EVER since the closure three weeks ago of Zimbabwe’s only independent daily newspaper, it has become harder to find credible news about our country. The majority of Zimbabweans now have to turn t
o the state-owned television and radio for information.
Day after day we plough through the propaganda and sift through the rhetoric. This week the talk is all about the latest attempt to resolve our money woes through the government’s issuing of “bearer cheques”.
These cheques, which are printed on ordinary paper, look like money on one side only and have expiry dates. Less than two weeks after entering the system, even the state-owned media are reporting that fake bearer cheques are already in circulation.
They are copies of the originals and economists say that they can be reproduced by something as simple as a colour photocopier or home computer with a laser printer. The joke on the streets is that everyone is so suspicious of the new money that they have nicknamed them “burial orders”.
Even funnier though is our government’s desperate attempts to persuade us all to trade with bearer cheques. For months state TV and radio have been playing propaganda jingles about how they have taken all the land back. Suddenly they have been replaced with a song which begins “Bearer’s cheques, they are just for you.”
So, with bearer cheques, Zimbabwe staggers on from day to day in a country where we can’t even afford to die anymore. Recently I phoned the local funeral parlour to find out a few facts. The cheapest coffin that you can buy is now $78 000, if you collect it yourself from their warehouse.
They have an all-inclusive rate, which involves the cheapest coffin, and collecting the deceased, preparing it and taking it to the cemetery. This costs a little over $120 000. If they cannot find fuel, the grieving relations can either provide the fuel or the transport themselves.
Recently a friend’s mother died. He is a garden worker and earns the government stipulated minimum wage of $12 000 a month. Burying his mother was a nightmare. Collecting her body from the hospital and moving it to his rural home cost $20 000, the coffin $80 000 and then there was the question of feeding all the mourners. He told me that many hundreds of people attended his mother’s funeral. Many of them were strangers and he said they came to the funeral to have a good meal.
To feed them all he had no choice but to slaughter one of his two ploughing oxen and borrow $50 000 from friends to buy maize meal, bread and vegetables. His mother is dead, that was bad enough but now he has a debt equivalent to over a year’s wage and can no longer plough his land and grow food for his family this year. For my friend whose mother just died, the cycle of debt, poverty and dependence gets deeper and deeper. For him and others suffering such awful deprivations and indignities, I continue to wear my raggedy little yellow ribbon in silent protest.