Winter has arrived in Zimbabwe and while the nights and early mornings are already into single digits with misty mornings and frost lurking, the days are gorgeous with clear blue skies and warm sun. Like lizards we Zims take every opportunity to go outside and stand in the sun at this time of year, treated by glimpses of purple crested Louries, red winged Starlings or even an Oriole if we’re really lucky. Winter sun-catching is again by necessity this year as we stagger through electricity cuts often lasting 16 hours a day, three or four times a week. No electricity means no water is pumped so taps are dry for days at a time. For businesses small and large no electricity means generators, fuel and unbudgeted extra costs. No electricity doesn’t explain no dustbin collections which haven’t happened in my neighbourhood for over two months without explanation, apology or excuse from the council whose salaries we pay.
Zimbabwe seems to be again falling in on itself. This time it’s not hyper inflation and a collapsing currency causing our crisis but our huge trade deficit. Imports for the first quarter of 2015 stood at US$ 1.57 billion compared to exports of just US$ 717 million. Experts cite lack of production and almost non existent manufacturing as the causes of this crisis but you don’t have to be an economist to see the closed factories, derelict deserted farms and millions of people selling things on the pavements and roadsides. Zimbabwe was once known and as the breadbasket of Africa but is now being called the “vendor state.”
Most businesses are saying that things are worse now than they were in 2008; every month more employees are being laid off as expenses overtake income and sales shrink to unsustainable levels. In a speech to the Senate recently, Senator Mike Carter said the government was “ literally taxing businesses to death .” He described a man who wanted to import a brick making machine from China but would have to pay 45% tax on the purchase price when it landed in Zimbabwe. If he imported the machine to Botswana instead he wouldn’t have to pay any tax at all, leaving the man with the obvious choice to go and operate in Botswana.
Instead of dramatic rescue plans from our government, we hear incessant news that our President has arrived in yet another country; while back at home there are endless sagas of political infighting, factions, succession battles and missing money. Headlines this week are of the Comptroller and Auditor General telling parliament that transfers to the Paymaster General of US$3.5 billion had not been accounted for. “Not availed for audit examination” was the actual phrase used by the CAG. Where’s the money gone; something we all want to know.
Lastly there’s the inevitable absurdity of every day practice in Zimbabwe. Despite the country having an officially stated inflation rate of minus 2.65 % the government postal authorities recently increased the rate of international postage by 400%. This dealt a crippling blow to small businesses posting their goods internationally; the stamps are now more expensive than the contents of the package. An A5 envelope package that cost US$2 to post to the UK now costs US$10. Asking for ten x $10 stamps at the post office this week I was given one hundred $1 stamps instead and told that $1 is the highest denomination stamp available. Fitting ten stamps on a small package to the UK or twelve stamps on an envelope package to the USA or Australia is ridiculous to say the least. When I asked how the price could go up by 400% without the support of a higher denomination stamp, the response was a shrug of the shoulders.
Watch this space for news of my new book, coming soon, and please keep journalist/activist Itai Dzamara in your thoughts; missing since the 9th March, abducted in plain sight, in broad daylight, from a barber shop in Harare.
Until next time, thanks for reading, love CathyPost published in: Letters to the Editor