afrol News / Gender Links, 23 July - As hyperinflation has hit Zimbabwe - with price increases in incalculable millions of percent - both consumers and traders struggle to understand pricing, resulting in many small entrepreneurs miscalculating and losing money instead of earning it after a hard day's work.
Although leaders may have shaken hands, the pressing reality for Zimbabweans today, four months down the line from the 29 March harmonised polls, is coping with the economic crisis. The optimism for better lives - characterised by more food, medicines, clean water, banks notes, transport and all other basic necessities - has all but dissipated.
Instead, the aftermath of the two elections has seen most Zimbabweans wallowing in deepening poverty. Inflation, now expressed in millions of percentages, continues its upward spiral, essential services delivery remains at a standstill, constant changes in prices and notes of legal tender and shortages of everything from food to bank notes persist.
If anything, the post-election period is bringing the vulnerability of women and children into stark focus. The economic going is getting tough in Zimbabwe and only the tough - read men with above average educational qualifications, strong business support networks and resources - are still posting profits.
Nevertheless, even these tough businessmen and women with degrees in economics and business management are the first to admit that it is a struggle to remain viable let alone record profits. Pricing goods and services has become a nightmare - just one miscalculation can render a business insolvent. So confusing is the situation that some businesspeople privately admit to resorting to thumb sucking figures and then hoping they do not go bust.
So spare a thought for the average Zimbabwean woman with primary education surviving on buying and selling basic goods. The prevailing economic instability has rendered most of these hardworking women "busy entrepreneurs" with nothing to show for their efforts. Without up-to-the minute information on inflation figures and exchange rates, many street vendors and cross-border traders are lagging behind in their pricing, resulting in them toiling for nothing.
I woke up to the desperation of informal traders when an aunt who sells agricultural produce came knocking on my door requesting for "istart" [the colloquial term for start-up capital]. A month earlier, I had given her millions of Zimbabwe dollars to capitalise her business, so I could not understand why I had to do so again.
The penny dropped when she explained that despite having made billions from the millions I had given her, she learnt she could not afford to travel to Gokwe with the 100 billion dollars she had made when she got to the bus terminus and learnt that a single trip would set her off by 200 billion dollars. Although she had made a huge profit, the amount was not enough for rent, food and bus fare to travel to Gokwe to buy more produce for resale in Bulawayo.
Shortly after my aunt's visit, I shed a tear while in a supermarket queue. In front of me was an elderly woman, "Gogo", as old as my maternal grandmother. Gogo was struggling to count a multi-coloured wad of Bearer's Cheques that Zimbabweans are using in place of bank notes. When she eventually finished counting the money, it came to just over one and half billion dollars. But it was not enough for the box of matches she needed. Because of frequent power blackouts, matches are essential for meal preparation even in towns.
I offered to buy her a carton of 10 boxes. While thanking me for the gesture, she let slip her dilemma. Gogo had spent weeks walking up and down her neighbourhood selling scouring powder and vegetables hoping to raise enough money to feed several orphaned grandchildren under her care. Yet after all the walking and calling out for customers she could not even afford to buy a box of matches.
Added to the pricing challenge is the issue of keeping track of new cheques and their growing number of noughts. The noughts keep on increasing in batches of three. For the functionally literate traders who have managed to do business simply from the colour of bank notes, completing a sale is not easy.
The different denominations of Bearer's cheques have similar colours. It is easy for example, to mistake a 10,000,000 bill for a 500,000,000 cheque. To be sure, you have to be able to read the value of the cheque. Then, counting the noughts is another task altogether.
Even for women lucky enough to have partners and relatives working abroad, making ends meet from the remittances is no longer easy. Prior to the elections, those with access to foreign currency were able to stay just a step ahead of inflation. The situation has changed.
Exchange rates on the lucrative parallel market are trailing behind inflation. As a result, local families need more greenbacks, rands and pulas to buy food and pay rent and rates. Additionally, black market dealers are demanding foreign currency for locally produced foodstuffs such as sugar, mealie-meal, beef and eggs effectively eroding the advantages of holding foreign currency.
So, for the majority of Zimbabweans, especially women and children, the ballot box has failed to deliver on their basic expectations of improved welfare. Zimbabwean parents are hoping the country's leaders will quickly get down to fixing the economy.
By Miriam Madziwa. Ms Madziwa is a freelance journalist based in Zimbabwe
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