There was a coincidence between the beginning of the new millennium and the beginning of what, is generally referred to as the ‘Zimbabwe crisis’- this is shorthand for a very complex process of state and market failure. In fact, what was referred to as the Zimbabwean crisis was a three-dimensional interrelated form of collapse which included the political crisis centered on increasing tendencies of authoritarianism on the part of the state and supporting structures. Further compounding the collapse were the contestations surrounding election results and the ‘rule of law’ in general. The other critical dimension to the crisis was the economic meltdown whose causes are multifaceted; ranging from liberalisation of an infant capitalist sector still in need of some levels of protectionism, economic mismanagement on the part of government, structural constraints within the local economy and the flooding of the local economy with cheap imports that competed unfairly with locally produced goods and rent seeking behaviour by state elites. The economic collapse has also been associated with the shrinking of industrial activity, through the closure of many manufacturing concerns and downsizing of some. It is estimated that during the period 2000 to 2007 the economy shrunk by over 30% (Moyo and Yeros, 2007). Inflation accelerated through 2006, and by 2007 the country was officially experiencing hyperinflation, with prices rising more than 50% every month (Scoones, et. al., 2010:26). This continued through 2007 and 2008 with inflation peaking at 231m% towards the end of 2008 (Chimhowu, 2009). Formal sector urban employment shrunk from 3.6 million in 2003 to 480 000 in 2008 (Mail and Guardian, 18 January 2009) and even those who managed to retain their jobs were in most cases receiving wages that were below the poverty datum line, mostly eroded by the hyperinflationary environment. The third dimension of the ‘crisis’ is the collapse of social service delivery (the subject of this essay).

The economic decline negatively affected the social reproduction capacities of both urban and rural households. The social dimensions of the crisis have been the most visible and the impact has been devastating on most of the ordinary working people. The social crisis is characterised by the decline or absolute collapse of social service delivery in housing, health and education, and the erosion of household incomes leading to an increase in cases of food insecurity and general vulnerability. Parallel to the collapse of social service delivery has been an alarming brain drain of professionals especially in health and education, it is estimated that more than 3.5 million people have left the country since 1997 (Zimbabwe Independent, 19 December, 2004). The subsections below discuss how a country that had the best literacy records on the subcontinent and closest to achieving the goal of health for all, had entered a process of undoing some of the post-independence gains (World Bank, 2006).

Deteriorating Standards of Education

The economic meltdown of the post 2000 period led to high prices of consumer good amidst low wages which eventually put the education sector under severe stress more so in a context where the GoZ was incapable of revising the salaries of teachers upwards in tandem with inflationary pressures. This has resulted in a significant increase in the establishment of private institutions, both regulated and unregulated, high teacher absenteeism with teachers supplementing their wages by offering ‘private lessons’ as well as a marked increased exodus of trained teachers into the sub-region and beyond, with some being lost to the profession completely. In 2009 South Africa openly recruited Mathematics and Science teachers from Zimbabwe in violation of the SADC protocol which seeks to limit the movement of professionals within the sub-region. For the 2012 O’ Level exams, the pass rate (5 subjects with a C grade or better including Maths and English) was a paltry 19% under ZIMSEC and this can be attributed to a number of reasons.

Regarding tertiary education, the issues affecting the 8 state universities are aptly summarised by the Council for Assisting Refugee Academics (CARA) and International Organisation for Migration (IOM)) 2010, report on higher education. The report identified the following factors as the main constraints to the recovery of tertiary education in Zimbabwe:

  • The heightened fees for both tuition and accommodation, to be paid in US Dollars. Following the new fees and currency regime, the 2009 first school term and academic year was characterised by higher than normal dropouts and some students were forced to defer their studies. It is estimated that approximately 500 000 children of school going age (primary to tertiary levels) are no longer going to school owing to a spike in school fees. Tuition fees ranged from between US$400 to US$1,200 per semester while the average salary in Zimbabwe is set at US$100 per month. During June 2010, hundreds of students were prohibited from sitting exams after failing to pay tuition fees.
  • Gross underfunding of institutions by the government since the 1990s. Institutions were receiving funds from research, research partnerships with businesses, organisations and the donor community, but such support has dried up. This lack of funding has severely affected the quality of education: there are insufficient funds to buy up-to date teaching and learning materials, equipment and resources, to update technology and curricula.
  • The majority of infrastructure, facilities and equipment are dilapidated, and the limited resources have pushed any repairs or maintenance down in the priority list by amplifying the cost of upgrading to modern standards.
  • Zimbabwe’s higher education sector has been hard hit by the “brain drain” of the past decade. The exodus of highly skilled and experienced professionals left Zimbabwe’s Universities, Colleges and schools facing severe shortages in manpower and resources to take up roles all over the world.

Limited Access to Deteriorating Health Services

The public health delivery sector has in many ways continued to deteriorate since 2000. Most of the challenges arose out of the adjustment period. The discussion below highlights some of the indicators of decline and also the major challenges in health delivery. However, prior to that we discuss the HIV/AIDS story in which the Ministry of Health and international partners have persevered to decisively respond to the pandemic.  The rate of HIV/AIDS prevalence has declined to 13.3% compared to 20.5% in 2005 and 25.3% in 1997. Although HIV prevalence in Zimbabwe has declined the prevailing rates are still unacceptably high and it is also estimated that 1,102, 864 adults and children are living with HIV. On a more positive note the number of annual HIV/AIDS related deaths has declined whilst the number of persons on anti-retroviral therapy (ART) has increased. According to the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare (MOHCW) a total of 470 000 (slightly less than 50% of the infected people) were receiving ART through the national health system. There have also been notable changes in behavioural patterns amongst sexually active Zimbabweans due to the public education and awareness campaign on the dangers of having multiple sexual partners and unprotected sex.

However, only 360 of 1,200 physicians trained during the 1990s were still practicing in Zimbabwe in 2000 (Liese, B and Dussault, G, 2004). Hagopian et. al. (2004) quote a World Health Organisation (WHO) report states that in 2003 there were 1694 trained physicians that remained in the country and Sachikonye (2011) refers to a 2003 survey which suggests that 24% of an estimated 500,000 professionals Zimbabweans who emigrated were trained doctors, nurses or pharmacists. There have been no other significant improvements in health delivery services since the formation of the inclusive government in February last year, with statistics showing that vacancy levels stand at 80 % for midwives, 62 % for nursing tutors, 63 % for medical school lecturers and over 50 % for pharmacy, radiology and laboratory personnel. In 2009 the mean annual vacancy rate for all health professionals was nearly 40% and this has dropped to slightly less than 20% in 2011. Other recent statistics from the Ministry of Health indicate that Zimbabwe spends only nine dollars in health fees per person per year. By 2009 national government expenditure on health was a mere US$15million against the proposed national health budget of US$150million or 10% of the estimated requirement for health programing in the country (MOHCW, 2011). In the following year the GoZ allocated US$79 million (excluding salaries and expenditure) in the budget to the Health Ministry. This level of spending is inadequate and the country may not achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). According to MOHCW the top three major public health threats confronting Zimbabwe today are  HIV/AIDS (approximately 60,000 adults and about 12,000 child deaths per year), TB (32,000-35,000 deaths each year) and malaria (there were around 600 000 suspected cases in 2010 although the deaths are low).

The user fees at health centres introduced during the height of economic reforms (see previous section) imposed a strain on a number of households and in the current period the capacity of these centres to effectively service communities was severely eroded. The overall erosion of Zimbabwe’s health system is indexed by a fall in key health indicators-between 1990 and 2008 life expectancy at birth fell from 62 to 44 years (World Bank 2010). Maternal mortality rose dramatically from 168 per 100 000 live births in 1990 to 880 per 100 000 live births in 2005 (World Bank 2010). The child health status indicators have also worsened; infant mortality and under-five mortality rose from 53 % to 77 per 1 000 live births in 1994 to 67 and 94 per 1 000 live births respectively in 2009 (Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Health 2010). Around 30,000 to 33,000 under-5 year old children die each year, primarily from acute respiratory infection, diarrheal disease and HIV/AIDS. Zimbabwe’s fertility rates also declined, although this could be a positive development due to population control interventions made since the 1980s, to 3.34 births per woman compared with regional averages of five births per woman. Approximately 39% of children under the age of five were considered under-nourished in a context where 50% of the population needed food aid (World Food Programme 2008, World Bank, 2010).

Furthermore, the period since the year 2000 has been characterised by a widespread shortage of essential medical supplies such as drugs, gloves and qualified personnel (Human Rights Watch, 2003). As already mentioned the sector lost qualified professionals through outmigration and of the medical doctors who remained in the country a significant number joined the private hospital sector or opened their own consultation rooms. A report by the 2010 Portfolio Committee on Health and Child Welfare, states that the country only has 21% of the required medical practitioners amid other frightening statistics on the worsening health situation.
The report further stated that as a result of the serious shortage and disruption of transport and telecommunications, several programmes including patient transfers, malaria indoor residual spraying, drug distribution and supervision of districts and rural health centres has been compromised.  Furthermore the Ministry has faced difficulties in responding to outbreaks such as the cholera outbreak of 2008 despite the fact there has always been sufficient capacity to respond to such outbreaks before. Experts argue that the inadequate provision of safe water and sanitation has contributed towards the spread of water borne diseases which only serves to introduce new strains on an already stretched public health delivery system.

Urban Housing Challenges

It is estimated that the current urban housing backlog stands at one million (1,000,000) families. The urban population stands at 4.456 million and is estimated to be increasing at a rate of 5% to 6% per annum, which is almost 5 to 6 times greater than the current national population growth rate of 1.1% per year. The slowing down in housing delivery is linked to the abandonment of the 1980s growth with equity policy in favour of a more orthodox market based approach to social policy delivery. Others have already observed (see Toriro, 2005 and Masuko, 2008) that the constraint to housing delivery was not necessarily about land availability but delivery systems that were/are not sensitive to the huge numbers that are still to get land and housing. By the end of 2002, only 5,500 stands were serviced in eight urban areas in that year despite the overwhelming demand for land.  The illegal settlements and extensions or outbuildings that were found on more than 80 % of housing stands (see below) in Harare  across all income categories show the critical level of demand for housing  (Toriro, 2005; Masuko, 2008

Prior to 2000, little had been written on the urban land question ( Rakodi and Mutizwa-Mangiza 1990). Social mobilisation and public action on the urban housing question had not really emerged as it had done in the rural space until the new social movement in the form of housing cooperatives that emerged during the fast track land reform. Masuko (2008:182) argues that from the year 2000, a new kind of housing cooperative emerged that went beyond the formalized struggles for housing provision that were dominated workplace based cooperatives to include campaigns for land reclamation and a more direct challenge to the institutional arrangements that governed the provision of housing in urban areas (Masuko, 2008: 182). The failure to provide houses led to self-provisioning of residential stands. The process of self-provisioning increased in intensity during the period of rural land occupation after 2000; the homeless public, led by veterans of Zimbabwe’s war of liberation, occupied farms on the urban fringes of most urban centres as part of the fast-track land reform programme (FTLRP) in 2000 (see Masuko, 2008).

In 2005 the GoZ implemented Operation Restore Order/Murambatsvina which entailed the demolition of illegal structures countrywide. The immediate outcome of the operation was the displacement of thousands from their dwellings and also the closure of many commercial premises leading to the erosion of incomes thus negatively impacting upon the livelihoods informal traders. The operation also led to the deprivation from other essential services, for instance,   the displacement of children from schools and the disruption of health delivery services especially for those receiving HIV/AIDS treatment. The operation created an unnecessary strain on the displaced as well as the welfarist oriented NGOs, given the background of already threatened urban livelihoods.

Furthermore Zimbabwe’s building societies were hesitant to lend to formerly off-limit low-income households, when the societies themselves were reeling from the collapse of the segregated housing provision system, which had a greater portion of their mortgages allocated to high-income social groups. The perilous state of private housing finance in Zimbabwe is evident in the financial statements of the largest mortgage financier, the Central Africa Building Society (CABS). Of CABS’ total assets in 2001, mortgage advances accounted for just 20 per cent, one-fifth of which were for low-income borrowers. In summary, the challenge around low income housing provision is comprised of,

  • limited local authority financial capacity to service stands and also supply houses,
  • inadequate prioritisation of low-income housing on the part of central government,
  • rigid planning requirements which increase the cost of building and
  • an unclear framework for partnerships.


The social dimensions of the crisis have been the most visible and the impact has been devastating on the majority of the ordinary working people. In 2002 the Central Statistical Office (CSO) estimated that seventy percent of the population was living below the poverty datum line and this figure could only have moved upwards during the intervening period because, firstly, there had been a considerable increase in the price of food and other consumables due to inflation and, secondly, the plight of the poor was exacerbated by a substantial shortfall in maize production, with the GoZ estimating in 2005 that an extra 91 000 metric tonnes of maize would be required to meet the deficit. The 2005 Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee (ZIMVAC)[1] report estimated that 36 percent (2.9 million) of the rural population would not be able to meet its household food requirements during the 2005/06 season.

The cyclical linkages of support and cooperation that have traditionally existed between the rural and urban households that involved cash remittances from urban to rural and grains from the rural to the urban sector were under severe threat. The economic decline and high unemployment rates potentially contributed towards a shrinking of the level of urban to rural remittances required for the purchase of essential inputs and working capital (Chigumira and Matshe, 2004). A country that was in the late 1980s close to food self-sufficiency, with the best literacy records on the subcontinent and closest to achieving the goal of health for all, was now facing the possibilities of undoing some of the post-independence gains (World Bank, 2006).


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  1. Hagopian, A, Thompson, MJ, Fordyce, M, Johnson, KE, & Hart, L G 2004. ‘The migration of Physicians from sub-Saharan Africa to the United States of America: measures of the African brain drain’, Human Resources for health, vol. 2, no. 1, pp 17.
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  1. Parliament of Zimbabwe, 2010. Parliamentary Portfolio Committee Report on Health Delivery in Zimbabwe, Harare.
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  5. World Bank 2010. World Development Indicators 2010, World Bank, Washington DC,
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[1] The Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee (ZIMVAC) is a sub-committee of Poverty Eradication and Social Services Delivery Development Action Committee (PESSDDAC). This Committee is chaired by the Food and Nutrition Council (FNC), which is part of the Scientific and Industrial Research and Development Centre (SIRDC) and is also composed of the UNWFP, FAO, UNICEF, OCHA, FEWSNET, SC (UK) and the University of Zimbabwe.