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Seventy-five cents and a Zimbabwean dinosaur

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By Cathy Buckle


An icy cold moved into Zimbabwe last week, with night-time temperatures dropping to three degrees Celsius in my home town sending us running to the markets looking for warm clothing. “Only US$10 Ma’am,” the vendor said as she looked through her racks of second-hand warm jackets for one to my liking.

We joked and laughed as I suggested she call her jackets ‘pre-loved’ as opposed to second-hand and she liked that idea a lot. We slapped hands and the search went on for the perfect jacket.

A little poppet was sitting behind her mum on a thick blanket, wrapped up and toasty warm. I bent down to the little girl and she was shy but giggly as I asked her name and, after checking with her mum, I offered the little girl a few Jelly Tots sweeties.

We also slapped hands, her tiny fingers warm and sticky on my palm. Shopping like this warms your heart, regardless of the temperature. You know you are helping someone to survive with every purchase you make, and it’s such a small thing to do to add a few dollars more for their lunch too.

Edgars trades down

Last week clothing giant Edgars [now owned by Retailability] said it had lost its business to runners (cross-border traders), flea markets and car boutiques (people selling clothes out of their cars).

“We dropped the ball,” Edgars said, adding that one of its stores was now going to focus at “very low end, downtown, high density and growth points”.

Read:

‘Very low end’ – an insulting but accurate description that says it all for the vast majority of us here in Zimbabwe, where we would rather go down to the local market and buy a pair of pre-loved jeans for US$2 as opposed to $35 in the big shops or a warm jacket for US$10 instead of US$70.

The elusive ZiG

Two months after our new currency was released, I finally had a 10 ZiG note and two coins in my hand this week, one was a two ZiG coin and the other a five ZiG coin. They weren’t mine. I borrowed them from a friend so I could take a photograph of them because that’s exactly how rare our new currency is: elusive and invisible.

Two months ago, the governor of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe said the president “instructed me not to print money without reserves”, and with those words we staggered on.

Coins denominated at one, two and five ZiG were released along with a 10 ZiG note (worth 75 cents), but they were so few and far between that most people still haven’t seen them two months later.

As I write, the central bank still hasn’t released the 20, 50, 100 and 200 ZiG notes, saying it wants to choke the black market and keep inflation at bay.

In fact it’s done exactly the opposite as prices soar so that importers can resupply their shelves.

Looking at the bank note and two ZiG coins in my hand, it took a while to work out exactly how much I was holding: the equivalent of US$1.27, not even half a cup of coffee.

Can you imagine living in a country where the biggest denomination bank note in circulation is only worth 75 US cents? It’s utterly absurd.

A litre of fuel is US$1.65, so the biggest bank note isn’t even enough for half a litre of diesel.

Tragicomedy plays out …

So while we struggle along with this absurdity, it was a tragicomedy to read that the central bank governor had just held a celebratory party in his rural village in Gutu where he told guests: “I came to my home village to thank those who gave birth to me …  Your son has been appointed to a top government job.”

It may be a top government job, but it’s left a nation going shopping with a calculator in hand, multiplying and dividing everything by 13.4 and shopping on roadsides and under trees in order to survive.

As we have been since November 2023 – when an imposter posing as an opposition official began decimating parliament of the elected officials we had voted for, and who got away with it – Zimbabwe remains a silenced nation stumbling through this latest economic crisis.

The voices of outrage have gone silent, the opposition leaders who should be speaking out for us have disappeared and we stand alone.

Dinosaur?

Yes, amid all the absurdity, there comes amazing news from Zimbabwe.

A dinosaur has been found on Spurwing Island in Kariba. Named as Musankwa sanyatiensis, the 210-million-year-old partial right leg of the dinosaur is the fourth dinosaur species to be found in Zimbabwe. Researchers believe Musankwa would have stood 1.5 meters high at the hips, walked on two feet and weighed around 386kg. What a wonderful legacy for Zimbabwe.

I end my column this week with a message of condolence to our friends and neighbours in Malawi at the tragic loss of Vice President Saulos Chilima and nine others in an aircraft crash on 10 June 2024. May they rest in peace.

Cathy Buckle writes her blog, ‘Letters from Zimbabwe’, not as an academic, an expert or an historian, but as an ordinary woman living in a small town in Zimbabwe. Her letters are first published on www.cathybuckle.co.zw