Accessibility links

Breaking News

Zimbabwe

Thursday 10 October 2019

Calendar
A man takes images of goods in a shop to share before buying them in Harare, in this Wednesday, Oct, 9, 2019 photo. Hyperinflation is changing prices so quickly in the southern African nation that what you would see displayed on a supermarket shelf…

When going shopping, the only thing Isaiah Macheku can budget for is shock.

Hyperinflation is changing prices so quickly in Zimbabwe that what you see displayed on a supermarket shelf might change by the time you reach the checkout.

“It is a nightmare,” Macheku said. “I can't plan.”

Before a coup unseated the late president Robert Mugabe in late 2017, Macheku could afford all his family's basics on his salary, which equals about $24. Now the same amount can hardly buy 4 kilograms (8.8 pounds) of beef.

He ended up buying chicken skin for his family's supper. “I cannot afford the actual chicken,” he said. It is the closest his family gets to eating meat.

Zimbabwe now has the world's second highest inflation after Venezuela, according to International Monetary Fund figures. The southern African nation went through this a decade ago but says there is no getting used to it, and coping has become both creative and desperate.

This time Zimbabwe's economy has been on a downward spiral for more than a year as hopes fade that Mugabe's successor and former deputy, President Emmerson Mnangagwa, will deliver on his promises of prosperity.

“Anyone who thinks a solution is in sight must be very brave,” said economist John Robertson in the capital, Harare. “Government officials don't want to admit the real causes and don't want to fix the real problems. People should brace for worse.” He said the real causes include the government spending beyond its means.

To shop, money alone is no longer enough. Calculators, mobile phones and notebooks have become necessary tools. In one sparsely attended groceries wholesaler, there were more people taking pictures of price stickers than those picking items from shelves.

“I sent the pictures to my husband. We have to decide fast before the prices go up again,” said one shopper, Marianne Hove. “He is in another supermarket sending me pictures of the prices there. We compare and decide which items to buy and from where.”
Others did quick calculations and called home to confirm items to buy.

In other shops, prices are only available at the checkout - and even then the cashier might stop a customer mid-payment to change prices.

Retailers said they would go out of business if they don't adjust prices frequently.

“It is becoming increasingly impossible to appropriately price goods. The replacement value has been our Achilles heel,” said Denford Muntashu, president of the Confederation of Zimbabwe Retailers.

The situation is “synonymous with hyperinflation” even though the government statistics office has stopped publishing annual inflation data, Muntashu said.

Some businesses are closing while others are limiting their product range to reduce risk, he said.

Prices in Zimbabwe are changing faster than at any point in a decade. In 2009, the country's currency collapsed under the weight of hyperinflation. The government then adopted a multi-currency system dominated by the dollar.

This year the government outlawed the use of foreign currencies, part of frequent and sometimes confusing changes to the country's complicated monetary framework.

The local currency has been rapidly devaluing, “fostering high inflation, which reached almost 300 percent in August,” the IMF said after a review mission last month.

Weakening confidence, policy uncertainty and a continuation of foreign currency market distortions are exerting pressure on the exchange rate, the IMF added, while a severe drought and foreign debt hampering Zimbabwe's access to external funding have impacted the economy hard.

Most businesses import products from abroad due to the collapse of local industry. Foreign currency shortages and rapid devaluation of the local currency are hard on both businesses and customers.

Zimbabwe's president, Mnangagwa, continues to appeal for more time.

“Getting the economy working again from being dead will require time, patience, unity of purpose and perseverance,” he said in a state of the nation address on Oct. 1.

Like Mugabe, the president largely blames U.S. sanctions for the crisis, while the U.S. points out that the sanctions don't target the government but selected officials, including Mnangagwa himself, over past alleged human rights abuses.

The patience of many Zimbabweans is wearing thin, considering the lengths they are going to cope.

“We cannot continue to live like this. Why did they remove Mugabe if they had no solutions?” said Harare resident Praise Sibanda.

“We are tired of 001,” she said, using the local slang for the growing trend of families resorting to a single meal a day.

Some innovative vendors have begun repackaging items such as cooking oil into sachets small enough to prepare a single meal.

According to the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe, people are increasingly using such sachets known as “tsaona,” a word in the local Shona language that means “accident.”

A man sleeps close to a banner reading "We are not safe in South Africa, plz help us to leave this country" where dozens of people camp in a corridor near the offices of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees in Cape Town, Oct. 9, 2019.

South Africa's Minister of Small Business Development is pushing a radical solution to last month's clashes between locals and foreigners over jobs: Ban the foreigners.

At least, ban them from jobs in the informal economy, says Minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni.

"We as a department, we are going back and check within the provisions of our law that says, within this threshold, foreign nationals cannot participate ... . But we are going to be specific, like what they have done in Ghana, what they have done in Zimbabwe, in Angola, in Botswana," Ntshavheni said. "We are going to engage with Cabinet to say, Cabinet, if we are not definitive there is going to be a problem. "

A ban on migrant workers in salons, small shops, and as street vendors would prevent recurring fights with locals competing for those jobs, Ntshavheni said.

FILE - A protester sets a fire on the road in Abuja, Nigeria, Sept. 4, 2019. South African-owned businesses operating in Nigeria are being targeted with violence in retaliation for attacks carried out against Africans working in South Africa.

Anti-immigrant violence that swept South Africa in September left at least 12 people dead, most of them South African nationals. The violence prompted Nigeria to repatriate hundreds of its citizens while Malawi repatriated at least 75.

But Chairman of the African Diaspora Forum Vusumuzi Sibanda said the minister's suggestion is shocking.

"We are opposed to it because that is a violation of the constitution," he said. "It is not only cruel, but inhumane. So, it means that people will be actually closed off from getting any means of survival and supporting their families, which is all what these people want considering what they have run from, in their countries."

Zimbabwean Samantha Dube, 29, runs a nail and hair salon where she trains her workers with new skills.

"If South Africa stops allowing us to do this, it means the people that I'm empowering will also fall," Dube said. "The children that I feed will also be affected. I will no longer be able to take my children to school. My sisters that are going to school, it means they will have to drop out. My parents, it means they will have to suffer more and more."

Banning foreigners from certain jobs could also have a negative impact on South Africa's economy, which competes with Nigeria's as the biggest in Africa.

The Sustainable Livelihoods Foundation in 2010 found that nearly half of small groceries in Cape Town were run by foreigners.

The number of foreign-run small businesses is even higher in South Africa's Gauteng Province, where many migrant workers live.

Nigus Temesgen is a member of the United Ethiopia Community Association of South Africa, whose members work mostly in the informal economy.

"When we are selling belts, socks, so many small materials on the public areas, especially around taxi ranks and bus stations, we are also benefitting the economy," Temesgen said. "And the government must help people, support people. This is unnecessary. We are all Africans."

But for Minister of Small Business Development Ntshavheni, South African nationals should come first — even with informal jobs.

As the issue is debated in the Cabinet, migrant workers in South Africa wait nervously and hope that other ministers disagree.

Load more

XS
SM
MD
LG