“You can’t get money in the banks, and at the same time, you have this black market that is happening with the US dollar, EcoCash and the bond notes,” says Riccardo Johnson, a student in Bulawayo in the southern part of the country, who spoke of the different ways to make or receive payments.
Former President Robert Mugabe government’s created the bond notes in May 2016 as a way to combat the shortage in US dollars, the main currency used in Zimbabwe. The country had switched to a multi-currency system in 2009 following a bout of crippling hyperinflation. Officially a 1 USD bond note equals 1 USD, but in reality it is exchanged for much less on black market.
Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) presidential candidate Nelson Chamisa says he plans to scrap the bond notes if he becomes president because it has failed Zimbabwean consumers.
EcoCash, the mobile phone-based money transfer system, is the primary method for payments used by Zimbabweans since 2011, but also has proven problematic.
The current Zanu-Pf government is aware of the issues Zimbabweans face with EcoCash. Vice President Constantino Chiwenga reportedly told party supporters that they are working with the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe to lower transaction fees when using EcoCash, especially for old age pensioners. But that is not the real issue, according to Zimbabweans RFI spoke to across the country.
Consumers, as reported by TechZim, a Zimbabwean online technology newswire, have accused EcoCash agents of demanding illegal kickbacks for US dollars, or only giving dollars to their friends.
Each method of payment is valued differently, but US dollars are the hardest to find and the most desirable. MoBlessed Momberare from Buhera village in Manicaland Province says that these elections are focused on the financial issues.
“It’s very hard because we’re using EcoCash. Everything that you want to buy-tomatoes, paraffin, sugar-it’s all about EcoCash, and you get it at a percentage,” says Momberare. She says that if one person asks for 20 USD, EcoCash merchants say they want 30 per cent in order to hand over 20 USD. So the consumer ends up paying 26 USD in EcoCash to receive 20 USD.
She says buying food is also an issue. In some stores, the price increases depending if you are buying with EcoCash or bond notes or US dollars.
“This is the main reason I’m going to vote,” says Momberare. “I want to have money to buy what I want.”
The untenable consumer prices for even the most basic staples has hit many households throughout the country.
“The prices are too high. For the customer, they can’t afford to buy for those prices. I think the situation is the economy. It’s political too. People don’t have money,” says Barnabas, a potato seller in Mbare food market in Harare.
While ZimStats, the official government statistics agency, cites unemployment at 6.6 per cent, economic analysts estimate high unemployment rates of between 70 to 90 per cent, not taking into account the large portion of people who work in the informal sector.
The current estimate from the government and analysts is unreliable due to lack of recent data, according to AfricaCheck fact-checking website. Despite this, unemployment and underemployment is a stark reality for most Zimbabweans.
The economic crisis has hit every level of society, including university graduates, says Johnson, a student in Bulawayo.
“It’s messed up our country and it’s also messing up the young people , because it’s hard to get a job as long as all that corruption is happening. Some of us have degrees, but at the same time are selling tomatoes on the streets, and there’s not much we’re doing but just sitting on our degrees,” he says.
Many Zimbabweans left the country due to the high level of unemployment. Joseph Cheza, a married truck driver with eight children based in Harare, says he works and can pay his bills, but his wages are very different from when he worked in South Africa for 10 years.
“With all the xenophobia in South Africa, I changed my mind- we were afraid for our lives. I told myself I want to go back home. That is where I can work peacefully,” he says, but he may not stay in Zimbabwe if his candidate does not win the election.
“I’m waiting for these elections. If they pass, then I can make a decision I want to make, I want to buy my own truck, or I will go back to South Africa. That’s after the elections. If there’s a change, I’ll stay here,” says Cheza.
He says that the major problem, even for someone who has a salary, is that there is no money in Zimbabwe. He would rather stay, but he is mulling over his prospects post vote.
“What I want is to vote peacefully, for us to enjoy our lives, and to work in our country,” he adds.
Zimbabweans want peace to be able to access their own money. Sondenyi, a vendor in Bulawayo, says in IsiNdebele, “I want there to be peace in Zimbabwe, that everything goes well, and everyone can get their money from the bank,” she says.