Cathy Buckle: Zim pensioners bear brunt of ‘cash crisis’. But there’s hope.

Yet again Zimbabwean Cathy Buckle is shocked by her government’s failings. The country’s drought has now spread to the cash reserves, which is forcing late payments on civil servants. The problem is they’re paying the military before the health sector and pensioners – whom are only expected to get paid on July the 19th for June. That’s three weeks late, and already living on a pittance, how are they expected to survive? But this is the government’s plan. There’s just no let up for the citizens of the country but Buckle says this time at least there is a glimmer of hope. It revolves around the #ThisFlag initiative, which is apparently gathering momentum. And why she’s hopeful – it’s not the work of another political party or supporting a specific person, it’s an initiative for the country. – Stuart Lowman

By Cathy Buckle*

An icy wind swept across Zimbabwe this week pushing temperatures down dramatically but not the temperaments of ordinary people as we approach the second month-end in a country which has run out of money.

Zimbabwe Flag May 2016

There is no sign at all that the cash situation has improved in the country despite a month in which almost everyone’s been forced to use debit cards, do bank transactions or simply go without. Nor is there any sign that our government have got a plan on the way forward; in fact quite the opposite.

A week ago the Ministry of Finance put out a notice to all civil servants of whom there are thought to be around 200,000 but may well be many more than that. The notice said that “on account of cash flow challenges,” they “propose the following Pay Dates for the month of June 2016 which allow for the mobilization of the requisite resources.”

Army and Air Force : 27 June

Police and Prison officers: 30 June

Education sector: 7 July

Health sector and others: 14 July

Pensioners: 19 July

In a country at peace it wasn’t clear why the army and air force would get their pay first or why doctors and nurses would only get their pay two weeks into next month. Nor was it clear how on earth pensioners, already living on the smell of an oil rag, would survive until they got their meager pittances three weeks late. Almost immediately following the revised pay dates notice there came threats of strikes, talks and more talks but at the time of writing there has been no progress on revised pay dates. Civil servants are looking at month end commitments with dread and despair. Will landlords accept being paid rent three weeks late? How will people keep their electricity on when they haven’t been paid and haven’t got money to pay for power; how will they buy food, pay for telephones, transport, school fees and medical commitments? It seems our government don’t recognize that most ordinary people live from hand to mouth, support large numbers of unemployed relations and extended families and simply can’t wait three weeks into next month to get paid. Compassion and empathy have gone out the window in our beleaguered country. It’s unknown when the Pay Date for government Ministers will be. A week late? Two? Three?

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At about the same time as this was happening the government said they had started to retrench people in order to cut the civil service wage bill which the Reserve Bank Governor said was just over $100 million a month. The quoted example of retrenchment came from the Ministry of Women’s Affairs which has apparently abolished 100 posts. The Women’s Affairs Minister was quoted as saying: “ We had a situation where some of our officers who were supposed to educate women on gender issues…did not have the necessary skills…” The Minister did not explain why those same officers had been employed in her Ministry in the first place or how long they’d been earning a salary for something they weren’t qualified to do. How many more are there like this, in this Ministry and all the others, that’s what we want to know.

Despite this desperate place we again find ourselves in, there is hope because people have had enough and civic activism is on the rise. This week Transparency International posted a half page newspaper advert hailing one of the civic activism initiatives known as the #ThisFlag campaign. Transparency said it was “an initiative that needs the support of all citizens to take action and voice their concerns against corruption, bad governance and looting of resources.”

Different to the rash of political parties popping up in Zimbabwe, the campaign: “#ThisFlag. Taking Back Our Zimbabwe” seems to have recognized that it’s not about supporting one person or one political party, it’s about one country, about all of us.

  • Cathy Buckle is the author of four children books. She has also written the non-fictional African Tears, the Zimbabwe Land Invasions, Beyond Tears: Zimbabwe’s tragedy, Innocent Victims: Rescuing the Stranded Animals of Zimbabwe’s Farm Invasions and Sleeping Like a Hare. The article was first published at com.
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