Thousand-dollar shopping in Zimbabwe

A grim look at Zimbabwe’s ‘gruelling economic crisis’.
Zimbabwe once again finds itself in a financial nightmare. Image: Bloomberg

On the shortest day of the year (21 June) Zimbabwe gave us her very best: blue sky, sunshine and golden grass. It was gorgeous out there in the bush, aloes in flower, streams still trickling and mist nestling in the grass long after sunrise. For the last two weeks of June we also had the rare chance, which apparently only happens once in a century, of seeing the five planets which are visible with the naked eye lined up in an arc below the waning moon.

Every morning at 05:00 I went outside into the cold and looked for the arc, cloud and mist not helping. But on the fifth morning I finally got a good view. My horizon wasn’t low enough to see Mercury, but Venus was in and out of the mist and Mars, Jupiter and Saturn beautifully clear with the waning moon at the top of the arc. By the next night the chance of seeing it again had gone because a cold front moved in, thick cloud and mist, rain and an icy wind reminding us that this is winter after all.

We need to grab the beauty and tranquility at every opportunity that arises in order to get through these hard times in our country again.

It’s becoming a tired litany to write that yet again in the last fortnight fuel went up for the second time in a month from US$1.78 to US$1.88 litre. Toll gates went up again from Z$500 to Z$700 and food prices immediately followed suit. We have rapidly gone back to the days when all the basics on our tables have become luxuries and I went grocery shopping to see what I could find for less than a thousand Zim dollars.

It wasn’t a pretty picture; these are some of the standard, regular grocery items most people buy:

  • 10kg maize meal: Z$5 329
  • 2l cooking oil: Z$3 299
  • 2kg flour: Z$1 199
  • Sugar: none to buy
  • 375ml peanut butter: Z$1 099
  • 500g jam: Z$1 199
  • 100 tea bags: Z$1 499
  • 500g Cerevita cereal: Z$2 199
  • 1kg oats Z$2 199

On the first day of the month, just after people had been paid, the huge supermarket was almost empty, the sign, if anyone needed it, that people can’t afford the thousand-dollar food in the supermarkets anymore.

Outside in the car park the money changers stood flicking piles of notes and sitting in the freezing cold wind. Next to them sat an old man in a wheelchair I often try and help with a loaf of bread or packet of sweet buns. When I bent down to give him a packet of buns today he was shivering and my eyes filled with tears. Why? Because he’s an old man who’s had a stroke, can’t talk, is paralysed and this is what his life has come to.

Chatting to a man this week about all the construction that’s going on in Harare and the wealth and opulence that oozes out of driveways in the northern suburbs of the capital city, it didn’t take long to agree on how some people are becoming overnight millionaires again in Zimbabwe on a scale we last saw back in 2008.

Here’s how it works:

If you have connections high up in government you can buy one US dollar for Z$365 at the official bank rate, you can then go out on the street and sell that one US dollar for around Z$700, doubling your money in a few minutes. Extrapolate that one US dollar to 100 or 1 000 and it doesn’t take long to become a millionaire. Everyone knows it and yet it carries on in plain view without interception.

Meanwhile, explaining why the government is only making ‘token payments’ towards the country’s debt which has now soared to US$17 billion dollars, the government said it was contending with ‘protracted challenges’ to deal with Zimbabwe’s ‘gruelling economic crisis.’

Hmmm, we thought, but who made this gruelling economic crisis and who is it that has lost their salaries, pensions and life savings and is sitting outside supermarkets in the freezing cold hoping someone will help them?

© Cathy Buckle

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A lesson to learnt fast in South Africa – if you’re politically connected you will make it. If not, say goodbye! It’s happening so quiickly here inspite of being exposed for what it is. Those that have perpetrated this survival mode and been found wanting, should be made to give it all back – they will never see a jail cell or orange overall, this we have to accept and live with!
I’m just not sure if the beauty of Southern Africa is enough to keep anyone living happily with the corruption and desperation living in an African country demands. From the hordes of illegal immigrants trying to reach Europe because of their failed States bought about largely by corruption ( coupled with climate change) it appears not.
It is amusing that the Africans who fought so hard for justice in ex colonial countries are trying so hard to escape these same countries to enter and enjoy the benefits of countries that were once their oppressors.
What a weird world!

The hyperinflation in Zimbabwe is the same solution used by governments to handle large debt levels.

Zimbabwe uses the overdrive gear where the USA uses the second gear. Inflation is a type of debt default used by governments when the debt load has become too large to service. The USA impliments the same solution at a conservative rate. They confiscate the purchasing power of their voters to pay government debts. It is a kind of divine justice.

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