Impoverished Youth Turn to Crime for Survival

For many young people in Matabeleland South, the economic opportunities accessed by their parents in yester-years are a fleeting dream, to make ends, many are crossing lines.

Edmore Dube (65) of Habane Township, Esigodini worked for 31 years for several citrus farming companies and had a modest lifestyle. The citrus farm was a thriving business concern that employed scores of locals around Esigodini, youths included. However, the 2000s land reform program that resulted in the invasion of one orange plantation cost many jobs, changing their living conditions forever.

“Life was good back then. I earned what I could say was decent pay and never knew that money can just lose its buying power,” Dube reflects.

Dube reminisces the lush orange trees wand wondrous sight for travellers along the Bulawayo-Beitbridge highway, but also how everything dried up, following the farm invasion.

Economic and political survey reports released in June paint a gloomy economic situation. Some respondents indicated that economic conditions are ‘bad’ and the country is headed in the wrong direction. An Afro Barometer survey conducted between 16 April and 1 May 2021 says “only slightly more than one-third are optimistic about the coming year,” adding “going without enough food and a cash income was more common in rural areas”.

Dube identifies with those who make do “without enough food” saying this is driving residents especially the youth to crime. According to the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (ZIMSTAT), the June poverty datum line for an individual in Matabeleland South was pegged at ZWL$3,463.19 deemed enough to purchase both non-food and food items in order not to be classified as poor.

Although the figure is the lowest when compared with Matabeleland North’s ZWL$4, 663, 19 and ZWL$4, 251, 17 in Bulawayo, Dube’s son Moffatt says life is unbearable in Esigodini. “We are struggling as youths,” says Moffatt (28). “The only way out of this poverty is petty crime.

“Most of my colleagues are into crime, breaking into residents’ houses and shops. Some daring one’s are now targeting livestock which offers quick sales,” says Dube, Edmore’s son.

Moffatt does not foresee himself landing a decent job as his father did in the 80s when opportunities were plenty, and the economy was booming. “I have resisted attempts to join other youths in illegal gold panning. It’s lucrative but very risky,” adds Moffatt.

The history of farming as a thriving venture employing most people many years ago is unbelievable to him, “there is no evidence of it,” he says. Esigodini is a district rich in gold deposits, attracting many panners from across the country.

In its latest report on Zimbabwe, the World Bank said the country would record modest 3.9% growth this year before rising to 5.1% and 5% next year and in 2023.

While Moffatt has ruled out gold panning, Musawenkosi Mahlangu of Umzingwane has been eking a living from digging the earth for the precious mineral for the past two years. “There is no option. Gold panning is now my only way out of poverty. In the past two years, I have managed to build a two-roomed house in Esigodini,” Mahlangu says.

Mahlangu, however, concedes that gold panning activities are damaging the environment, farming fields and contaminating water bodies with chemicals such as mercury. He says once there is a gold rush in a particular area, they quickly abandon their current sites and head for the new one, leaving unreclaimed open pits.

“There would be no time to fill up the holes we would have dug up. We don’t want to waste time on old sites giving other people to peg what might be lucrative sites”.

Over the years, Umzingwane villagers have expressed concern about the high crime rate in the district with most of the cases blamed on undocumented illegal gold panners. A Zimbabwe Republic Police base has since been opened at Umzingwane district’s ward 19 following increased violent crimes, notable armed robberies, murder and assault.

The Member of Parliament for Umzingwane Constituency Levi Mayihlome is of the view that a collective approach is a key to curbing crime. “We need to work together as a constituency to fight crime. I have always called for that approach,” he says.

As the crime rate increases, Dube does not see any benefit of his province being the least expensive.

“The truth is food is expensive here and I wonder how surveys are conducted. That amount [ZWL$4, 663, 19] can hardly last two weeks”.

Source: The Citizen Bulletin

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