Unstable Zimbabwe dollar woes continue – Cathy Buckle

Written on 07/02/2021
Nadya Swart

The instability of the Zimbabwe dollar has introduced new opportunities for criminal activity to flourish - in the form of money changers.

In 2018, Zimbabwe imposed a 2% mandatory government tax on mobile money and electronic transactions, further increasing the burden carried by the country’s citizens. Zimbabwean author Cathy Buckle regularly sends BizNews front-stoep reporting on Zimbabwe. While many of her stories are uplifting ones of hope, this article is a reminder of the devastation which still grips the country. The instability of the Zimbabwean dollar has worsened the already shattered economy and introduced new opportunities for criminal activity to flourish – in the form of money changers. In the midst of these issues, Buckle finds beauty in the gratitude of her fellow Zimbabweans. – Nadya Swart

The money changers and the old lady

By Cathy Buckle*

After weeks of writing about beautiful places and encounters in Zimbabwe I knew it was time for a reality check again when I met this old lady the other day. “I can’t cope with it anymore,” she said to me, “it’s this money, it’s not worth anything now and I don’t understand all these different rates.” This is what we all have to deal with every time we go to the supermarket.

Cathy Buckle
Cathy Buckle

When you get to a big supermarket, it’s normal to see a lot of young guys hanging around outside. They aren’t waiting for friends or looking for jobs, these are the money traders and there are plenty of them. Wearing hats and carrying backpacks they call out to you and flick big piles of Zimbabwe Bond notes as you pass by. In plain sight you hand over a US dollar note and they give you Zimbabwe dollar Bond notes in exchange. Are they illegal? Yes, of course they are but this is big business and there are plenty of customers. If you go into the supermarket with one US dollar you will get the government’s set rate this week which is Z$85.26 which isn’t enough to buy a loaf of bread or a tin of baked beans and is only half the amount needed to buy a litre of milk. If you take your one US dollar to the bank and try and change it into Zimbabwe dollars – first you have to fill a form in, then you have to have an account with them and then they will credit your account with Z$85.26. But if you hand your one US dollar to one of the guys hanging around outside the supermarket they will give you Z$100 if you want cash, Z$110 if you want it into your mobile phone banking and Z$120 -140 if you want it into your bank account. If you want to buy US dollars from them of course it works the other way round with one US dollar costing you 130 to 140 Zimbabwe Bond dollars.  

Chatting to a friend this week he told me his salary is 10,000 Zimbabwe dollars a month. When converted at the going rate a few months ago his salary was worth US$100, today it’s only worth US$77 as one US dollar now costs 130 Zimbabwe dollars. From his US$77 he pays rent of US$30 a month for two rooms with no plumbing and no electricity and has US$47 left to live on for the month. That’s US$1.52 a day to support his family’s needs: food, transport, medicines, clothing and education. It’s a disaster, he told me, a big disaster. This man’s ten thousand Zimbabwe dollar salary comes at a time when the government’s own statistics say the monthly breadbasket for a family of six is $43,000. (Newsday)

Buying a few groceries for the old lady I met and a few other pensioners whose pensions are worth less than US$30 a month, I asked them what special treat I could get for them. We haven’t been able to afford milk for two years they said and I turned away so they wouldn’t see the tear in my eye. No milk for two years? Fresh milk is impossible to find in supermarkets so I looked for long life milk. On the 18th of June a one litre box of UHT milk was Z$149.99. Twelve days later in the same shop the same brand of milk was Z$159.99. As I walked around the supermarket the voice on the loudspeaker wasn’t announcing special offers. Instead they are advertising Western Union money transfers urging customers to come and collect US dollars here.

With a load of groceries in the trolley I paid with my swipe/debit card. The groceries have tax included but an additional mandatory 2% government tax is deducted from my bank account on every purchase I make, every bill I pay and every transfer I do – and then the bank charge is also deducted and so the cost goes up and up. I pop into the pharmacy next door and ask for a bottle of Paracetamol for the old lady who struggles with arthritis pain. ‘Three US dollars,’ the pharmacist says, but I don’t have US dollars so I hand over my swipe/debit card. The three US dollars is multiplied by 140, and with the bank charge and the mandatory 2% government tax the Paracetamol costs Z$481. This 2% government tax was introduced in October 2018 as a ‘short term’ measure but every day it continues to cripple us and crash our budgets.

This is our reality in Zimbabwe in July 2021, but the gratitude and tears of joy at the groceries and pain killers from the old lady were worth every bit of angst along the way. Shame though on our leaders, do they not know or care about this huge crisis they have inflicted upon us?

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