Francis Tambanowako is a pensioner, Elphina a legal secretary and Arnold Munaki a businessman. But they all have one thing in common. They have survived into 2009 but no one can explain how they are making ends meet except to say it is by the “grace of God”.
With inflation at over 231 million percent as of July last year and the Zimbabwe dollar continuing to fall against the United States dollar and the South African rand, now the major currencies Zimbabweans trade in, life has become so tough that most people cannot explain how they are surviving especially since they are still earning Zimbabwe dollars.
Tambanowako (67) says he last collected his pension in January last year. The cheque was for $750 000. He never cashed the cheque and keeps it in his bible.
“I have never gone back to NSSA (National Social Security Authority) to collect my monthly cheques because it had become more expensive to go and collect the cheque because I could not buy anything with that cheque. I keep it in my bible as a reminder because every time I open my bible I see the cheque,” he said.
Tambanowako says he is surviving from the money that he is given by his two children who are working in the country and one who is abroad.
A marketing person by profession, things had become so tough that he sought work as a freelance sales rep last year, but business was so low that he gave up because he ended up spending more money on fuel than he was making.
“I am fortunate because I own my house so I do not have to pay rent. But things are so tough that sometimes I cannot even afford to buy a box of matches let alone the candle when lights go out,” he said.
Elphina, a single mother, says she cannot explain how she survives though she has a full-time job. “I cannot say because I might upset or expose a lot of people. All I can say is that I survive by the grace of God.”
She says she cannot afford a maid so she has to leave her eight-year-old son at home alone. She prepares enough food for him for the day and goes to work.
“My company gives me a transport allowance. It is adequate. At times I think that all they are interested in is getting me to come to work because they still pay me in Zimbabwe dollars. Today is my pay day and I have been given $12 trillion. It is only worth R20 at today’s rate. What do I buy with that?”
The Consumer Council of Zimbabwe says a family of six needs US$288 a month just for basics. In South Africa a family of the same size requires just US$79 for the same commodities. The basket was measured last year and has not been updated.
This is the same with annual inflation. The latest figure available, 231 million percent, is that for July last year yet the rate of inflation should just be a month behind.
Elphina says she spends most of her time thinking about how to get food for her family.
“As a woman I need things like perfume. I have to do my hair. But every time I think about this, my stomach complains, ‘how about me’, so I end up buying whatever food I can get.
“As a mother, I need to bring something home for my son, a banana or something. But now even my son understands. When I ask him before I leave: ‘What can I bring you?’ He now says: ‘Anything’. Schools are opening next week, but I do not have the fees.”
Schools were supposed to open on January 13 but this was postponed to January 27 ostensibly because Grade Seven results were not yet out.
The real reason seems to be that teachers were not willing to go back to work. They want to be paid in foreign currency and are demanding more than US$2 000 a month. There is wide speculation that schools might not open next week again.
Elphina said she had been hopeful that the power-sharing talks that began in Harare on Monday might come up with a solution but her hopes seem to have been dashed.
“I was hoping that something would come up from the talks but it looks like they are getting nowhere. So I wonder whether I should blame my employer for my present predicament or someone else.”
Paul Chimhosva, writing in a South African newspaper, said while there were major points of disagreement between ZANU-PF and the Movement for Democratic Change, Zimbabwe’s political leaders were having it too nice to care about the suffering of the majority.
“There is a theory that says: Mugabe is scared of jail and loss of income hence his reluctance to relinquish power, and, on the other hand, the opposition politicians are used to donor income in hard currency hence their reluctance to join the government to protect their earnings. One hopes for the sake of Zimbabwe this not true,” he wrote.
For Arnold Munaki it is a different ball game. He has three shops in Bulawayo as well as two buses. The shops were doing quite well up to 2007 when the government launched its prize blitz that left shops empty.
“After the blitz, wholesales had nothing to sell so we could not replenish our stocks. That business died down. I got some salvation from the bus side because NOCZIM (National Oil Company of Zimbabwe) started supplying us with diesel so that we could carry urban commuters.”
Munaki diverted his buses from the rural areas to ply the urban routes. Business boomed until September last year when NOCZIM suddenly stopped supplying them with diesel.
“We started sourcing our own diesel, but we had to buy it in foreign currency. Police would not allow us to charge economic rates or in foreign currency. This is ridiculous because our passengers now buy everything in foreign currency. They do not even have Zimbabwe dollars yet police insist we must charge in Zim dollars,” Munaki said.
He said business was also down because most people were spending more money on food rather than transport. Some long distances buses from Harare, for example, were having to park for two or three days to make sure they had enough passengers to go back to Harare.
“We are now totally grounded,” Munaki said.
But some people, especially those with access to foreign currency, are making a killing. When robbers pounced on a shop in Magwegwe they walked away with R108 000, P16 000 and US$9.
A lot of people have left their jobs to trade in one commodity or another.