Weakness of Zimbabwe dollar not enough to kill the Zimbabwean spirit

Cathy Buckle and her well known blog, Letters from Zimbabwe, featuring eye witness accounts of daily life in Zimbabwe, has been running since February 2000. In 2009, skyrocketing inflation sent the struggling Zimbabwean economy into chaos and forced the country to abandon the Zimbabwe dollar and adopt a stronger, more stable currency – the US dollar. The impoverished country reintroduced its own currency – the Zimbabwean dollar – last year, after a 10-year hiatus. “One of the biggest mistakes was dollarising and removing your own currency,” Secretary for Finance George Guvamatanga told business leaders in the capital, Harare, in December. As admirable a sentiment it may be that the country wants to ‘back itself’ – the shift back has not been easy, as Buckle’s story indicates. – Nadya Swart 

Sunbirds and apple rings 

By Cathy Buckle* 

Under a beautiful blue sky I sat with friends looking out at a view of mountains, hills and kopjes, rugged cliffs and red aloes, wind tossed ravens and exquisite sunbirds.  A cold winter wind whispered and whistled through the pine trees behind us but sitting in the sun the layers of winter were soon removed and we just soaked up the warmth and the spectacle of our beautiful Zimbabwe. It had been a gruelling journey to get here, 45 minutes to go less than nine kilometres and not another vehicle in sight for the whole trip; red rutted roads, eroded, strewn with rocks, torn with gullies, holes and cutaways leaving us crawling along at a snail’s pace. This is a prime tourist landmark in Zimbabwe and when we arrived, jolted, bumped and shaken, we were welcomed with a big smile and the words “Thank you for coming to see our view today.”

Cathy Buckle
Cathy Buckle

Aaah, don’t you just love Zimbabwe! Despite 7.9 million ‘extremely poor people,’ according to the latest figures released by the World Bank, and with many salaries not even enough to buy a loaf of bread a day, still people are warm, welcoming, polite and courteous. We are a country of such contradictions that it almost defies understanding. Just last week the Minister of Finance said there had been a budget surplus of 9.8 billion dollars in the first quarter of 2021 and yet where is it? Clearly not being spent on collapsing roads or decaying infrastructure or on over half of our population who are classified as ‘extremely poor.’

Despite eighteen months starved of tourists due to Covid restrictions, authorities have not taken the time to make ready for the day when visitors can come back. Because of the shocking state of 9 kilometres of road we had the place to ourselves: it is school holidays but there are no visitors, no tax dollars. A magnificent sunbird with gold speckled iridescent feathers and a long curved beak flits from aloe to aloe, puncturing tiny holes at the base of long narrow flowers, hovering, sipping nectar, moving on.

Sitting in the sun on a bench in the winter sunshine looking out over World’s View which has been so beautifully and tastefully developed by the National Trust (an NGO), I think of the people we see every day in Zimbabwe, if only we choose to look and to listen to their stories. A young girl who stands in a cold wind on the roadside selling carrots, one US dollar a bunch she says, she is trying to get enough to pay her school fees which are due next week. The old woman whose government pension is worth less than $40 a month, not even enough to pay her rent, but still she smiles as she pats my hand and tells me every day she must dig the fields to survive and says “we can never stop working.” The man who runs up a hill to tell us we are very welcome to come in and look around the beautiful St Catherines-in-the-Downs church where the altar overlooks the mountains but where services are no longer held regularly because there are not enough congregants. The old man with the blue and white wooly hat who sits in the sun teaching me how to make dried apple rings. Step by step he shows me what to do, what to add and when, what they should feel like when they’re ready. He is so eager to share his knowledge, so willing to explain the process, so happy to give me a sample to taste and encourage me to try and make my own. He throws his head back in laughter when I buy a bag and say I’ll think of him when I eat the apple rings on the road. And I do think of him.

As I write this letter the government insists that one US dollar is equal to 85 Zimbabwe dollars but on the street the same US dollar gets between 110 and 140 Zimbabwe dollars. The government’s recent Statutory Instrument (SI 127 of 2021) says that a fine of ZW$50,000 will be imposed on anyone selling goods at a rate above the official exchange rate. If I was the girl selling carrots for one US dollar a bunch, would I change that US dollar for 85 or 140 Zimbabwe dollars: it’s a no brainer isn’t it? And so we hold on to these precious moments sitting in the sun looking out at beauty, watching sunbirds and eating apple rings and never forgetting the special people we meet along the way, ever hopeful of the day when children don’t have to sell carrots to go to school and old ladies don’t have dig the fields when they’re in their seventies.

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