Unemployed people are looked at with much disdain in Zambia. What’s odd is that even when these unemployed are trying to put something together to occupy themselves while at the same time earn a living, people scoff at them knowing full well that the odds of success are against any individual that seeks a career in business.
But things aren’t always what they seem.
Despite being scoffed at as the struggling class, the unemployed that string a few moves here and there – day in, day out, week in week out – actually get by. And they get by in a way that many people would be surprised to learn if they bothered to investigate.
Zambian society is very interesting to observe when you look around. We have a ridiculously small number of people in formal employment, and yet when you look around, people are surviving. Some people find it really puzzling that somebody can survive without a job in formal employment.
They get even more shocked to hear that these so called unemployed people are buying cars, plots where they are building houses, and even taking trips from one country to another just to holiday. So what is it exactly that makes it such a shocking thing to learn that people are managing without a formal job?
The answer is simple. The national psyche, the widespread belief among Zambians is that you need a job to survive.
Most Zambians truly believe in a formal job with a steady pay check. Few really understand and appreciate that in the informal sector, there are so many opportunities that allow the unemployed to equalise and probably even do better.
The irony in all this is that people in formal employment in their shiny suits and air conditioned offices look down on those without jobs. They view them with such disdain, yet if you had to go into Cha cha cha market in the Lusaka City Centre and look at the average monthly income of the various traders situated there, I’ll bet my bottom dollar that they make far much more money than most of the so called elite that wear shiny suits and elegant outfits to their different offices – be it banks, government departments, audit firms etc.
This irony I just mentioned above is one of the biggest misconceptions that people don’t see in our society. Somebody gets a salary that is not a wow factor. Using his/ her payslip, he/ she gets a salary backed loan and leases a used German luxury car, goes on to pretend with part of the loan in all the Lusaka, Ndola and Kitwe Hot spots. His/ her ostentatious lifestyle earns reverence among the undiscerning members of our society. And not to downplay the intelligence of Zambians, but the undiscerning are actually quite a few in our society.
This so called well-to-do individual will be showered with words such as: ‘You people are doing well. Why don’t you share some of your money with us?’ And so the gossip goes round that at such and such an employer, they pay well or this person has moved so fast in his/ her career and is living comfortably.
Again I say, the undiscerning in Zambian society form the majority. How I would love for a survey to be conducted in order to investigate the average IQ of the Zambian populace.
It would be quite interesting to read into the results of such a survey and even go further to compare with a similar survey conducted in other countries.
Contrast the man in the preceding paragraph with a man who never really attained excellent grades in school and did not even get a decent tertiary education.
Perhaps because of the fact that he came from a disadvantaged background, he missed the basics in primary education and from then onwards struggled to keep up with the pace.
Yet all the while this man has been known to be a handy man among family members and friends with a very good work ethic.
Then at some point, a well off family member chooses to take a chance on him and says let me give you K20,000, and pay rent for a shop for you in the Cha cha cha market in the Lusaka City Centre and see what you can do with the money.
This man gets delighted with the offer and decides to try out his luck at some small business. He asks around and stumbles upon the idea of jumping on a K400 bus to Johannesburg, South Africa to buy some hardware material (electrical, plumbing etc) to resale at his stand in Cha cha cha market.
He tries out his hand at this business and happens to have some good luck in the beginning; he gets regular sales, fortuitously stumbles upon a young man involved in mine supply on the Copperbelt province who desperately needs a constant and cheap supply of the very same hardware to satisfy the purchasing orders at one of the sizeable mines.
This man running the hardware stall in Cha cha cha market soon learns that his profit mark-up runs up to 70%. Within the space of a year, he rotates his working capital a good number of times and having starting from humble beginnings with a K20,000 capital, his capital base now stands at K300,000. His small business now has a steady stream of revenue averaging K80,000 per month.
He acquires a plot somewhere to build his own home and even gets land in rural Zambia to begin some farming activities.
He is well on his way to the champions league, yet he has never had a job in formal employment. Due to his unpretentious character owing to his background, he chooses not to adopt an ostentatious lifestyle characterised by driving German luxury cars as well as splurging in all the Lusaka Hot spots. He portrays and indeed espouses a very humble demeanour.
Now where the two characters I have talked about tie in with the misconception I mentioned earlier is that most people upon seeing the first individual I talked would presume he does a lot better than the latter.
After all, he drives a luxury car, wears shiny suits, works in a major corporate entity and drinks at the shopping malls and hotels; the latter on the other hand, they’ll think runs a ‘ntemba’ at Town centre market and drives some used Japanese car, he goes to South Africa by bus and does not make it to drink in the shopping malls and hotels because he can’t afford to do so. Even parents fall victim to this misconception.
Many parents are not interested in marrying off their daughter to ‘some trader at town centre market.’ Surely, they would rather marry her off to some well-to-do banker or whatever professional. If people bothered to find out the reality, they would come across some rather shocking revelations.
Here is what people need to understand; what matters in life is that you do something productive and earn an honest living without bothering anybody.
What’s more is that those that did not land in these so called admirable corporate jobs wound up so because sometimes in life, due to reasons beyond our control, we are simply driven onto a certain path even though it might not be our ideal walk through life. But if we possess a desire to achieve, the old saying goes: when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.
So when people do not make it to this revered corporate set up, and they take another path, things aren’t always what they seem in terms of who is actually well off compared with the other.
We tend to make our analyses and conclusions simply on first sight, yet if you look beneath the surface, you may find shocking revelations. The very same Town centre dwellers that you spit on because you are in your used BMW may actually be better off than you. What a shocker! As it turns out, the two characters that I talked about earlier are not fictitious, they are actually real. And if you look around Zambian society, you’ll find many people just like these two.
These two remind us that the conventional route that we have been taught of go to school, get a decent education and find a good job is not always applicable to everyone in society.
Don’t get me wrong, I am all for a good education and skilled labour, but my point is there is always another way. And now more than any other time in the history of this country, we need our youths to understand this.
Instead of crying over the lack of jobs in the country and sending applications across the country as an annual event, and these are never responded to anyway, it’s better to formulate a way just like the man with the hardware stall at Cha cha cha market. There has to be a combination that will make you unemployed, yet comfortable.
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