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The money changers and the old lady

Time for a reality check again.
The young men outside the supermarket will give you a better rate for your US dollars than the bank, and you won’t have to fill out a form. Image: Shutterstock

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. “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

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.

The money traders

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 130-140 Zimbabwe bond dollars.

Salary erosion

Chatting to a friend this week he told me his salary is Z$10 000 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 Z$130.

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 Z$10 000 salary comes at a time when the government’s own statistics say the monthly breadbasket for a family of six is Z$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 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.

Pain pills

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 debit card. The three US dollars is multiplied by 140, and with the bank charge and the mandatory 2% government tax, the Paracetamol has cost 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?

Cathy Buckle is a Zimbabwean writer and blogger living in Marondera, Zimbabwe.

Copyright © Cathy Buckle

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Over the years I have read eveything you write, Cathy. I grew up in Salisbury in the days of lord Soames, Ian Smith, Harold Wilson, UDI and sanctions. I have vivid memories of farm visits to school friends at Rusape, Umvukwes (a portrait of Rhodes on the boarding school dining hall wall) and Marandellas. Playing rugby at Gwelo. Driving in convoy to Fort Victoria a 9mm on my dad’s lap. And in spite of myself (I am not callous at heart) I find I have now developed terminal sympathy fatigue. These folks are the very people who fought for “independence” and supprted the efforts to get rid of the white man … at any cost. And your story is the cost, the nett result. A farmer friend from Rusape was dispossessed of his farm and left Zim with a pair of shorts and the shirt on his back. My dad filled his clapped out bakkie with petrol in JHB. He died destitute on the South Coast 18 years later after trying to make a living doing odd jobs and keeping his self respect. Those folks have my empathy. The Zimbos repeatedly vote Zanu PF at elections and support the crocodile, the kudu or the snake which ever avatar is next in line to loot/repress. The same playbook is now in action down here in South Africa, a carbon copy of what Zim went through. And the consequences will be the same. So yes, you write well and the stories are poignant and now days I simply don’t care any more.

Years ago, in a different context, and with some liberal idealism in my soul, I made the following pronouncement: at first you are a liberal and consider all people to be fair minded and worthy of your devotion and respect. Later, you are shocked to find mud kicked in your face, despite your best efforts. Inevitably, you devolve into the next phase: a rabid racist/misogynist/any other -ist. Then, and this is the phase I call the most dangerous: apathy. I like how you put it: terminal sympathy fatigue. I agree. We live on a great continent and in a wonderful country with abundant riches, human and in terms of resources. But politicians squander those riches callously, playing the race card to hide their own venal instincts and actions.

One small X in the right place can change all of this.

Didn’t they try that once, and the guns came out ?

Sadly, Cathy, the answer is no, they don’t care. Sadly too, neither do the leftwing socialists worldwide that help bring them to power care for they are, in the final analysis, nothing more than pedlars of false hope and broken promises. When will we ever learn?

“Democracy is a pathetic believe in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance” – read it somewhere, not my quote but wish it was.
From another perspective, I think there are too many people and the planet is suffering because of it. Nature strife to balance things out, e.g. Spanish flu, covid, etc. maybe another streak of Nature is to play with people’s mindsets, and that explains the F’ed up systems we have in Africa. The UN was very loud about sanctions and boycotts due to SA human right abuses, any word about the 750-odd murdered Canadian First Nation school children mass graves recently discovered? Anyone? UN, where are thou, your silence is deafening?

Probably worth at least trying to support the money changers wherever possible rather than using the debit card as that way the 2% government charge on debit card use is avoided and you do some small bit to ensure the government is not propped up.

So no handouts from Strive Masiyiwa, London based Zimbabwean entrepreneur and businessman who tops the list of being the richest person of Zimbabwe with an estimated worth of $860 million. He is the founder of the organization “Econet Wireless”.

Sigh … “London based” …

Meanwhile, courtesy of the 20 richest in Zimbabwe are worth 7.63 billion US dollars.

We should keep in mind that Europeans, with their belief system, religious background, human rights, and the rule of law, are part of the communalist’s agenda or business plan. Let that idea sink in…..

The communalist culture despises human rights and the rule of law. These are foreign concepts to them. They simply use these concepts very effectively to motivate European institutions to part with their property and assets. The communalists are not stupid or naive. They speak the language that the naive and ignorant Europeans understand. They play the inequality card, the apartheid card, the human rights card, the redress card, the redistribution card, the cadre-deployment card, the IMF loan card, and the food-aid card. The communalist has a very strong hand of cards, and they win the game every time……against Europeans, but not against fellow communalists.

They enforce the rule of law when it suits their agenda and they ignore it when it does not. Western-style politics and democracy are merely tools in the hand of the modern-day African demagogue. He uses these concepts to extract financial benefits for himself and his cronies to the detriment of the rest of society. This is the essence of communalism and sophisticated Western systems only enable those communalists who have the gift of the gab to dethrone the traditional leaders.

End of comments.



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