Bank queues. Shortages of cash but swelling volumes of bond notes. A president in failing health. If 2016 wasn’t an easy year for many Zimbabweans, 2017 could be even harder.
Here’s a list of special-to-Zimbabwe life hacks that some will turn to to get them through the next 12 months.
Some Zimbabweans are already having to “buy” their cash from agents of mobile money platform Ecocash (though Ecocash says in a text message that this is illegal). A few fuel stations are also selling cash for a premium of up to 20%. That’s more expensive than at Beitbridge, where cash is selling at 10% (for now). The run on cash isn’t hard to understand: increasingly retailers in Zimbabwe will demand it. That will annoy President Robert Mugabe‘s government: just before Christmas Higher Education Minister Jonathan Moyo described as criminal retailers in Bulawayo who were allegedly demanding hard cash (“Report crime at your nearest police station. It’s your civic duty,” he tweeted to @squilatapiwa). But as bond notes become more widespread (remember that the authorities promised to inject 75 million of them before the end of 2016?), Zimbabweans will encounter more reticence from smaller retailers who are worried that they won’t be able to restock from foreign suppliers using their bondnote-filled bank accounts. The big supermarkets will likely not be able to demand hard cash. That could mean Zimbabweans see products disappearing from shelves a few months down the line.
Empty your bank account each month
Why do so many Zimbabweans queue for cash when plastic cards and online payments are still an option in a fair few places? It’s not just about getting money for public transport (you can’t swipe in kombis) or to send to relatives. Zimbabweans are keen to get their hands on real cash while they still can, quite possibly to be able to use it later when they can’t. Besides, cash withdrawal limits keep dropping. Some banks are only offering $30 a day now. Standard Chartered is down to $50 per day: at the beginning of December it was $200.
Step up security
Crime is always a problem at this time of year: there have been reports of armed robberies in the last few days in Bulawayo and Mutare. As cash becomes more scarce – at least in the formal market – and locals and businesses hoard it where they can, Zimbabweans may well see a spike in crime. The lesson? Step up security. Try not to store cash in obvious places. Don’t store it at home, for example. Be careful on public transport. In an unusual attack, armed robbers raided a broken-down bus near Banket on December 30, getting away with cash and valuables, the Sunday Mail reported.
Medicines, stockfeed, SA goods: Stock up while you can
Where swiping is still an option, Zimbabweans will start hoarding. Sellers of electronic goods have already indicated they’re dubious they’ll be able to keep up stocks. That will be particularly the case if the authorities really do “develop a policy that will force major companies to procure locally,” as the privately-owned Newsday reported last week (quoting Industry Minister Mike Bimha). The idea is no doubt to kick-start the local manufacturing industry: a laudable objective but there will be instances in which demand — and sometimes quality — may not be able to meet production.
Smuggling will also be stepped up.
But don’t spend on non-essentials
Prominent churchman and businessman Shingi Munyeza’s tweet on New Year’s Eve touched a real nerve among Zimbabweans. This is what he said: “Don’t be conned of your hard-earned money under the guise of sowing seeds to the ‘Man of God’. You will need every $ and bond note in 2017!” That’s a reference to some of Zimbabwe’s popular “prophets” who demand sacrifices-for-blessings from their many followers. Munyeza did not name any prophet in particular, though there is a clip doing the rounds on social media of an official from the United Family International Church instructing locals to sow seeds of between $77 and $77,000.
Of course there’s no telling how much money wealthier Zimbabweans will still be able to spare. Popular prophet Walter Magaya is alleged to have predicted the death of a “prominent person” this year. But he wouldn’t say if it was you-know-who. That information is reportedly only available to “gold” and “platinum” partners of his PHD Ministries. In other words, those who pay.
Develop multiple “gigs”
Multiple streams of income? Zimbabweans have been doing that for years. At this end of 2017, Zimbabwe’s gig economy takes many forms. The teacher who sells secondhand clothes or scones at the market at the weekend is one good example. Zimbabweans will look for more ways of generating a bit of hard cash when it’s hard to get it from your “8 to 5” job.
Just comment on the demos
Not everyone will take part in the anti-Mugabe demos. In fact, it may be that as in the past few will participate unless another Pastor Evan Mawarire emerges. One of the things Zimbabweans say puts them off protesting is the fear of the costs involved to them and their families if they are arrested (bail money) or injured by police (hospital treatment). That could become even more of an issue if the cash crunch worsens.
Marches and protests can be “useful” if people turn out in their numbers, says Todd Moss, a senior fellow of the Center for Global Development and a former US State Department official. He told News24 that protests have “diminishing returns if they don’t generate a sizeable crowd or animate civil society.”
Will Zimbabweans develop another way of registering their discontent?
Sadly, this is going to look like more of an option for some. Fact-checking group AfricaCheck says the oft-repeated claim that between two and three million Zimbabweans now live in SA can’t be substantiated. But there’s no doubting the attraction South Africa holds for their nearest neighbours (and more than 500,000 SA-based travellers crossed up through Beitbridge between Dec 1 and 27, according to official statistics). Zimbabwean families could end up further split apart.
That, for many, is the real heartbreak.