Zimbabweans count their toes as inflation soars past 130%

HARARE – Zimbabweans are battling rampant inflation and counting their toes as they struggle to buy groceries for their families.

An internet rumor went around the country that desperate people were selling their toes for cash. The hoax was so widespread that Paradza, the country’s deputy information minister, visited street vendors in central Harare earlier this month to expose it.

One by one, the traders removed their shoes to show they had all 10 toes while Zimbabwe’s state media recorded the digital investigation.

Paradza declared the toes-for-money story a hoax, as did local and foreign fact-checkers. Police later arrested a street vendor who now faces a fine or 6 months in prison on criminal harassment charges for allegedly starting the story.

However, it is entirely true that Zimbabweans are finding it increasingly difficult to make ends meet. Since the start of the Russian war in Ukraine, Zimbabwe’s inflation rate has risen from 66% to over 130%, according to official statistics.

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The war in Ukraine has exacerbated rising global inflation. Consumer prices in the 19 European Union countries that use the euro currency rose 8.1% in May, a record rate as energy and food costs rise. Annual inflation in the US and UK in April was at or close to 40-year highs of 8.3% and 9% respectively. Turkey edged closer to Zimbabwe’s stunning prices, with inflation hitting 73.5% in May, the highest in 24 years.

In Zimbabwe, the effects of the Ukraine war are increasing problems for the already weak economy. The war “coupled with our historical domestic imbalances has created challenges in terms of economic instability, seen through currency volatility and spilling over to price volatility,” Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube told parliament in May.

Teachers “can’t afford bread and other staples anymore, it’s too much,” the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe tweeted in early June. The three largest teachers’ unions are demanding the government pay their salaries in US dollars because their local currency wages were “eaten up overnight”.

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“Due to high inflation, the local currency is collapsing,” economic analyst Prosper Chitambara told The Associated Press. “Individuals and businesses no longer trust the local currency and this has put pressure on the demand for US dollars. The war in Ukraine only exacerbates an already difficult situation.”

Many fear Zimbabwe could return to the hyperinflation of 2008, which hit 500 billion percent, according to the International Monetary Fund. Back then, plastic bags containing 100 trillion Zimbabwe dollar banknotes were not enough to buy basic groceries.

The economic disaster forced then-President Robert Mugabe to form a “unity government” with the opposition and in 2009 to introduce a multi-currency system in which the US dollar and the South African rand were accepted as legal tender.

The US dollar continues to dominate, with local currency prices often compared to American currency rates in the thriving illegal market where most individuals and businesses obtain their foreign currency.

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Across the country, currency dealers line the streets and huddle at the entrances of malls, waving wads of both local currency and US dollars.

Many Zimbabweans who earn in local currency, such as government employees, are forced to source dollars in the illicit market, where exchange rates are skyrocketing, to pay for goods and services increasingly priced in US dollars.

Retailers said soaring US dollar rates in the illicit market are forcing them to raise prices frequently, often every few days, to give them a chance to restock.

The economy of the once prosperous South African country has been suffering from years of deindustrialization, corruption, low investment, low exports and high levels of debt. Zimbabwe is struggling to generate an adequate inflow of greenbacks needed for its largely dollarized local economy.

Ordinary Zimbabweans are reverting to coping mechanisms they relied on during the period of hyperinflation, such as B. Skipping meals. Others are now buying groceries in smaller quantities, sometimes in packages so tiny that they only last for a single meal. Locals call them ‘tsaona’, which means ‘accident’ in the local Shona language.

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Promising better days, Finance Minister Ncube said the government “would not hesitate to act and intervene to cushion price increases and exchange rate fluctuations”.

Many are skeptical of such government vows, saying nothing short of a miracle will lift Zimbabwe out of its economic crisis. Even with constantly rising prices, many can’t help but make grim jokes about the situation.

“I still have all my toes intact, but it wouldn’t hurt to sell one,” giggled Asani Sibanda from Harare. “I could still go without, but at least my family would get something to eat.”

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AP journalist Courtney Bonnell contributed from London.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission.

https://www.local10.com/business/2022/06/10/zimbabweans-count-their-toes-as-inflation-soars-above-130/ Zimbabweans count their toes as inflation soars past 130%

Sarah Y. Kim

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