This Week In Zimbabwe: The Cost Of Political Blindness

It has been business as usual in Zimbabwe this week.

On Monday, as the SADC Troika met in Harare, the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange had a mini-crash. Punters were unsure what would come out of the talks (they obviously do not read this blog!). Most counters retreated marginally (by our standards). The very next day, however, the market was back to its old ways, with most counters gaining heavily. Both Minings andIndustrials put on an impressive show. Bindura, a perennial favourite, shot up from 70 billion dollars a share to 250 billion. It closed yesterday at 700 billion dollars a share. Even newcomers like Trust Holdings (re-listed after being plundered by Gidiot Gono in 2004) closed yesterday around 2 billion dollars a share. Rio Zim was quoted at over 4 trillion dollars a share.

The US dollar yesterday was being quoted at anywhere between 60 billion  and 200 billion  Zim dollars. The black market, which is now the real Reserve Bank in Zimbabwe, operates as follows: the small players (mostly people who receive small amounts of money from their relatives in the diaspora, as well as those who sell small things like cellphones for US$50-150) can only offload their dollars to middlemen. These middlemen are now the real Reserve Bank Governors. They offer the pitiful amounts like 60 billion for a US dollar and then, when they have collected multiples of hundreds of US dollars, they offload those to the big companies that need Us dollars for their operations at the higher rate (which was 200 billion dollars per dollar yesterday).

There is no  way the small players are able to get the higher rate because, since Gono made electronic transfers illegal and then imposed price controls on banks for chequebooks and other services, big companies do not want to waste their cheque leaves on amounts below US$500. They will only write a cheque in Zim dollars for substantial figures. Individuals can only dream of amassing the kind of money needed to purchase even one US dollar, so the middlemen have the field pretty much to themselves.

Meantime, very few workers are earning more than 100 million Zim dollars a month, which effectively means that 99% of Zimbabweans are now surviving on less than a dollar a day. Even those that receive money from overseas are no better off, because after they offload their US dollars or rands, by the very next day, the Zim dollars they would have received would be worth perhaps a tenth of their value the previous day. A person who sells a 100 US dollars today, for instance will, when their cheque clears in four days' time, be able to buy back only US$10 with the money they received. And that's if they are lucky.)

Shops all over the country, including those in the townships and even in the rural areas, are selling their products only in US dollars or are demanding Zim dollar cash. With a kg of beef costing billions of dollars or 5 US dollars, there is no way a normal person with no political connections in ZANU PF can buy beef. We are all restricted to only Zim $50 000 withdrawals from the bank a day. At yesterday's lowest rate, that is worth nothing, a fraction of a US cent.

The rural areas of Zimbabwe are particularly pitiful. Now, cattle are the measure of wealth for most village, we all know that. Very rarely will a family onsider selling its cattle. But, because of the starvation facing our rural population, politically connected persons (read ZANU PF bigwigs) are making a killing in these parts of Zimbabwe. They have access to the maize (corn) that is being delivered to the Grain Marketing Board. With this maize, they are going into the rural areas where the going rate as of yesterday was five 50kg bags of maize for a cow. Alternatively, that same cow could be purchased outright for 1000 South African rands, worth less than a hundred US dollars.

It is looting, basically, and the ones at the forefront of this are ZANU PF politicians and their relatives,who have access to the cream of the country, which they are using to fatten themselves. There is a saying in Zimbabwe: "Kakara kununa hudya kamwe" - which means "the little beast gets fat only by eating other little beasts".  This is what is happening in our country. Basically, it can accurately be described as economic cannibalism.

Meantime, our political leaders seem unaware of all this. For our citizens who are living with this everyday, you can see how urgent they consider a political settlement to be. There is despair and hopelessness in the air. Although there are no statistical figures, anecdotal evidence shows a frightening spike in suicide. It is hitting the terminally sick as well as breadwinners, fathers and mothers who have lost all hope under the current circumstances. Relatives who work in hospitals in Harare attest to the fact that the numbers of those deciding to do themselves in are rising everyday. People have lost hope and faith in life.

Zimbabwe is now getting its last rites, administered by none other the very people for whom we voted into power. These peaceful, perhaps even timid people are paying the price for the greed and power hunger that is now the defining feature of our political landscape.

Do not expect a political settlement, however: Mugabe thinks that the more people suffer, the more they will identify the MDC as the author of their misery (through calling of sanctions, a fact the state machinery mentions everyday). On the other hand, Morgan Tsvangirai and the MDC think that the more people suffer, the more they will identify Mugabe and ZANU PF as the authors of this misery (through incompetence and policy failures. The people, the MDC hopes, will reach a breaking point and there will be an uprising). Unfortunately, both are wrong. Zimbos are now so starved, so preoccupied with looking for the next meal that they have neither the will nor wits to challenge the system. 

We are living in interesting times indeed, as the Chinese curse goes.


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