May 20th, 2011
05:49 PM GMT
When you buy a 50 cent newspaper in Zimbabwe, you don’t receive change in coins. Instead, you get a small, round, grey token, which you redeem at the same newspaper vendor when you buy from him another day.
When your supermarket bill is rung up and the total is $5.21 the cashier offers you some sweets to make up the 79 cents change difference.
When you buy a pizza or a burger at a Harare fast-food center, your change is a thin paper voucher, which you’d better cash in quickly because within days the ink has rubbed off in your wallet. All you are left with is a grimy blank piece of paper.
When you hop off a local minibus taxi be sure get your change from the driver. Sometimes he hands it over, other times he rounds up the cost of trip, leaving passengers shortchanged. Mostly, he hands over a dollar note to two strangers exiting his taxi at the same place – telling them they have to divide the change.
Sometimes, frustrated, poor commuters come to blows on the side of the road over how to split taxi-fare change.
Taxi passengers – like shoppers and newspaper vendors – can’t receive their change because there are no coins in Zimbabwe. The smallest denomination is a $1 U.S. note.
The country adopted the U.S. dollar two years ago after the collapse of the Zim dollar. Since then, rampant, record inflation has stabilized but the realities on the streets indicate there are still very challenging economic realities for Zimbabweans.
Firstly, the price of produce and goods has become more expensive because the country now has to import most foodstuffs. A chicken at a supermarket costs around $10 U.S.
Secondly, because there are no coins, many shops and restaurants automatically round up the price of their goods and services – so ordinary Zimbabweans find themselves footing the bill for an ad hoc “change tax.”
Zimbabweans say proudly that they are a resilient people, that they survived even tougher economic times in the past decade. Indeed, that seems true because from what I have witnessed this week on the streets of Harare, they seem to have stoically adapted to an economy that is run on dollars and sweets, not dollars and cents.
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