in the hunt for concealed currency. Stories of multiple billions of dollars being seized, of mourners being ordered to open coffins and of huge bribes being demanded and given, to bypass the regulations and get old currency back into the banking system.
The banks are full to bursting with depositors, the lines endlessly long, the whirring and clacking of the note counting machines incessant. In the queues are men, women and even children with shopping bags, cardboard boxes, suitcases of all sizes and shapes, canvas kit bags, tin trunks and huge steel safes – all full with money. The tellers behind the counters are literally encased in money tombs – huge walls of bank notes rising around and above them, against the walls, under their feet, alongside their elbows and slowly engulfing them almost completely from view.
In the towns and suburbs there are stories of people going on massive spending sprees buying anything and everything they can in order to use up the old money that they cannot bank. All of these stories, however, fade into insignificance for the great majority of desperately poor ordinary people in Zimbabwe.
This week I talked to a man from a rural village and the whole hullabaloo about money hardly featured in his worries. There had been a late frost last week and the man and his wife had lost their entire vegetable garden of tomatoes and leaf vegetables. The tomatoes were just a few days away from picking but the frost burnt the tops of the fruits, turning firm flesh into brown mush. The rape leaves were almost big enough to start picking but the frost turned them crisp and yellow and worthless.
When I asked why the man hadn’t built grass frost shelters around the garden he said that as far as you could see in every direction there is no grass left – every blade has been burnt. There is no grass for the cattle to eat and bushes and shrubs have also been burnt. All unprotected maize stover has gone too in the uncontrolled fires that are sweeping across mile after mile of countryside. The man said that he hears on his radio the news that people starting fires would be arrested but every day great plumes of smoke rise up but the police never come.
I asked the man if he knew about the money being changed and he said that the villagers had been called to meetings and told they had to spend all their money as it was about to worthless. The man said many people did not believe the news, especially older people who hid their money in buckets and tins – buried it in the ground in the middle of their huts. The man said he had come to town to spend all his savings. He had five million dollars (equivalent of five pounds sterling) and wanted to buy one bag of fertilizer.
His friend had found and priced the fertilizer for him at a big farm supply outlet – it was exactly five million dollars for a 50 kg bag. Just four days later the man went with his handful of money and found the price had gone up. The bag of fertilizer now cost Z$6,4 million. The man stood looking at his handful of purple paper and his hunched posture spoke volumes; in a few days it would be as worthless as his garden of burnt vegetables.
If the Zimbabwe government put anywhere near as much energy into growing food as they have into confiscating people’s own money, we would be fat, fit and flourishing. Until next week, thanks for reading, ndini shamwari yenyu.
BY LITANY BIRD
Dear Family and Friends,
Two weeks into the change of Zimbabwe's currency and there is no shortage of horror stories about some of the things that have gone on. Stories of people being dehumanized at road blocks - ordered to strip and then being subjected to indecent searches