On the shortest day of the year (21 June) Zimbabwe gave us her very best: blue sky, sunshine and golden grass. It was gorgeous out there in the bush, aloes in flower, streams still trickling and mist nestling in the grass long after sunrise. For the last two weeks of June we also had the rare chance, which apparently only happens once in a century, of seeing the five planets which are visible with the naked eye lined up in an arc below the waning moon.
Every morning at 05:00 I went outside into the cold and looked for the arc, cloud and mist not helping. But on the fifth morning I finally got a good view. My horizon wasn’t low enough to see Mercury, but Venus was in and out of the mist and Mars, Jupiter and Saturn beautifully clear with the waning moon at the top of the arc. By the next night the chance of seeing it again had gone because a cold front moved in, thick cloud and mist, rain and an icy wind reminding us that this is winter after all.
We need to grab the beauty and tranquility at every opportunity that arises in order to get through these hard times in our country again.
It’s becoming a tired litany to write that yet again in the last fortnight fuel went up for the second time in a month from US$1.78 to US$1.88 litre. Toll gates went up again from Z$500 to Z$700 and food prices immediately followed suit. We have rapidly gone back to the days when all the basics on our tables have become luxuries and I went grocery shopping to see what I could find for less than a thousand Zim dollars.
It wasn’t a pretty picture; these are some of the standard, regular grocery items most people buy:
- 10kg maize meal: Z$5 329
- 2l cooking oil: Z$3 299
- 2kg flour: Z$1 199
- Sugar: none to buy
- 375ml peanut butter: Z$1 099
- 500g jam: Z$1 199
- 100 tea bags: Z$1 499
- 500g Cerevita cereal: Z$2 199
- 1kg oats Z$2 199
On the first day of the month, just after people had been paid, the huge supermarket was almost empty, the sign, if anyone needed it, that people can’t afford the thousand-dollar food in the supermarkets anymore.
Outside in the car park the money changers stood flicking piles of notes and sitting in the freezing cold wind. Next to them sat an old man in a wheelchair I often try and help with a loaf of bread or packet of sweet buns. When I bent down to give him a packet of buns today he was shivering and my eyes filled with tears. Why? Because he’s an old man who’s had a stroke, can’t talk, is paralysed and this is what his life has come to.
Chatting to a man this week about all the construction that’s going on in Harare and the wealth and opulence that oozes out of driveways in the northern suburbs of the capital city, it didn’t take long to agree on how some people are becoming overnight millionaires again in Zimbabwe on a scale we last saw back in 2008.
Here’s how it works:
If you have connections high up in government you can buy one US dollar for Z$365 at the official bank rate, you can then go out on the street and sell that one US dollar for around Z$700, doubling your money in a few minutes. Extrapolate that one US dollar to 100 or 1 000 and it doesn’t take long to become a millionaire. Everyone knows it and yet it carries on in plain view without interception.
Meanwhile, explaining why the government is only making ‘token payments’ towards the country’s debt which has now soared to US$17 billion dollars, the government said it was contending with ‘protracted challenges’ to deal with Zimbabwe’s ‘gruelling economic crisis.’
Hmmm, we thought, but who made this gruelling economic crisis and who is it that has lost their salaries, pensions and life savings and is sitting outside supermarkets in the freezing cold hoping someone will help them?
© Cathy Buckle