Rural Zimbabwe struggles to survive without local currency

Nyoko Nyazvigo counts out her slim earnings in her remote Zimbabwean village, neatly arranging her few US dollars, South African rands and Mozambican meticais.

The 43-year-old widow fetches water from wells, cleans houses across the nearby Mozambican border and tends her arid fields of
groundnuts, sorghum and maize in her struggle to earn foreign currency—the only money now accepted in Zimbabwe.

Despite the hardship, she says she does not regret the government’s decision in January to scrap the Zimbabwe dollar, which had been left worthless after years of hyperinflation.

“With the Zimbabwean dollar, prices changed almost every day—and sometimes every hour,” Nyazvigo said.

“With the US dollar and rands, even with the few meticais I get, I know I can save for a week and buy something.”

On a good day Nyazvigo earns about R30 (about $4), which she saves to send her four children to school.

Even that meagre income puts her among the more fortunate Zimbabweans. The government estimates that 65% of the country’s 12-million people live in the rural areas and survive on less than one $1 a day.

The dollarisation of the economy has resulted in stable prices, allowing shopkeepers to restock their once-empty stalls as the unity government of long-ruling President Robert Mugabe and new Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai tries to rebuild the economy from collapse.

But Nyazvigo’s struggles in Mudzi, 260km north-east of the capital, typify the plight of rural Zimbabweans who have little access to the foreign currency now needed to pay for everything from food to medicine to school fees.

Her village benefits from its proximity to the Nyamapanda border post, a key link in Southern Africa’s highway system.

Unemployed young men in the area work as baggage carriers for traders travelling to Mozambique.

Young women sometimes turn to prostitution at the border post, where truck drivers from across the region spend about three days for customs and immigration clearance.

But peasant farmers who depend on their crops for their income are struggling to find buyers because most people simply have no money to pay for them, said local councillor Fungai Mahachi.

“It was a good move for us to use the US dollar but people here are poor. They don’t have access to that money.
We don’t have industry or companies to employ people,” Mahachi said.

“We are failing to sell the little harvest we have because there are no buyers,” he added.

Many people are being forced to barter for goods and services, such as having their maize ground into the flour used to make the staple sadza.

“People are resorting to paying two tins of maize to have their maize ground at the grinding mill,” said Newturn Kachepa, a lawmaker who represents this district.

“The community just doesn’t have the US dollars.”

Bartering food for services means that many people could run out of food stocks long before the next harvest in May, said Oxfam Zimbabwe director Peter Mutoredzanwa.

The United Nations estimates that 2,8-million Zimbabweans will need food aid before the next harvest—an improvement from the nearly seven million who needed aid to survive until the just-ended harvest.

“Because of lack of access to foreign currency, especially in rural areas most people are being forced to barter their harvests to pay for basic goods and services,” Mutoredzanwa said. - AFP

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