Shifting Sands

Source: 18 September 2017Analysis and Comment

As I drove through the city centre at 10am on a Sunday morning, my attention was caught by a security guard in a fluorescent jacket waving a wad of bond notes at me. He was strategically located on a street corner at an intersection with traffic lights. There he was out in the open, blatantly displaying the notes. No subterfuge whatsoever.

I burst out laughing. What else could I do. It was a laugh of disbelief.

The irony of life in Zimbabwe right now, is that we are not able to simply walk into the bank, to take out money that actually belongs to us. People are getting up at incredible hours of the morning to queue outside banks in the hope of getting $20 or $50 cash for the day. Zimbabwe is a place where everything that should be a right, becomes a privilege.

So here I am on a leisurely Sunday morning – most of the shops and offices are closed and there in front of my eyes is a security guard waving bond notes at me. He takes my incredulous look as a sign that I am interested and so he walks over to my car. He smiles and shows me the bond notes on top and US dollars at the bottom of the pile. He then explains: “I buy US dollars and I can give you bond notes at a rate of 6% for the smaller notes and more for the bigger notes. My instant response was: “How much will you give me for US$20?” $21 was his reply.

To be honest, I didn’t have $20, in fact I had not had cash in my purse for quite some time. At that moment though, it struck me how twisted life in Zimbabwe is.

Business deals are flowing from the boardroom onto the streets. Your new bank tellers are the enterprising and resourceful men and women on the street, hustling every day. The only transaction taking place in the banks is the withdrawal of money. Even transfers now are mostly done online.

We might try to deny it, but our formal economy thrives on the growth of the informal economy. Those at the top of the food chain understand only too well the value of the informal economy. A bit too well actually. You see, it makes more sense to destroy a thriving economy than to build it. They don’t struggle in the way we do and instead they benefit personally. Those who are connected and have access to that which we are denied, can walk into a bank with an empty briefcase, get it filled up with “the scarce bond notes” and then they put it out where it will get them maximum return. They put it out onto the street.

They don’t have to dirty their Savile Row suits. There are hundreds and thousands of unemployed but resourceful, street savvy people willing to do the “dirty” work of selling and buying. The hands of the chef or those close to the Reserve Bank coffers stay “clean” and acquire more money without much effort as the trade in bonds and US dollars thrives.

Our declining economy which is then made worse by the severe corruption is perfect content for a book on How to be Resourceful and Survive 101. There’s also the angle of networking that we have to remember and this is where your values and principles come to your rescue.

As the situation deteriorates and the basics become rare commodities – good relationships with people at ALL levels is what counts. Very soon we will have to rely on the good relationships we have built with the petrol attendant who will call you when fuel reaches the pump. Or the shop assistant who can go to the back and get you things that are not on the shelf. There are those contacts who will sell you the things that are not on the shelf and instead they are available in the boots of cars or in brown paper packets. All at a higher price of course. Then there are those strategic WhatsApp groups that you need to be a part of if you want information on where to buy what you need at the lowest price possible or which businesses will accept Ecocash or have swipe machines. Which businesses are inflating prices and which Chinese shop sells local brands such as Olivine Oil that are not available in local grocery stores.

Yes, it’s about being connected but not exclusively to those who are at the top of the food chain, but rather to those who are strategically positioned on the food chain.

Source: Reyhana Masters