Sunday, December 01, 2013

'In every challenge, there is an opportunity'
By Editor
Tue 22 Oct. 2013, 14:00 CAT

There are few misfortunes in this world that cannot be turned into a personal triumph if one has the iron will and the necessary skill.

And Edith Nawakwi is right when she says to our young people without jobs that "the key is for every challenge, there is an opportunity. If the council is not collecting garbage, that is your opportunity… that opportunity is your source of income because you are unemployed" and that no matter how menial or dirty one's work is, it is significant as long as it benefits the people's health and sanitary environment.

Unemployment is the scourge of our country. It deprives our people of their God-given right to work. It undermines their human dignity. It is a terrible frustration and humiliation for a parent to be unable, due to unemployment, to provide for the family. It is equally demoralising for young people to find there is no work waiting for them when they leave school.

Good leaders must be interested in the welfare of those in distress. We expect them to feel the distress of many who have a problem about the cost of goods, education, medicine, with the tragedy of unemployment, of youth and so many other important concerns where we are all involved, and all must help the government. All these are difficult problems for any government to face. But to solve them, we need hardworking and public-spirited political and civic leaders like the way Edith is doing; we need people of courage who will defend the truth and demand justice for the poor, for the ordinary.

Most people rely on work in order to earn a living. It may be formal employment, earning a wage in exchange for labour, or it may be through some form of self-employment such as the garbage collection scheme Edith and her comrades are working on. Either way, there are very few people who do not have to work for a living.

One of the main tasks of an economy, therefore, is to ensure that there are enough jobs, or opportunities to work, to meet our people's need to earn a living. Where there is high unemployment, we have an indication of an unjust economy.

One of the main reasons for our high rates of poverty is the failure of the economy to provide sufficient jobs. While it is true that no economy is able to assure sustainable full employment, joblessness in Zambia is not just a matter of a small percentage; it is an extremely serious problem.

In order to derive benefit from an economy, people must be able to participate in it; and for most people, the primary means of economic participation is through work. Indeed, throughout human history, it has been a basic norm that all are expected to work, and thereby to contribute to the economy. Those who refuse to do so, for no good reason, have generally been excluded from the benefits of the economy.

However, if society expects all its members to work and to contribute, then it should make it possible for them to do so. In this regard, a profound responsibility rests on both the political authorities and those who hold powerful positions in the economy. Everything possible needs to be done to maximise job opportunities. And where the choice is between greater profits and greater employment the latter must be chosen.

Clearly, as things stand in our country today, this is a matter of the greatest urgency. The level of unemployment is too high. And as long as this remains the case, there can be no hope of achieving a secure and prosperous future for our people. In some parts of the country, unemployment is so high that the few who work have to support not only their own dependants but another worker and his dependants as well.

Thus, unemployment affects not only those without jobs, but also those who have work. In consequence, the poverty and the gap between the rich and the poor can only be exacerbated. Furthermore, such a high scale of unemployment acts as a huge drain on the state's resources, further reducing its ability to provide much-needed social services.

And the harm caused by unemployment is by no means limited to material matters; there is also an enormous social cost. While simplistic deductions must be avoided, there can be no doubt that a connection exists between high rates of unemployment and the distressing high incidence of crime, family breakdown, domestic violence, hooliganism and even political violence, and drug and alcohol abuse which beset our society. Many of these social problems in turn impact negatively on the economy, resulting in a vicious circle which will only be broken by the provision of jobs.

We are aware of, and do commend, our government's efforts over the last two years to deal with the tragic effects of unemployment. But we feel that much more needs to be said and to be done if we are to effectively meet the massive problems of human suffering in Zambia today.

And no one should be silent in the face of this suffering of our people. The word of God challenges us: "If you refuse to hear the cry of the poor, your own cry for help will not be heard" (Proverbs 21:13).

We therefore call upon all people of goodwill to emulate what Edith is doing and to try and deal more forthright with this increasing suffering in our midst. We all know of our people's suffering.

And as to our young people without jobs, they should not be ashamed to take up any job that is available. If it is garbage collection, let them take it up if that's the only job available to them. If it's cleaning toilets, this job has to be taken up by someone because it is a job that needs to be done.

It is important to realise that the value of any human work does not depend on the kind of work done; it is based on the fact that the one who does it is a person. There we have an ethical criterion whose implications cannot be overlooked.

Thus, every person has a right to work, and this right must be recognised in a practical way by an effective commitment to resolving the tragic problem of unemployment. The fact that unemployment keeps a large sector of our population, and notably the young, in a situation of marginalisation, is intolerable. For this reason, the creation of jobs is a primary social task facing individuals and private enterprises, as well as the state. As a general rule, in this as in other matters, the state has a subsidiary function; but often it can be called upon to intervene directly.

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