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A view from ko Bulawayo with Discent Bajila

04 Nov 2019 at 13:02hrs | Views
When modernization and digitization deepen marginalization

On the day I finished my Advanced Level examinations at Luveve High School in Bulawayo mid November 2006, my loving sister had already arrived in the city to take me to Gwanda, the provincial capital of our province of origin. Perhaps she was mindful of the fact that when I finished Ordinary Levels two years earlier I had skipped the border without a passport and found myself in trouble but was lucky enough to be out of trouble and in time for Advanced Level back ko Bulawayo. This time around she took it upon herself to hand hold me to what she thought was a decent path of life. She was aware of companies in Gwanda that were recruiting for the festive season and wanted me to find myself a job there.

So the morning after we got home in Spitzkop, Gwanda, I scribbled my excuse of a Curriculum Vitae (CV)on a piece of paper and she paid a couple of thousands of then Zimbabwean dollars to get it typed and printed at a nearby phone shop/internet café. I then went to the Provincial Department of Labour and Social Welfare at the Government offices along Khartoum Street to register myself as a job seeker.  After entering my details in the system, I was given a job seeker's card dimensionally smaller than the national identity document. The importance of the job seekers card was that I had to hand it over to my new employer on the day I get employed so that they facilitate my removal from the job seekers list. It would be handed back to me should I lose my job for whatever reason. That way I would re-register myself as a returnee job seeker.  Government Departments, Retail giants like OK Zimbabwe, Advance etc and big nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) like World Vision would rely on the Job Seekers' list at the Provincial Department of Labour and Social Welfare as and when vacancies arose. Through this system, I got my first job at the Gwanda Branch of OK Zimbabwe and began work during the second work of December 2006.

In addition to assisting government with a clear local skills bank and accurate unemployment statistics, this system made it possible for local residents to get preferential access to unskilled and semiskilled jobs in the areas where they live. Somehow, like all other systems that makes the work of government and citizens easy, this system too was discontinued and replaced with nothing. Now government has no accurate means of documenting unemployment statistics at district levels on a month to month basis. It has to rely on the national census exercise which constitutionally happens after every decade. Without a proper system of documenting job seekers at district levels, government's fight against unemployment, should it exist, becomes subject to nepotism and corruption. Headquarter employees in central government and the private sectors tend to use cohesion to deploy their relatives and friends to menial opportunities across the country. After relatives and friends have been deployed, the need to benefit from the ability to deploy results in a transactional approach to job seeking. Under this approach, poor job seekers are made to pay in order to get deployed as opportunities. Cases of sex for jobs also become prevalent under such circumstances. Thus deployments all emanate from the centre going to the periphery. Residents at the periphery begin to see an increase in the number of fellow citizens relocating to that particular periphery to do jobs that were never advertised to locals. Residents of border towns like Mutare, Beitbridge, Victoria Falls and Plumtree begin to see an increase in the number of people coming from elsewhere to work locally as office cleaners, boom gate operators, gardeners, tea makers and other unskilled jobs. When locals either never saw advertisements of these opportunities or actually saw the opportunities and applied but were never given an opportunity yet they qualify for the jobs, an ‘us and them' situation naturally arises. The natural instinct becomes the questioning of the basis on which those who got the jobs actually got them. Most of these instinctive attempts at understanding these issues are informed by social engineering programmes we have gone through since time immemorial. For example, if a woman gets an unadvertised job, the first instinct has been to accuse them of having slept with interviewing authorities because for far too long it has been men who are employed in positions where they are required to interview new employees. Outside that, people often find religion and tribe as basis by which people treat one another differently.

The tribal issue is very emotive particularly in communities where the job finders speak a different language from the majority of locals who will have missed out on the job opportunity. It makes it worse if these job finders with a different language can communicate amongst themselves but refuse to learn local languages to the extent of providing public services in the particular language. This further deepens the ‘us and them' situation.

Serving a community in its own language is a very important issue in modern developments. It is only imperialists who want to bring services and changes to communities without caring about how locals feel or appreciate the development in question. Even fourth industrial revolutionaries concede that it will be important for robots to be able converse with local communities in local languages or dialects. In countries like South Africa where respect and equality of languages is a key national development, Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) have been programmed to give bank clients an option of a language they wish to be served in. The point is that, if industrialized and more cosmopolitan societies understand so much the importance serving communities in their languages no matter how modern they become, it must be easier for manpower-reliant communities like Zimbabwe to understand the matter and factor it in all development planning and processes.

Development theorist Walter Rostow in his 1960 book, ‘The stages of development' made fundamental arguments around what is known as the modernization theory. Rostow argued that in order for nations to develop they must go through various stages where they make successive modernizations to their systems of development including in economic production and human resource management. One such issue is the introduction of modern information and communication technologies (ICT) to all aspects of human existence. ICTs have changed several aspects of human life since their introduction. For example with the introduction of computers, the Khartoum Street offices that I visited as a job seeker in 2006 no longer need the long filling cabinets where our files were kept in alphabetic order. Computer systems have capacity to process and store vast amounts of information and automatically allocate job seekers to prospective employers based on stated interests and qualifications. They also have the capacity to automatically remove and re-enter a person on the job seekers list post their initial registration It is now possible for a job seeker to search for vacancies write their CV and send it to prospective employers from the comfort of their homes. The internet, being an essential component of ICT, has made it possible for communication to be easier than ever before. It has tremendously reduced the transportation cost and time taken to seek and deliver messages. However internet connectivity differs from country to country and from one area of a country to another.

Thus, in a country where marginalization is a problem, modernization that doesn't consider this underlying problem may become infrastructure for strengthening an existing problem and therefore face rejection. Modernization must be brought for its own sake. It must be a means to an end and be designed in a way that helps Zimbabwe solve some problems that politics has failed to solve. Modernization must be sensitive to the fact Zimbabwe is an artificial and colonial construct. It didn't exist since time immemorial. If modernization is brought in a manner that systematically treats some people different from others, the result is that those treated badly ultimately lose a sense of belonging to Zimbabwe and begin make pronouncements about them belonging elsewhere. That way, modernization and digitization become tools by which building blocks of societies are dismantled rather than solidified, yet the role of technology is to bring people together into one global village.

The government of Zimbabwe is in the process of introducing electronic registration for the education and health sector student recruitment exercises. It is envisaged that the electronic registration system will eventually spread across government departments and the private sector.  However, if this electronic registration exercise is not designed to respond to the existing challenge of marginalization, it will fail to achieve the development purposes. It will rather become part of the infrastructure of marginalization. Once technology becomes part of the infrastructure of marginalization, disgruntled peoples and communities tend to resist it and no self-respecting government can afford to survive a situation of animosity between citizens and technology. Recent events have indicated that the centralized electronic registration of nursing students is handled in a manner that disenfranchises applicants from Bulawayo and the wider Matebeleland region. While the hand delivery and postal systems of application were not perfect, they at least were adjudicated locally and gave locals reasonable opportunities for self actualization. The electronic application process has resulted in drastic decreases in the number of local applicants being enrolled at local nursing schools. While no scientific study has been done to stratify applicants by IP address, physical address and so forth some social commentaries have suggested believable reasons for this all of which need government intervention. The suggested causes of this include nepotism and corruption of adjudicating panels, a tribal plan of marginalization, lack of internet connectivity in some areas and insufficient publicity about the new registration process. Regardless of what one believes is the cause of the problem; the onus is on government to ensure that modernization happens in a manner that does not deepen our existing man -made and natural problems.

In conclusion, it is of paramount importance for the government of Zimbabwe to relook its social engineering programmes by speedily observing devolution as enshrined in Chapter fourteen (14) of the Constitution. The importance of this is that all manner of development and innovation functions with the parameters of an existing social engineering programme. Central to this programme must be an insistence that unskilled and semiskilled economic, political and personal development opportunities must be statutorily reserved for locals. In future installments of ‘A view from ko Bulawayo' we shall discuss the question

Otherwise ayidumi kanje ma izosuka batayi!!!

Discent C Bajila is a political commentator in Zimbabwe. He sees things from the viewpoint of the people of Bulawayo. He may be contacted via discentbajila@gmail.com




Source - Discent Bajila
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