21 April 2017

Zimbabwe: ...As Zim Regresses to Barter Trade

Photo: Marcus Moses/Twitter
Zimbabweans react to goats for school fees.

Zimbabwe, currently facing its worst cash shortage since the adoption of the multi-currency regime in 2009, now has a new medium of exchange, which is too big to be added to a basket of currencies in use.

Parents have been told to settle school fees for their children using livestock in lieu of payment.

No printing press was run but many will use it.

Just two days before Independence Day, local newspapers had screaming headlines of goats now being accepted as school fees payment. Yes goats, one of the commonly found herbivores in Africa.

As the economy implodes and there appears to be no solution in sight, long-suffering Zimbabweans who are living on less than a dollar a day will now transact using goats to meet their school fees obligations.

On Tuesday, Zimbabwe celebrated 37 years of Independence, but on the economic front there is a regression to the days of barter trade.

In what appears to be the howler of the year, Primary and Secondary Education minister Lazarus Dokora last week said parents who cannot raise tuition fees in cash for their children can offer livestock in lieu of payment or do chores for learning institutions.

Before Dokora's bombshell, Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa told parliament a week ago that banks would now accept all kinds of livestock as collateral when people apply for loans.

As the nation commemorated Independence, long-suffering Zimbabweans bore the brunt of a tight liquidity crunch, cash shortages, company closures and retrenchments. The economic decline has reached a stage where the use of barter trade has become normal again. The euphoria around the then Prime Minister Robert Mugabe's state-of-the-nation address on March 4 1980 is now a distant memory as the imploding economy continues causing massive suffering. Promises of a "milk and honey" post-colonial republic remain a pipe dream.

"Surely this is now time to beat our swords into ploughshares so we can attend to the problems of developing our economy and our society," Mugabe said in his speech then. Thirty-seven years later, the 93-year-old leader has precious little to show for the dividend of liberation.

According to the International Labour Organisation, Zimbabwe has a formal unemployment rate of 95%, as the country's economy is now dominated by the informal sector and mainly street vendors.

Mugabe promised Zimbabweans basic social services such as health and education and yet today his government has failed to deliver, making it difficult for Zimbabweans to celebrate Independence Day.

Analysts say the day has lost its yesteryear lustre, a painful reminder of Mugabe's story of shattered dreams.

The country's hospitals, including major referral institutions such as Parirenyatwa and Mpilo, are grappling with a shortage of essential medicines and even basic painkillers.

"Only a government that subjects itself to the rule of law has any moral right to demand of its citizens' obedience to the rule of law. Our Constitution equally circumscribes the powers of the government by declaring certain civil rights and freedoms as fundamental. We intend to uphold these fundamental rights and freedoms to the full," Mugabe said in his Independence Day speech on Tuesday.

"Similarly, it is not our intention to interfere with pension rights and other accrued benefits of the civil servants."

His speech was in stark contrast with the lived realities of Zimbabweans who are suffering the consequences of his misrule.

The worsening economic situation has stripped away the dignity of many who brave the chilly weather outside banking halls to withdraw as little as US$30. Treasury is also struggling to pay the salaries of civil servants.

The country's public infrastructure is crumbling due to years of neglect with potholes becoming a major feature of the road network and many people have lost lives on the treacherous roads. Mugabe, the only leader Zimbabwe has known since independence, continues to cling to power despite growing signs of frailty and the collapse of a once-vibrant economy.

Social commentator Maxwell Saungweme said Zimbabwe's situation is tragic and there is no reason to celebrate Independence Day.

"Ours is a sad tale of despondency under a veil of Independence; it is a tragedy. Independence translated to mean the medieval aggrandizement and obscene looting of public coffers by a few political crooks running a pale shadow of a revolutionary party while the majority of the country's citizens are wallowing in penury and poverty," Saungweme said.

"Independence promises included a Zimbabwe of milk and honey, where everyone is equal and enjoys equal protection of the law and full access to opportunities to unleash their full potential. This promise has been turned into a nightmare by a selfish political elite violating people's dignities and running the country so carelessly that they do not see a tomorrow for Zimbabwe without them."

The heavy-handedness and impunity of the police against citizens exercising their democratic rights through peaceful protest have come to define life under Mugabe's regime.

Political analyst Pedzisai Ruhanya said there was an obsession with political power at Independence in 1980 instead of a focus on economic transformation.

"The problem was right from the beginning. We concentrated too much on power grab, the transfer of power from the whites to the black and continuously holding on to it. There was no focus on reforming state institutions and building a strong culture of democratic governance," Ruhanya said.

"If you look at the Zimbabwe we have today, it is the decomposition of corruption epitomised by Mugabe's rule. The President has completely lost touch with what is on the ground. His physical appearance is the exact description of Zimbabwe's economy," said Ruhanya.

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