Shuffle One Drive One 

Shuffle One Drive One

My farmer friends are visiting from Zambia again. Jenny has been diagnosed with motor neurone disease (MND), what Steven Hawking has. It’s a degenerative muscle disease that, it seems, western medicine really doesn’t know what to do with. Last year she was walking fine. This year she shuffles and limps: “walk one jive one” is her new Shona name. From what she’s been able to read on the disease, the most you can do is find a healthy, alkaline diet and hopes that it slows the progression.

So, while she’s here, we’ve been taking her round to the best fresh vegetable markets in town. These, not surprisingly, are in the affluent low density suburbs. We’ve been to Glen Lorne, Umwinsidale and Willowmead, with their manicured lawns, high walls, large houses and latest Mercedes. Driving around these areas, you could be forgiven for thinking there’s nothing wrong with Zimbabwe, although the pot holes and well fortified guarded communities give up the game a bit.

This in stark contrast to Willowvale—an industrial site where we went for some farm equipment. There, the streets are dirty and deserted, the Sunday empty desolation feeling even on a weekday morning. So many of the businesses are closed, and there is hardly any foot or cycle or vehicle traffic. A friend who works in wholesale trading says that, last year March, his business sold 3,500 loaves of bread by 10am on a working day. Now, they sell less than 100 loaves per day. 60 of these are bought by their own staff, which means 40 people or fewer working in the previously thriving industrial area is buying their bread. This is in part a reflection of how many businesses have closed in the past year. But it is also an indication of just how cash-poor most Zimbabweans are, even the unemployed. As has been reported often over the past years (see for example Zimbabweans living hand to mouth, wages are not keeping up with inflation, and even those with jobs are struggling to get by.

The same wholesaler also said that their sales to TM, a lower-end super market chain, were down by 50% in April—this despite the fact that April featured holidays like Easter and Independence Day, and is a time when school children are at home and, traditionally, urban families went to see their rural relatives, brining grocery baskets with them.

The gap is widening, clearly. Those who can afford it continue to live well. Those who are connected can benefit from the Reserve Bank’s cash desperation. And those who are aligned with the ruling party continue to be rewarded. The latest perk is over 100 luxury vehicles that were imported into the country by the state and “sold” to a handful of loyalists at an exchange rate of ZWD 30,000: US$1—less than a third of the official rate or an eighth of the parallel market rate. Business people and economists keep saying this can’t last, the system will crack, at some point this will all come crashing down. But it hasn’t yet. There must be some way to leverage these inequalities and shift things in Zimbabwe—rather than just sitting back and waiting for the inevitable economic tremors to shift the earth for us. Until then, it’s shuffle one poor, drive fast one rich.

Tags: Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe Blog, Social Justice

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