After queuing to collect money her son sent from neighbouring South Africa at a local bank 70 year-old pensioner Theresa Mafuyana would be expected to walk away with a glow on her face and a bounce in her stride.
Not any more. Ask her why she looks downcast and she says: “Even if my son sent a bundle of notes look how much I get from it. I wish he knew how the situation here has changed and would send me food parcels instead,” Mafuyana explains her dilemma.
The fall in value of the South African currency against the US dollar has created immense anxiety among residents here. The dollar exchanges for amounts that fluctuate from 13 to 15 South African rand.
Recipients fret over the unexpected fall in value of the rand, over which they have no control. “It is better to receive food parcels rather than money when remittances translate into such paltry sums,” said Mafuyana.
The local municipality currently exchanges 15 rand for each United States dollar for services such as water and other service charges denominated in US currency, which urban residents are obliged to pay. This has put further pressure on residents.
â€œNow I canâ€™t pay water bills in full from the money I receive from my brother working in South Africa and am accumulating arrears which never happened in the past,â€ says 30-year-old PilateÂ Ntini who looks after three siblings still at school. Both his parents died 10 years ago, prompting his brother to trek down south in search of opportunities that enable him to sustain his younger siblings. â€œWe can only hope things change for the better soon,â€ Ntini says.
A nationwide supermarket chain operates a facility which entails Zimbabweans in South Africa depositing rand currency in an account where their relatives back home can withdraw money and buy groceries. But recipients have to buy groceries priced in US dollars.
â€œI wish the facility worked in the form of food parcels purchased in South African rand and the beneficiary can draw in kind,â€ suggested Anglican Siletsha, a pensioner who has relied on remittances from his daughter in SA since he retired seven years ago.
Statistically, the Matabeleland region accounts for the bulk of hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans living in South Africa. Most people in Matabeleland claim a historical attachment to the southern neighbour dating back to the Ndebele conquest of large swathes of Zimbabwean territory under successive kings fleeing from Tshakaâ€™s marauding army.
Thousands fled the infamous Gukurahundi massacres during the early independence years in the 1980s. Two decades later, a wave of illegal undocumented immigrants beat a familiar path across the crocodile-infested Limpopo River and jumped the border fleeing joblessness and interminable economic problems at home.
â€œThe last time we went through a crisis it was empty shop shelves and dependency on diaspora remittance of food parcels. This time shops are awash with imported food stuff and locally manufactured ones but the rand has devalued considerably,â€ Mafuyana laments.
A recent Famine Early Warning System (FEWSNET) report notes â€œBelow-average and erratic rainfall during this period could worsen household income levels by having an adverse effect on cultivation opportunities for poor households. Remittance levels also continue to be affected by a weakening South African Rand against the United States dollar.â€ It forecasts below-average rainfall this season.
The weakening South African rand affects both urban and rural recipients alike. Remittances from SA have helped communities in the region change the rural landscape manifest by replacement of thatched huts with brick under iron or asbestos modern houses.
In some instances diaspora remittances have helped light up the often unlit areas with installation of solar power at some homesteads. Thami Ndlovu 35, stands dejected outside a half-completed structure in rural Matopo.
â€œWe expected to complete construction of this family home in time for when my brother returns home from working as a night watchman in South Africa for the Christmas break – but we are hamstrung by a shortage of cement to complete the job due to the falling value of the rand,â€ Ndlovu laments.Post published in: Gender Equality