoZ continues to prioritise poverty reduction in pursuit of Vision 2030 which seeks to rebuild and transform Zimbabwe into an Upper-Middle Income Economy by 2030. Poverty alleviation and safety nets are considered as cross cutting issues and a key pillar in the implementation of the NDS1.

Zimbabwe’s social protection is more concisely defined in the relevant Parliament Acts covering social insurance. The significant acts are Pension and Provident Fund Act, Insurance Act, State Services (Pensions) Act, National Social Security Authority Act. Older persons, the Zimbabwe Pension Rights Trust notes, are largely unlikely to be covered under these private provision schemes given the high unemployment in the country. The schemes have been publicly condemned for benefits entitlements below reasonable expectations (Zimbabwe Pension Rights Trust n.d).

Traditionally, the extended family system provided social support and care to its members. However, urbanisation, industrialisation and globalisation processes have gradually weakened extended family system cohesiveness, thereby undermining its capacity for social support provision and care. State and non-state actors are increasingly filling this void but are constrained by lack of adequate resources to provide meaningful social support and care.

Since 2017 Zimbabwe’s social assistance programs coverage has increased, but GoZ and donor programs still left nearly three million of the extreme poor unprotected in 2019.Public spending has risen since 2017, including for repayment of arrears on socialassistance programs in 2019, such as the Basic Education Assistance Module (BEAM), which fundsschool fees for poor children (World Bank, 2021). In addition, mobile payments for cash transfers introduction has solved some implementation challenges. In 2019, however, actual public spendingwas only 40 percent of the planned allocation, and coverage of public programs remained low,exacerbated by a more than doubling of poverty in the past decade (World Bank, 2021).

Under social protection, the NDS1 aims at extreme poverty reduction and improved basic social services access in all its forms and dimensions including narrowing inequalities. Effective social protection and safety nets, policies, systems and programmes play a major role in reducing poverty and vulnerability, redressing inequality, promoting inclusive growth and development of human capital. 

Although poverty remains largely a rural phenomenon, in 2017 extreme poverty increased in urban areas from 4 % to 10 % in April–May 2019. As evidenced by the development and adoption of an Interim Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper in 2016, poverty reduction has been a key GoZ policy priority (UN Zimbabwe Country Team, 2021). Despite high poverty levels the UN Zimbabwe Country Team (2021) further notes that social protection coverage remains very low with only 5 % of the national population covered by at least one social protection system. Zimbabwe’s social protection expenditure still falls far short of the expected coverage particularly of women and men in the informal sector. They are excluded from enjoying equal occupational safety, health care, pension benefits and maternity protection in the case of women. According to the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe (CCZ) as of 30 August 2021, a low-income earning urban family required approximately $41 235.93 (US$490 or a street value of US$317) to sustain their monetary needs per month (Matimaire 2021). The latest research conducted by the International Labour Organisations (ILO)(2021) shows some workers in the informal sector are earning less than $1 000 with the majority of jobs in the sector being described as "survivalist".

As most social protection support has been geared towards rural areas, the unmet need in urban areas, which was estimated at half a million households prior to COVID-19, has escalated. The country’s growing reliance on donor funding limits the scope and sustainability of public programs and, combined with capacity issues, limits GoZ flexibility to be responsive to increased social protection needs (World Bank, 2021). The World Food Programme (2021) implemented Urban Food Security and Resilience Building programme is active in 24 urban domains across Zimbabwe. A total of 321,813 people currently receive USD 12 per person per month via value voucher or remittance exchange. The transfer value is priced to cover 62 percent of an individual’s basic food needs.

As noted by Devereux & Kapingidza (2020), HSCT evolution and NSPPF development reflects external actors’ financial leverage usage to influence Zimbabwe’s social protection agenda. At inception, HSCT was 100 % donor-funded and currently still almost is totally dependent on external funding. HSCT setting up, Devereux & Kapingidza (2020) argue is not reflective of genuine local ownership and broad participation as its initiation and donor funding was in parallel to government-run national programs like the Basic Education Assistance Module (BEAM) and Public Assistance. MoLSS only provided implementation structures for the HSCT, while external agencies’ funding of the program gave them unprecedented power to play an influencing and oversight role ( Devereux & Kapingidza, 2020). Presently, Zimbabwe lacks a comprehensive social insurance scheme and the vast majority of Zimbabweans work in the precarious and survivalist livelihoods of the informal economy. Informal economy workers are largely not covered by social insurance where Zimbabwe continually grapples with limited range of social insurance benefits and lack of portability of social security benefits.

7 Current issues and challenges

Rudimentary and piecemeal social security interventions due to resource constraints are an intractable challenge for Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe’s social protection system has insufficient financial resources and implementation capacity to reach the growing number of people in extreme poverty. It is currently estimated that almost 7.9 million people live below the food poverty line, and it will be important to carefully target humanitarian and social protection programs to reach those most in need with adequate levels of benefits (WB 2021).The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) in 20 countries and situations – called Zimbabwe as one of the “hotspots” due to Zimbabwe’s complex food security crisis, driven by weather shocks and persistent macroeconomic instability that is worsened by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, the possibility of weather shocks notably cyclones, along with migratory locust and other pests outbreaks continuing to pose risks which could cause shortfalls in production and disrupt livelihoods. On account of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic a significant number of households also remain highly vulnerable.

The 2019 Labour Force and Child Labour Survey revealed that employment in the informal economy grew from 859,060 in 2014 to 975,880 in 2019 representing a 14 percent increase (Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions(ZCTU), 2020). Furthermore, in May 2021 research conducted by the Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee (ZIMVAC) led by the Food and Nutrition Council established that financial constraints, age and adolescence pregnancy were some of the notable reasons why about 23 % of the children were not in school. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, ZIMVAC, cited by Bulawayo 24 News website (2021), noted that there has been increased support from Treasury and reduction of assistance from the development partners. At least 54 % of the households received support from government, with development partners complementing these efforts by supporting 25 % of the households. Government claims average household monthly support for the vulnerable increased from US$33 in 2020 to US$75 in 2021. COVID-19 related expenditure has enabled Zimbabwe to finally meet the Abuja Declaration target of 15 % of national budget for the health sector as a total of ZW$25 billion (US$294,1 million) was spent towards the sector in 2020. Since ratifying the declaration 20 years ago in 2001, Zimbabwe’s public healthcare has been mostly donor funding reliant, never meeting the mandatory 15 % of the national budget quota (Matimaire, 2021).

Although the vast majority of the people considered to be employed with the official unemployment rate pegged at 11 percent, many citizens are engaged in low paying temporary insecure work and petty trade in the informal sector (United Nations Development Programme Zimbabwe Country Programme, 2020). In the light of the COVID pandemic, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) lamented in their situation analysis the informal economy markets over-congestion in Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital. According to ZCTU, these informal markets include Fourth Street in Harare Central Business District, Mupedzanhamo Market, Mbare Siyaso home industries, Glenview Area 8 Furniture Complex and others in various parts of the country as posing high COVID 19 risks for informal workers (Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions(ZCTU), 2020).

In ILO’s (2017) analysis the existence and role of the informal economy was triggered by the dual and enclave nature of the Zimbabwean economy inherited at independence. It was dual in that the formal economy had male dominance and was highly protected by national policies and co-existed with a largely ignored informal economy dominated by women.

The informal economy workers, including artisanal mining, contribute immensely to the country’s economy, employment, household welfare and filling the social protection gaps created by the deteriorating economy. Jones terms Zimbabwe’s informal sector the ‘kukiya-kiya’ economy, which is a new logic of economic action in post-2000 Zimbabwe. In local parlance ‘kukiya-kiya’ refers to multiple forms of ‘making do’ (Jones, 2010). According to Chirisa (2009) to those who are willing and able to work, job provision failures has been the incubatory determinant of African cities’ informalisation.

Jones (2010, p. 286) further asserts the common refrain that ‘kukiya-kiya’ is a strategy for survival. ‘We kiya-kiya in order to stay alive’, people say, ‘in order to eat’. Insofar as it is presented in this way as an adjunct to ‘bare life’, kukiya-kiya appears to be an instinctive response to circumstances”.

On the same note Zimbabwe Chamber of Informal Economy Associations (ZCIEA) is the umbrella body for informal sector actors. Its members include street/​market vendors, construction workers, waste pickers, and other informal economy workers.

As a trade union for informal works, ZCEIA has both self-employed and informal employees engaged in small, unregistered or un-incorporated enterprises and undeclared workers. ZCIEA has 198,466 members (60 % are women, 25 % men and 15 % youth) across 30 territories and 265 Chapters. Its five-pillar approach involves organising, educating, advocating, empowering and representing members, covering both rural and urban sectors.

The pandemic added 1.3 million Zimbabweans to the extreme poor reflecting job and income losses in urban areas, and a deterioration of social services in rural areas. The number of extreme poor reached 7.9 million in 2020—almost 49 percent of the population. The economic disruptions caused by COVID-19 reduced jobs in urban areas and limited job opportunities in rural areas. The scale of job losses reduced livelihoods of families, especially in urban areas. One of five respondents of the first round of a nationally representative telephone survey who had a job in March 2020 reported that they were not working in July 2020 (World Bank, 2021).

Because of lack of formal informal sector recognition it falls ultra vires the existing institutionalised organisations, the NSSA included (Chirisa, 2013). This means that a bulk of the population does not have a formal channel through which to make contributions or social security subscriptions towards mitigating risks after retirement, leaving them vulnerable in old age and their families at risk in the event of their death (Chirisa, 2013).

In addition to an increasing poverty rate and a growing informal economic sector which is often the only source for Zimbabweans to secure their livelihood but does not offer access to contribution-based social protection, Zimbabwe experiences a continuous brain drain. Due to the country's high literacy rates and quality of science, technology, engineering and maths education the Zimbabwean education system still has a level of international appeal (British Council 2020). According to British Council the combination of high skills, an absence of jobs and a lack of popular role models speaking up for education has contributed, and will continually contribute, to 'brain drain'. Moreover, the Zimbabwean education system also faces contemporary challenges in technical capacities such as digital learning and a legacy colonial infrastructural divide between urban and rural areas as well as other continuing infrastructure challenges.

The challenges faced by Zimbabwe are manifold. Henceforth, as suggested by the International Labour Organisation (2021), increasing living standards and promoting economic and social development requires to improve employment opportunities. Economies grow when more people work and when each job in the economy becomes more productive. At the same time, households escape poverty when labour income, the main source of income for most households, increases. This happens when more working-age household members are employed and when the quality of their jobs improves. Furthermore, public expenditure prioritising is required. The Constitutional principle of public revenue compels the State to equitably deploy its resources for the benefit of marginalised groups and areas. The Intermediated Money Transfer Tax (IMTT) on mobile money transfers that was introduced in 2019 to bolster investment in basic services provision now has infrastructure development projects like roads as dominant crowding out investment in health, education, and water (Action Aid 2021). Importantly Action Aid (2021) rightly point out that parliament and civic society actors must redouble efforts on budget tracking to hold more accountable the Treasury and ministries in charge of service delivery on huge unspent funds related to capital budgets. Conclusively, piecemeal and rudimentary social security programmes should be deconstructed and robust, pro poor social security programmes embedded in state and none state actors interventions.

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United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, n.d. Social Protection and Social Security (including social protection floors). [Online] Available at:​documents/​eleventh/​Inputs%20NGOs/​Zimbabwe%20Pension&Insurance%20Rights%20Trust%20-%20Social%20Protection%20and%20Social%20Security%20fnl.pdf [Accessed 6 December 2020].

World Bank, 2016. Zimbabwe Public Expenditure Review, Washington: World Bank.

World Bank, 2021. Zimbabwe Economic Update Overcoming Economic Challenges, Natural Disasters, And The Pandemic: Social And Economic Impacts, Washington: The World Bank Group.

World Food Programme Zimbabwe, 2020. World Food Programme Zimbabwe: Country Strategic Plan, Harare: World Food Programme Zimbabwe.

World Food Programme Zimbabwe, 2020.Zimbabwe Country Brief April 2021 Harare: World Food Programme Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions(ZCTU), 2020. ZCTU response to the impact of Covid-19 (coronavirus) Pandemic on Workers and the Zimbabwean economy, march 31, 2020, Harare: ZCTU.

Zimbabwe Pensions Trust &Insurance Rights Trust(n.d) Social Protection and Social Security (including social protection floors) Online] Available at:​documents/​eleventh/​Inputs%20NGOs/​Zimbabwe%20Pension&Insurance%20Rights%20Trust%20-%20Social%20Protection%20and%20Social%20Security%20fnl.pdf [Accessed 14/09/2021]

9 Further reading

Devereux, S., & Kapingidza, S. (2020). External Donors and Social Protection in Africa: A Case Study of Zimbabwe. In C. Schmitt, From Colonialism to International Aid External Actors and Social Protection in the Global South (pp. 273–301). Cham: Palgrave Macmillan.

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. Country Portrait Zimbabwe: The trajectory of Social Welfare and Social Work Systems In: socialnet International [online]. 2022-01-05. Retrieved 2024-05-20 from

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