Dear Family and Friends,
This is the story of one day in Zimbabwe six weeks before elections. It is mid-winter and we trudge a weary path to the polls in the midst of a crazy stranglehold shrinking everyone’s ability to survive. Inflation has gone mad, the CZI (Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries) says we are now officially in a state of hyperinflation with prices having risen by 59% in one month. Our bills are again being denominated in the millions but there aren’t enough Zimbabwe Dollars around to pay them. For the first time in years we have again resorted to counting the zeros on our bills to see if they are for hundreds of thousands or for millions of dollars – and mostly they are for millions of course.
Zimbabwe dollars, also known as Bond dollars, RTGS dollars or ZWL dollars have virtually disappeared from circulation in the past ten days. Obviously they are being held back to force the black market down, the US dollars out of our pockets and for electioneering purposes. Just the fact that there are so many names for a currency which was worth ZW$1 to US$1 in February 2019 and is now worth ZW$7,000 – 10,000 to US$1 should tell you everything you need to know about our absurd currency situation.
On a quick trip to the capital city I saw a young man wearing headphones and dancing just off the highway in the golden grass. It was a cold winter day, he was wearing a red hoodie, brown trousers and black gumboots. A full-on gumboot dance was underway, stomping and knee raising, nodding and bopping, arms in the air. As I got close, I lifted a hand and waved and he gave me an enormous grin, did a beautiful pirouette and a bow and then he was off in his own world again, dancing his heart out. I smiled all the way to the toll gate 25 kilometers away, the pirouette and gumboot dance playing on continual rewind in my head. At the toll gate the queue was small but painfully slow which usually means someone is paying in Zimbabwe dollar notes. The highest Zimbabwe dollar note in circulation is ZW$100. The price to get through the toll gate is ZW$10,800 at the moment so that means handing over 108 pieces of paper to the teller to count before the barrier opens.
A quick stop at the supermarket to get a 500-gram punnet of grapes for a friend in hospital and I was staggered: ZW$49,999, it was US$5 before the government stifled currency circulation but today its US$8.33 because the exchange rate has been forced down. Money isn’t the only madness prevailing at the moment. As elections gets closer so does the absurdity: opposition rallies being banned, blocked or restricted, supporters being tear gassed. Most of us are looking at it with weary resignation: same old same old, no electoral reforms, obscure voters rolls, redrawn constituency boundaries, and then there’s the paper war. I counted 173 ruling party posters in a one-kilometer stretch entering my home town today.
Back at home later I headed for the local cemetery needing to quietly pay respects to loved ones and friends long gone. Down on the corner at the bottom of the hill I could see three guys in the middle of the road. They were in their late teens and were very loud and very drunk. They had started a fire on the verge and were laughing, shouting and chasing each other in the middle of the road. I made a quick judgement call: I was on foot, they were drunk, elections are 6 weeks away, the bullies are already walking amongst us, I turned round. Later I went back to the cemetery, the trees a few metres from graves and headstones are papered with political posters, no respect, not even here. The young drunk guys had gone, the road littered with thin plastic tubes; US$1 for 2 is the price for these small plastic tubes filled with rot gut whisky or home-made vodka that takes you from “zero to hero in a mouthful” one guy told me recently. “One tube and you’re a hero and can do anything,” he said. ‘Zero to Hero’ was a phrase coined by a former Reserve Bank Governor in Zimbabwe who oversaw our last hyperinflation mayhem, now it just means getting very drunk, very quickly for a dollar or less.
Please keep your eyes on Zimbabwe as our elections get closer. We can but hope there will not be violence, there will not be another coup and there will not be trucks full of soldiers shooting people in the streets of the capital city. We can but hope that we are walking a path to the new Zimbabwe we have strived so long to find.
There is no charge for this Letter From Zimbabwe but if you would like to donate please visit my website. Until next time, thanks for reading this Letter From Zimbabwe now in its 23rd year, and my books about life in Zimbabwe, a country in waiting.
Ndini shamwari yenyu (I am your friend) Love Cathy 8th July 2023. Copyright © Cathy Buckle https://cathybuckle.co.zw/
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