A new book titled: Social Protection Systems in Pre-Colonial, Colonial (1890-1979) and Post-colonial Zimbabwe (1980-2016) by Henry Chikova and Nicola Yon, was among the 15 books launched by the University of Zimbabwe recently.
The intention of the book is clearly to deepen the understanding of social protection systems in Zimbabwe by academics, researchers, policy makers and the social protection polity in general.
No comprehensive literature on social protection systems is available for Zimbabwe despite that social protection has always been offered in various forms in the country.
Social protection has also been used as a tool to tackle poverty and for human development. The book suggests that the concept of social protection and its mechanisms have always been implemented in Zimbabwe from the pre-colonial period and that the various forms that evolved were simply a product of the different political and economic conditions.
Throughout the book, the chapters grapple with issues of access to social protection, along various dimensions that include gender, race and sectoral coverage (formal versus informal).
Compilation of the book largely relied on secondary sources to cover social protection systems during the pre-colonial and colonial periods.
Case studies of institutions that deal with social protection were also used. In this study the National Social Security Authority (NSSA) was the main focus, for the post-independence period, given that it is the principal provider of social security in Zimbabwe today.
The authors analysed NSSA operations in order to present a broader understanding of social security and social protection.
They also compared Zimbabwe’s social protection system to other country case studies. The countries selected were those that had similar social protection structures to Zimbabwe, but which had successfully implemented comprehensive systems.
The departure of the book is that people face social risks at every stage of life and, borrowing from the life-cycle hypothesis, have to individually save for retirement. Social protection serves the same purpose, but is organised by the State or non-state actors.
The book addresses the long-standing definitional discourse on the distinction between social protection and social security, and concludes that the former encapsulates the latter.
Additionally, it posits that the shaping of the concept of social protection has been influenced, to a larger extent, by international developmental goals and agendas.
The book further illuminates on the concept of social protection and social security by discussing measures and mechanisms available to Governments and its partners and shows that an eclectic approach is a norm where private and public players complement each other.
The question whether the provision of social protection should be rights-based is brought to the fore, however, the authors quickly qualify this view in light of resource constraints faced by developing countries like Zimbabwe.
Social risk management approaches to social protection propose a comprehensive social protection system with preventive, mitigation and copying mechanisms.
Other approaches call upon governments to intervene where the family and markets have failed. The book recognises the efforts the Government of Zimbabwe is putting in place to develop a comprehensive social protection programme by discussing the National Social Protection Policy Framework (NSPPF), which aims at focusing the efforts of Government and various non-State actors in the provision of social protection.
Using oral narrations, recorded history, and residual cultural practices, the book demonstrates that the concept of social protection has been practised in Zimbabwe well before colonisation, and that these practices were implemented at community and individual household levels.
The only drawback of these systems was the lack of diversification depth and “reinsurance”, especially when catastrophic events visited.
As the cash economy gradually replaced the traditional economy, and with the advent of industrialisation, new social security arrangements replaced the traditional ones.
The arrival of European influence gave birth to formal social security systems in Zimbabwe, some of which still exist today in their original form and practice.
Before colonisation, the economy was monoculture and subsistence. Colonisation created a dual economy with a relatively well-developed and modern formal sector and an under-developed backward rural economy.
The book contends that colonisation introduced the indigenous population to a money economy and in the process introduced it to new social risks such as unemployment, industrial injuries and lack of housing.
The authors note that the new economic order required new social security mechanisms. Colonial governments introduced Old Age pension schemes, the Workman’s Compensation scheme, public assistance and occupational pension schemes.
These schemes were, however, provided along racial lines, largely serving Europeans.
As a result, racial and gender exclusions were the hallmark of social security institutions under colonial governments.
The indigenous population was left in a dilemma; firstly, its traditional social protection systems were decimated by the industrialisation and formalisation of the economy, and secondly, they were excluded from the resultant social security arrangements, yet they still had to depend on non-formal social security systems, despite that these systems had been weakened.
After independence, racially segregated social security systems were no longer tenable and the Government had a duty to replace them with all-inclusive ones.
One major milestone of the Government was the introduction of a racially inclusive Old Age pension scheme and the establishment of the National Social Security Authority.
The authors posit that although the scheme is limited to offering social security to workers in the formal sector, its impact on livelihoods, especially among lowly remunerated members, cannot be ignored.
Social security exists within and is sensitive to changes in economic and social contexts. This is demonstrated by the difficulties the Old Age pension scheme went through during the hyper-inflationary period and the dollarisation of the economy.
Although data on social assistance programmes during this period of economic distress is scanty, the delivery mechanisms and the values of social pensions were challenged by the devastating effects of poor economic performance.
Any sound social protection architecture should be socially inclusive to achieve the pursuit of social justice. This is not the case with Zimbabwe’s social protection system.
The system excludes large population groups, especially the informal sector, lacks central coordination, and is underfunded and full of gaps and inadequacies.
Although it is common in the developing world to have a large informal sector outside the social security circle, the Government of Zimbabwe should seriously think of designing mechanisms to extend coverage to the informal sector, as the current social security set up is elitist, the authors argue.
The book concludes that the social protection system in Zimbabwe today is an evolution of the past social protection systems, which have had a legacy and have left an inscription on the current social protection arrangements to such an extent that there is a thread linking current systems to the colonial and pre-colonial periods.
The book demonstrates that the economic challenges facing Zimbabwe have limited the country’s scope for introducing comprehensive social protection programmes, resulting in a social protection system that is fragmented, underfunded, exclusionary and negating tenets of social justice and the provision of social protection as a human right.
The authors note that although various initiatives have been embarked on by the relevant authorities to try and correct these inadequacies, these have largely remained as blueprints.
The book emphasises the view that social protection can be a robust developmental tool, which in its own right needs deliberate financing.
Social protection might just be what the country needs to propel it out of the current socio-economic quagmire.
The book is expected to open more interest in the area of social security/protection in Zimbabwe, as the area has not been fully explored.