Cathy Buckle: Zimbabwe’s chilling cold, scarce currency and dinosaur discovery

In another letter from Zimbabwe, Cathy Buckle writes about a cold snap that drove locals to markets for warm clothes. She writes about finding “pre-loved” jackets and sharing warm moments with vendors and children. Amid economic woes, new currency remains scarce and ineffective, but a recent dinosaur discovery brings some cheer. Buckle also sends her condolences to Malawi on Vice President Chilima’s tragic loss.

Sign up for your early morning brew of the BizNews Insider to keep you up to speed with the content that matters. The newsletter will land in your inbox at 5:30am weekdays. Register here.

Here’s a link to the 12 June Premium newsletter. If you like what you see subscribe here for your afternoon wrap.

By Cathy Buckle 

Dear Family and Friends,

An icy cold moved into Zimbabwe this 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 at the market 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- tot 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.  

Last week clothing giant Edgars 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 their stores was now going to focus at ‘very low end, downtown, high density and growth points.’ ‘Very Low End,’ an insulting but accurate description which 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.

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 2 ZiG coin and the other a 5 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 Central Bank Governor said: ‘The President instructed me not to print money without reserves’ and with those words we staggered on. Coins denominated at 1, 2 and 5 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 its done exactly the opposite as prices soar so that importers can resupply their shelves.

Read also: Zimbabwe cracks down on informal market, good news for bankers

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 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.

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,’ he said. 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 road sides 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.   

Amidst 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 386 kilos. What a wonderful legacy for Zimbabwe.

I end my Letter 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 the 10th of June 2024.  May they rest in peace.

There is no charge for this Letter From Zimbabwe but if you would like to donate please visit my website. Until next time, thanks for reading this Letter From Zimbabwe now in its 24th year, and my books about life in Zimbabwe, a country in waiting.

Ndini shamwari yenyu (I am your friend)

Love Cathy

Copyright © Cathy Buckle

Read also: