In a country where pensioners spend four nights sleeping outside banks to access less than US$5/day, Marry Chiwenga, the wife of Zimbabwe’s vice president, is accused of having ‘externalised’ US$1m to SA and China.
In the past two years, the lives of the poor and working people in Zimbabwe have not improved an iota.
A high-profile criminal prosecution of Marry Chiwenga, wife of the vice president, tells us a lot about the spending habits of Zimbabwe’s political elite.
Meanwhile, if you walk through any major town in Zimbabwe at night, you will find dozens of people sleeping on the pavements. If you observe carefully, you will notice that many are found outside banking halls. Why and what’s really going on?
Zimbabwe has been experiencing cash shortages for years. As a result, most urban dwellers now transact electronically using the EcoCash cellphone banking platform or swipe their bank cards.
Unfortunately, many people, especially pensioners, most of whom relocated to the rural areas after leaving their jobs, still depend on hard cash to live.
Banks do give cash, but in limited supply – if one is lucky, you can get up to $50 a day. That is exactly R50.
On 20 November 2019, the state-run newspaper, The Herald, ran a headline that screamed: NSSA increases pension payouts. The National Social Security Authority (NSSA) is the Zimbabwean body that manages pensions.
The report said: “The National Social Security Authority (NSSA) has more than doubled its minimum pensions from $80 to $200 a month, while workers’ compensation scheme minimum pensions have been tripled from $80 to $240.”
This may sound hopeful. Who does not want to hear that their salary has been doubled or trebled? But what this means in real terms is that minimum pensioners payouts have been increased from R80 to R200 a month and workers’ compensation trebled from R80 to R240 a month.
With $240 in Zimbabwe, one can go and buy exactly 16 loaves of bread ($15 each) or 24 cans of Coca-Cola ($10 each) or 13l of petrol ($18/l) or, since it’s festive season, a bottle of Robertson sweet red wine from OK Zimbabwe, our biggest supermarket chain “where the nation shops and saves”.
This is what people who saved their pensions with the NSSA get monthly. But this money, at a $50 withdrawal a day, can only be withdrawn over four days, if one is lucky.
So, because they cannot afford to get into town for four days in a row, many pensioners have no choice but to sleep in the bank queues right outside the bank for at least four days a month.
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