Harare — Surviving the world's highest inflation rate is resulting in people ditching their professions and embarking on work, which they had never previously considered.
Mavis, a qualified nursery teacher, has swapped her life as an educator for that of a sexworker and now cruises for clients in the upmarket hotels of the capital Harare.
"I am a professionally trained infant teacher, but last year I decided to quit the profession as the money that I was earning was not adequate to sustain myself," she told IRIN. "The odd tourist is always good for business because they pay in foreign currency and they are always very generous with their money."
Although foreign tourism has dropped off considerably in the last few years because of the country's political and economic woes, Mavis said there was still a class of people in Zimbabwe who were able to afford her services and the best place to proposition them remained the hotels.
"If I was still working as a school teacher, I would be earning just over Z$300,000 (US$7.5 at the parallel exchange rate of Z$40,000 to US$1) a month, but now, I can charge as much as Z$500,000 (US$12.5) per night regardless of whether the client wants my services for a short while or for the whole night."
Mavis said that the majority of her clients were married men, who had to get home to their wives. "When clients cannot be with me for a long time, I can double my earnings in a single night," she said.
There are some clients who demand to have unsafe sex and even offer to pay more but I insist on the use of condoms
Her new work carries with it the risk of AIDS, as one in five Zimbabweans aged between 15 and 49 are infected with HIV. "I would not do anything as reckless as unprotected sex. I am an educated person and I know the hazards. There are some clients who demand to have unsafe sex and even offer to pay more but I insist on the use of condoms or cancel the transaction," Mavis said.
More than 5,000 teachers failed to report for duty when schools opened for the new term two weeks ago.
The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions estimates in its latest economic review that hyperinflation had reduced wages and salaries to renumeration received in 1965. An average public servant earns about Z$300,000 (US$7.5) a month, while the cost of living for a family of six for the most basic requirements, such as rent, food and school fees, is estimated at about Z$2 million (US$50) a month.
Independent economists contend that the official annual inflation rate of 3,713 percent is less than half of the real rate of inflation. In a recent weekly newspaper column, economist, Eric Bloch said "With inflation having soared, based on the Consumer Price Index (it's) in practice exceeding 8,000 percent." The Consumer Price Index is a measure of price rises affecting a specific basket of goods.
"The hyperinflation is so pronounced that an estimated 85 percent or more of the population is striving to survive with insignificant incomes, far below the Poverty Datum Line and more than half of Zimbabwe's people are suffering at levels below the Food Datum Line, being the minimum resources needed to avoid malnutrition," Bloch said.
Sarudzai works as a domestic helper for three young female journalists, doing their laundry at the weekends and general house-cleaning one day a week. The journalist were initially perplexed by their maid, as she seemed "too intelligent" for such menial work, and became a good source for news story, particularly regarding the police.
The conundrum of their maid's life was exposed when the three journalists were stopped at a police roadblock and among their number was a police officer who looked vaguely familiar: then it dawned on them the policewomen was their domestic helper.
After some initial embarrassment and a mumbled apology from the policewoman, the coincidence was to change Sarudzai's life. She resigned from the police force five months ago, after her unmasking had led to options for better-paid work.
"When I came out in the open with the journalists, they introduced me to a lot of their friends who I now do part time work for. I am very grateful for the break which they gave me because while I would have been earning Z$400,000 (US$10) as a sergeant in the police, I now make Z$3 million (US$75) a month from doing laundry and cleaning for young professionals in Harare," she told IRIN.
The government has said 15,000 public servants have resigned in the past 12 months and half of all government posts were vacant.
Robert Chimedza was at one time a manager at a Harare hotel, but because of the dwindling number of foreign tourists visiting Zimbabwe, his employers told him and his colleagues that their salaries would be reduced in line with the slump in tourism.
Instead of accepting the lower wages, Chimedza resigned, took his six-month redundancy cheque and cashed in his pension. "I pooled my pension and requested the salaries in advance and raided the foreign currency black market and bought as much foreign exchange as I could," he told IRIN and then he left for neighbouring South Africa.
"I had done my research and established that a lot of companies and government departments did not have foreign currency to buy supplies in South Africa. I made arrangements with pharmacies to import basic medical supplies," he said.
"After selling my products at the prevailing black market rate, I raid the illegal foreign currency market, go and buy some goods in South Africa and supply local companies because the manufacturing sector has all but collapsed and is now dependent on people like ourselves to import basic products," Chimedza said.
He has no regrets about his decision to resign from his hotel job and said his entrepreneurial talents had rewarded him handsomely, as he now owns a house in one of the township suburbs and drives a car imported from Japan.
[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations ]