The region of focus is Harare which is both the capital city of Zimbabwe as well as one of the ten Provinces in the country. Focus will be on selected high density suburbs with a large number of informal business enterprises engaged in fabrication of products. Two sites that are of particular interest are ‘Siyaso’ in Mbare and ‘Gazaland’ in Highfield, two of the oldest high density suburbs in Harare.

Organisation reference

University of Zimbabwe


Established in 1955 through a Royal Charter as a University College of London, the University of Zimbabwe is the oldest institution of higher education in the country. It is a State university and is therefore largely funded by the Government, particularly for capital development. With the unfavourable economic climate that has prevailed for almost two decades, the institution is increasingly relying on its own revenues, largely from the fees paid by students as well as donations from well-wishers or philanthropists and strategic partners.

It is a comprehensive academic institution with nine Faculties and one college. Its student enrolment which stood at 2,280 at the attainment of country’s Independence in 1980 has grown to 17,800 and is projected to further increase to 22,000 by 2020. Its current enrolment is comprised of 15,200 undergraduate and 2,600 postgraduate students. Among its academic staff are 108 professors of whom 245 have PhD qualifications. Its female enrolment increased from 22.3% in 1980 to the current 62%.

According to its 2016-20 Strategic Plan, the University has prioritised Postgraduate Training, Innovative Research, Industrial Attachment and Entrepreneurship, Talent Management, and ICT Innovation and Integration as its top five Thrusts, in that order. It states its intension to, “… nurture and produce ethical Graduates with exceptional academic, citizenship and entrepreneurial skills ….” in line with its Vision. In strives to be ranked among the top 10 universities in Africa by 2020 (it is currently outside the top 30 according to the Times Education Supplement 2017).

The University has put a new thrust in becoming increasingly self-reliant instead of continuing to expect Government support which has been dwindling due to the persistent macro and micro economic challenges for almost two decades. As they state in the current Strategic Plan, “We are expected to do more with less”. It is no longer ‘business as usual’.

Economic context

Zimbabwe’s economy largely depends on the mining and agriculture sectors. The economy was on sharp decline for at least a decade reaching its lowest point in 2008. The country then discarded its own currency and adopted a multi-currency system as one of the measures to salvage the situation. The economy responded positively to the interventions and recorded real growth of more than 10% in the period 2010-13, before slowing to approximately 3% in 2014. In-spite of the improvements, the economic environment has continued to be harsh and most households have remained poor. This is largely attributed to economic sanctions or trade barriers imposed on the country by developed countries opposed to the Government Land Reform Programme. The disputed land policy entailed redistribution of the land from just over 4500 white farmers who occupied 75% of the best arable land in the country to also include over 300,000 black farmers. The sanctions have resulted in curtailment of direct foreign investment, closure and down-sizing of most companies in the country and therefore growing unemployment.

Officially, unemployment is estimated to be 11,3% (ZIMSTAT, 2015) while the media estimates range between 85% and 90%. The huge discrepancy between the official and media unemployment rates is attributed to the fact that 94.5% of the 6.4 million people defined in official figures as employed are engaged in the informal sector (ZIMSTAT, 2015). The majority (4.6 million) of those working in the informal sector are small holder farmers, followed by 615,000 in trade and commerce, while 210,000 are said to be in the informal manufacturing sector, 118,000 in education, 92,000 in transport and 70,000 in mining.

The Zimbabwean economy has faced serious challenges since the mid-1990s which has resulted in many companies closing or down-sizing. This has resulted in massive unemployment, which has force large numbers of people to join the informal sector. Urban unemployment has been further exacerbated by the influx of people, particularly school leavers from the rural areas hoping for better opportunities in towns and cities. The situation has led to the growth of the informal sector in which former employees and new job-seekers have resorted to improve their situation through various business ventures ranging from vending to manufacturing of artifacts for sale. In 2015 it was estimated that over US$7 billion was circulating in the informal sector. While this sector can be a viable and developed into small and medium scale enterprises as the case is in countries such as India, the situation if largely different in Zimbabwe. Given the potential of this sector, it is important for institutions such as Universities to assist people operating in such ventures by providing technical and managerial training to make them more viable.

It is difficult to ascertain the accurate number of people operating in this sector as most of them are not registered and do not want to be formalised and charged taxes. Figures available from the Ministry of Small and Medium Scale Enterprises account for those who register to access loan facilities and serviced operating premises, but these seem to be the minority. Some of those operating in the informal sector have grown and earn more than some businesses in the formal sector, but they prefer to remain informal so that they do not pay taxes. Both formal and informal migrants, particularly from Mozambique also operate in the informal sector where they are not asked for work permits which they do not have.

Environmental issues

The sites identified for the project are characterised by large numbers of people operating in a confined area, resulting in a number of environmental challenges ranging from refuse disposal to sanitary provision. These spaces were not originally designed to accommodate such large numbers of people; therefore they need regenerated to allow for decongestion, and to improve infrastructure. The provision of clean water is one to the major challenges in the City of Harare and such sites therefore face serious shortages as the water is not only required for consumption but also for production. The threat of diseases is therefore real and authorities are always on the lookout for the possible outbreak of diseases.

Social issues

The depressed economy has a direct negative impact on the provision of social services such as health, education and general welfare of households.[1] In 2016, Zimbabwe’s Human Development Index (HDI) was 0.516 placing the country at 154 out of 193 in rank order.

Over 70% of Zimbabwe’s population resides in rural and farming communities that are generally not serviced with amenities such as clean water, ablutions with running water, electricity and surfaced roads. The attraction to urban areas will therefore continue unabated, exerting a further strain on towns and cities that are already populated beyond their originally planned capacities.

The country has a young population, with those aged between 15-24 comprising 20% while 77% of the population of over 13.4 million is 35 years old and below.[2] The growing unemployment and increasing poverty creates a volatile situation as a young population is restive unless they are gainfully engaged in economic activities.[3]

[1] https:/



Economic issues

The country’s economy has been affected by a number of factors, that include: weak domestic demand, high public debt, tight liquidity conditions, drought, poor infrastructure, institutional weaknesses and an overvalued exchange rate (Africa Development Bank, 2014)[1]. Although the business environment improved according to the World Bank report, 'Doing Business 2016', with the country moving up 16 places to 155 out of 189 countries, the prevailing economic sanctions will continue to negatively impact upon growth.[2]

There is also a weak industrial sector, a lack of a diversified export base and declining terms of trade which are negatively impacting on the country’s ability to adjust to changing world demand for tradable goods. Also, there is a presence of a rapidly growing informal sector that does not contribute towards the fiscal resources of the state will slow down the recovery rate.

[1] https:/…

[2] https:/

Other regionally-specific issues

The harsh economic environment has to a large extent resulted in strong political differences and tensions between political parties. The City of Harare has not kept pace with the ever-increasing demand for services and infrastructure with a growing population in some respects fuelled by rural to urban migration.

Venders and other traders involved in the informal sector have ‘invaded’ spaces in the City to conduct their business without regard to those in authority when seeking orders for them to vacate.

While security is not a particular concern, the increasing poverty from the harsh economic climate has seen a rise in corruption, small-scale thefts, and other criminal activities.

A relatively large number of Zimbabweans have migrated to other countries both within the SADC region and abroad in search of better livelihoods. Many of these migrants go to neighbouring countries, particularly South Africa without the requisite documentation and therefore risk being deported back into the country. This presents a challenge to proper human resource audits, development and planning.

Organisation and management

The University operates through a committee structure in which decision making is decentralised from Central Administration to Departmental level. While the Council is responsible for the institutional overall policies and major approvals regarding administrative and strategic issues, the University Senate is responsible for all academic matters. All new programmes and review of existing ones as well as research, teaching and learning as well as community engagement fall under the responsibility of Senate. The Vice-Chancellor chairs Senate and may sometimes delegate the function to the Pro Vice-Chancellor but remains accountable. Faculties are represented by their respective Deans, Chairpersons and Professors. Senate receives recommendations from the Academic Committee which is responsible for the initial deliberations of submissions and issues from Faculties which in turn oversee the operations of their Departments. Departmental committees report to the Departmental Board which in turn reports to the Faculty committees and Board.

Main priorities of HEI in the region

We would like to focus on developing the capacity of the informal sector by equipping the participants with knowledge and skills that enable them to operate more viably and contribute to the economy in a more meaningful manner. The areas of focus of such intervention include design and technology capabilities that include origination and development of design of new products, making of artefacts of high quality, costing and marketing of the products. The training and orientation of those engaged in the informal sector should also include: soft skills that deal with basic social skills and integrity; academic skills to improve their academic knowledge, particularly as it relates to mathematical, scientific technological and engineering competences; artisan and professional skills in their trades or lines of business; financial skills and costing, management skills, handling of business legal matters (e.g. intellectual property rights, contracts); marketing, health and environmental issues.

Universities are increasingly being expected to help meet the aspirations and developmental needs of communities and society in general. For instance, in May 2017 the Minister of Higher and Tertiary Education Science and Technology Development took most of the country’s Universities (both private and public on a tour to five countries; South Korea, Cuba, Singapore, India, and Brazil to learn how universities in those countries were assisting in national development. On their return, the Vice Chancellors indicated the need to embrace science and technology in their curricula and research. They stressed the need to engage in more applied research that addresses real developmental needs of communities and the nation.

As the oldest and most resourced, the University of Zimbabwe has committed itself to a leadership role in responding to national developmental needs as expcected by Government and the nation generally. Research and teaching are expected to contribute to community and national developmental aspirations. The various programmes run by different Faculties bear testimony to this objective. For instance the programmes run to uplift communities include: the special programme requested by the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education to offer in-service training for an undergraduate diploma in infrastructural planning, design and development. The programme is intended to enhance the knowledge, skills and competencies of the teachers to effectively and efficiently plan, design, develop and maintain infrastructure at school, district and provincial levels. They take courses such as: Inspection and the Construction Process, Costing and Construction of Educational Infrastructure, Principles and New Technologies in Designing of Educational Infrastructure, Upgrading and Rehabilitation of Educational Infrastructure, Management of Construction Projects in Educational Institutions, Drawing Interpretation and Computer Aided Design (Architecture).

National policies in various Ministries are increasingly becoming more receptive to the involvement of Universities in the community development activities. This has particularly been influenced by the success of previous programmes in which the University has been involved in different sectors and the training and experience of both staff and students in working with communities. The harsh economic environment and scarcity of donor funding that tends to be always accompanied by technical support paid for from the programme funds, has resulted in Government Ministries and Departments resorting to local consultants. The University Faculties and Departments as well as individual lecturers have capitalized on this window of opportunities to secure development related consultancies.

National and regional policies that promote sustainable development are having an impact on regional engagement activities of HEIs concerning environmental issues. Where the University has initiated a project, the high costs that need to be paid to the Environmental Management Agency for mandatory impact assessment have been prohibitive.

National and/or regional innovation and research policies do impact on regional engagement work of higher education institutions as they affect how the engagement processes are carried out. For instance, the involvement of regulators such as the Research Council of Zimbabwe and the Medical Research Council of Zimbabwe stipulate ethical requirements that must guide research involving human beings while the Environmental Management Agency stipulates on environmental issues. Also the involvement of foreign nationals in local research must first be cleared by these organizations. The national ICT policy provides standards and guidelines on ICT operations in the country, including enabling the provision of infrastructure and rates charged by Internet service providers. The innovation and research policies also affect how the intellectual property rights need to be handled.  Compliance with the policy frameworks often involves bureaucratic processes that may take time and affect programming and implementation of engagement work.

National and/or regional policy on administrative and governance issues in higher education institutions only affect engagement work in terms of compliance with regulatory frameworks mentioned earlier. In addition, engagement in particular communities should be first cleared by the relevant Government Ministries and local authorities as well as local structures such as worker organizations. This calls for careful pre-planning to avoid conflicts and delays in implementation of engagement projects and programmes.

The ‘third mission’ has always existed in university plans and criteria for assessing the performance of academic staff. However it has largely received little attention in comparison to the first two missions, i.e. research and teaching. It is often not well defined, not budgeted for and not staffed. It is normally left to the initiative of individual staff even though universities take notice and pride in successful engagement work that involves their staff. At the University of Zimbabwe, it is stipulated that an academic time should be allocated in the ratio of 40% research, 40% teaching, and 20% community service. The ‘third mission’ is however gaining in prominence communities themselves are calling for the assistance of institutions of higher learning in their development and improvement of livelihoods. Universities themselves are increasingly questioning their relevance unless they can address issues that affect their communities and up to national level and beyond. There is more emphasis on applied rather than basic research in practical oriented disciplines.    

Globalisation of the economy has largely been perceived negatively in countries such as Zimbabwe where economic sanctions have been imposed to force it to change its land reform policy and even government. America and the European Union for instance have continuously renewed the sanctions, thereby excluding Zimbabwe from participating in a global economy. The negative impacts of the trade and other restrictions that comprise the economic sanctions have crippled the economy, thereby negatively impacting on livelihoods of the general population of Zimbabwe.

We would like to focus on ‘SME development’ as outlined earlier. We believe that given the right support, the informal sector can grow into a viable SME sector and contribute more meaningfully to the national economy through increased production of quality goods and improve Government tax collection. The sector is already being used by the formal economic sector as a cheap source of production of furniture and other products and such synergies can be improved through properly trained SME entrepreneurs as in India. 

While the initial focus will be on targeted small groups of informal sector operators, the project is intended to snow-ball and include more and more as they emulate the set models of production and join in the schemes to be trained and ‘professionalised’. The initial groups will be gradually weaned off as they become proficient and viable in their operations. Most of the training will be carried out on site through mobile technology teaching units fitted with appropriate equipment. However, participants will also attend some of their tutorials and coaching clinics at the premises of their colleagues operating at different locales, in design studios, laboratories and workshops at the University or nearest premises with relevant equipment and facilities, including formal sector companies who will be encouraged to also render support through sub-contracting the SMEs for some of their services and supplies. Participants may be dropped and new ones adopted based on observed performance and ethical practices. Processes and practices will be continually recorded and analyses to further refine the approach and methodology and the project progresses. Such documentation should produce publications on lessons and best practices for the development of SMEs into viable and sustainable enterprises.

Cultural issues

Harare is a metropolitan and multicultural City. It is therefore not easy to develop strategies that embrace the different cultures of the residents. While the official language is English and the predominant indigenous languages are Shona and Ndebele, there are at least 14 other indigenous languages that are officially recognised across the country.[1]



630 Churchill Avenue