Update on Political/Economic Realities in Zimbabwe
Since our last update in December 2018, life for virtually all Zimbabweans has become even more difficult. In January 2019 government suddenly announced a three-fold increase in the cost of fuel. This sparked a massive protest called by the ZCTU (Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions) but which was joined by a multitude of civic groups as well as the opposition party.
Emmerson Mnangagwa, President of Zimbabwe [Credit: Philimon Bulawayo/Reuters]
It turned very nasty, with soldiers called onto the streets and several lives lost. In Bulawayo, the impact was severe, as groups of thugs, possibly acting for government, looted and burned most of the retail shops in the high density suburbs, destroying the livelihoods of many. Order was eventually restored but at a high cost in terms of trust between government and people. Since then, many consumer goods including fuel have been in short supply.
At the root of Zimbabwe’s economic troubles are lack of investment, very low levels of production and a chaotic situation regarding the currency. Government attempted to make some progress by again manipulating currency. Those who obtain foreign currency from outside the country are permitted to open US dollar accounts from which they can draw US$ cash – which is usually now available. Those who have no access to foreign currency, including civil servants, have accounts of electronic money which they then use to make payments by electronic transfer. The pretense that these electronic accounts are worth the same as the US$ has been abandoned and the relative value is announced periodically by government. It is now officially 3:1, but this has no basis in reality and the black market rate is closer to 5:1. Anyone who has US$ is advantaged while others suffer continuing inflation in the prices of goods. In the month of April prices of many goods in electronic currency has doubled, causing acute distress for the vast majority of people who are struggling to buy food.
For the library and its programmes there are multiple impacts as costs increase. However, since we receive foreign funding we are able to pay most expenses in US$, and can pay our staff US$ in cash, which is a great benefit to them. However, it is very difficult when working with our beneficiaries, especially those in the study circles, as making headway in moving from subsistence to commercial production in such an economic climate is extremely problematic.
The Minister of Finance has promised that by sometime in 2020 austerity should ease, but few hold out much hope, and confidence in an opposition in disarray has also declined.
Political tensions are again escalating, with reported abductions of union leaders and others who attempt to organize any type of protest. The opposition is seriously divided as they prepare for a congress in May and many Zimbabweans have lost hope that any meaningful changes will take place.
In spite of this dire situation, the library has continued to provide services to thousands of school children and adults in Gwanda town and the district, and will continue to do so to the best of our ability.