By Jeffrey Moyo
HARARE, Jan 24 2024 (IPS)
Twenty years after completing high school in Zimbabwe, 38-year-old Tinago Mukono still has not found employment, and in order to survive, he has switched to betting, turning it into a form of employment.
Every day throughout the week, Mukono leaves his home to join many others like him in betting clubs strewn across Harare, the Zimbabwean capital, with the hope of making it.
With Zimbabwe’s economy underperforming over the past two decades since the government seized white-owned commercial farms, unemployment has stood out as the country’s worst burden.
According to the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), over 90 percent of Zimbabweans are jobless.
Such are many, like Mukono, who has desperately found betting to be the panacea.
“I wake up every day to come bet here in town. I do soccer betting, and sometimes I win, but sometimes I also lose, but I keep trying,” Mukono told IPS.
He (Mukono) spoke recently from inside a soccer shop, typically a local betting hall, where other men like him sat with their eyes glued to television and computer screens displaying soccer games, horse races, and dog races.
Littering the floor with betting receipts, many, such as Mukono, closely studied television and computer screens displaying payout dividends and other information gamblers like him hoped would help them bet victoriously.
Yet in the past, betting never used to be popular in this southern African nation, but as economic hardships grew, affecting many like Mukono, betting has become the way to go.
In the past, where it occurred in Zimbabwe, betting was often limited to the state lottery, horse betting, and casinos.
Now, whether they win or lose as they bet, with no survival options, many, like Mukono, find themselves hooked on the vice, which local police have gone on record moving in to quell, with claims that some of the betting clubs are illegal and behind a spate of robberies and money laundering in the country.
Of late, betting clubs have seen a rise in the number of patrons who frequent these places each day from morning until late as people try out their luck, battling for redemption from mounting economic hardships.
Mukono, like many other people involved in betting, said that without a job for years on end, betting for him has turned into a profession.
“I might not be reporting to someone, but for me, this is some form of job because at times I earn money, which feeds my family,” said Mukono.
Rashweat Mukundu, researcher with the International Media Support (IMS), said, “I think there are significantly reduced means or ways upon which young people, especially the youth and young male adults, can survive in Zimbabwe because of the high rate of unemployment and lack of economic opportunities, and so betting and gambling have become a way of survival.”
“So, you see the increasing number of betting houses; you see the increasing numbers of young people who go out to bet. This is a clear indication that the economic fundamentals are off the rails and many people are having to look for ways to survive outside of what you would normally expect such people to be doing,” Mukundu told IPS.
However, economists like Prosper Chitambara see otherwise.
Chitambara, who is the chief economist with the Labor and Economic Development Research Institute of Zimbabwe (LEDRIZ), said: “There are some people who are more predisposed to risk-taking through gambling or betting activities, but mental health conditions and even substance abuse are key drivers of gambling, and of course mental health is also a function of the state of the economy.”
With countrywide economic hardships coupled with unemployment, many, like Mukono, have taken to sports betting in order to raise money for survival.
In fact, across Zimbabwe, local authority halls that used to team with recreational activities have now been converted into betting clubs where gambling thrives, with many, like Mukono, frequenting them in their desperate quest to earn a living.
Meanwhile, there are no stringent rules governing Zimbabwe’s gambling sector, with betting still viewed as a pastime rather than an economic activity.
But with many Zimbabweans like Mukono now taking up betting as employment, betting club employees have a word of advice.
“Honestly, one cannot substitute betting with employment. Surely, it should not be something individuals should opt for to rely on for their economic needs,” Derick Maungwe, one of the staffers at a local betting club in central Harare, told IPS.
But owing to joblessness, said Maungwe, it has become some form of employment for many Zimbabweans.
IPS UN Bureau Report