Friday, 17 February 2012

Tales of the Zimbabwean Dollar, bad memories for the average masses

HARARE - By David Hwangwa

The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor, Dr. Gideon Gono once revealed that he had nightmares over the zeros he had slashed on the Zim dollar. Tales of the dreaded Zim dollar evoke several emotions amongst the people. The majority would not even want to hear even the slightest mention of the word whilst some of Harare’s dealers would jump with joy if it is to return in its weak state. The era of the Zim dollar in its last days, were the worst for the majority.
Since its inception after independence, the Zim dollar was a stable currency that was even at par with most of the world’s strongest currencies, at one time being of more value than the US dollar, one of the currencies currently being used as legal tender in the country. It was not until the late 1990s that the dollar started to slide when the Zim government was just starting with their poor domestic and foreign policies.
Fighting for regional dominance with South Africa, the Zim government entered our troops into the infamous DRC war despite being warned about its negative effects on the economy. Just to add to their poor policies, the government further gave out huge payments of ZW$50,000 each to the thousands of the veterans of the Second Chimurenga. This also had massive effects on the economy because we could not afford that at the time but once our government decides on a policy, they go ahead with it without considering the after effects of such moves. The Zim dollar started falling, foreign currency shortages were being reported and the sliding trend for Zimbabwe was just beginning. At the turn of the new millennium, such policies continued. The chaotic land redistribution, oppressive laws, Operation Murambatsvina, rigged elections and ofcourse continuous printing of the Zim dollar, all added to the further weakening of the currency.
Whilst the economists can go over their books and come with various reasons and formulas why we should not resort to the Zim dollar just yet, the average man on the street will just hit you with a blank NO. They have so many reasons why that currency should never come back.
In the last decade where the Zim dollar was the main currency, it cast a dark shadow over the general masses. How could it not be when the governor was printing money at will as if he was funding a mafia organisation? His new hobby was that of printing trillions, quadrillions and figures never heard of without even considering the plight of the masses.
It was a period where nothing was available in the shops. To those who had supplies and who were selling them, the mode of payment was the scarce forex even though it had not yet been legally approved by the government.
The most painful thing during the Zim dollar era was that of waiting in queues, even for things that were not even there. It was even more heartbreaking when that commodity you had been waiting for runs out whilst you were still in the line. We became so accustomed to waiting in lines that whenever you saw people standing in a queue you would immediately join them without even knowing what they were waiting for. One would almost be certain that whatever that thing was, you would probably need it. People would go to the shops as the whole family because things were rationed; 1 – 2 per person and a family of eight would probably require three people just to get enough supplies.
The Zim dollar era resulted in the country becoming almost idle. Industries closed, multi-national companies relocated to neighbouring countries and most local businesses were just operating at a loss. The unemployment rate rose to levels never heard of. People reluctantly left the country they loved so much for menial jobs outside. People had no options but to degrade themselves so as to feed their own families.
The government had no pity at all for the businesses during that time. With Gono printing his worthless Zim dollars at will, it meant that every time a new family of currencies was introduced, prices would rise as well. It was even painful seeing prices being increased whilst you were waiting by the till. To counter such practices, the government introduced the infamous price controls. This was the final nail in the coffin because this practice resulted in companies not producing anything because the price fixed by the government was just suicidal to their businesses. You could not blame the business people because you honestly cannot sell a product marked for example $5 and be told to sell it for a dollar. Anyone in his right senses would say no to that and it would be beneficial to that person to just stop producing that product. The biggest victims from this policy by the government were the masses because we got everything we want from the store and waking up one day being told that there is no bread, it is just an insult. At times, Zimbos we are just too tolerant.
The big shefs in government were living large at the time yet the masses were paying the price for their incompetent policies. People had to purchase goods where they were limited. Substandard goods became the order of the day. New terms were being coined by the suffering masses to portray their everyday life. People were now living on economics Zero-Zero-One where the one referred to the only meal of the day. The one meal was even necessitated by two factors; one it was because in that day and age, people could only manage to scavenge one meal per day because things were so hard. The other factor was that even though some people might have had the means to have more meals per day, the stumbling block was that there was nothing in the shops to buy. We are talking of a time where if you visited a relative, you would expect to return to your place without even being offered anything to eat. Visiting people was almost a burden because you would just inconvenience your host.
In the rural areas it was even worse. Visiting my grandmother I the village in December 2008 I almost cried. She had stacks of worthless Zim dollars that she was saving; dollars that were not even in circulation anymore. She told me that she was not even aware of what the new family of currencies was. The other factor was that she kept them because there was nothing to buy from the stores. It was even sad visiting people in the village. There was virtually no food to eat. The government had banned NGOs from operating in the country. They were the only ones that were giving people in the rural areas food supplies.
Things were so drastic that people were boiling mangoes to eat. It might sound weird to the urban folk but that was the situation on the ground. The situation in the rural areas was a little different from that in the city. We went to ChaChaCha growth point in Shurugwi to buy my old lady some supplies for Christmas. In some of the shops there was maize meal from South Africa that was written “Not for Consumption by People under 12years and those over 65years.” I was shocked because that is generally the average ages you will find in the rural areas. The sad part was that people were buying that very produce. I asked myself, is it ignorance or the mere fact that people were taking advantage of the rural folk. Some overzealous entrepreneurs were just taking advantage of the rural folk.
It was not only business people who were taking advantage of the masses. It started from the top. Gono and his cronies were printing gazillions of Zim dollars at will, fuelling the black market. It was hard waking up to go to work. You were never guaranteed that the price you paid for the kombi would be the same come 6 pm. No wonder the soldiers ran amock when shops were refusing the $10trillion notes. That was towards Christmas in 2008, government workers had been paid $30 trillion. Just those three notes that were not being accepted in shops. That was just taking our patience and tolerance to the limit. Not everyone had the means to forex then but the government never considered how the average man on the street was surviving. Yet you wonder why Zim remained at peace. Zimbos and their tolerance.
Now we see the state media journalists and Dr Gono echoing the same sentiments from the December 2011 ZANU PF Conference about bringing back the Zim dollar. Yes a country needs its own currency but at the present moment Zimbabwe is better off without its own currency. I am not an economist but I know that we are not yet ready for a return of the Zim dollar. Our industries are still recovering and hardly working at full capacity. Bring the Zim dollar right now is just tantamount to disaster. Maybe the ghosts of the slashed zeros are haunting our learned governor that he is under pressure to bring back the dollar. We all know that the governor does not really care. He is one man who purchased a Mercedes Brabus when the country was the majority of the population was languishing in poverty.
Well Dr. Gono and fellow Cdes from ZANU PF, we suffered so much under the Zim dollar we are not yet ready for the return of our fallen currency. Our economy is just starting to recover, can we please allow it to grow before the once mighty Zim dollar makes its inevitable return. Elections are just around the corner, now is not the time for the Zim dollar.
David T. Hwangwa is writing in his own capacity. He can be contacted on