Solace in a difficult year

Editor’s Memo:Faith Zaba

IN the year 1634, the famous English poet and wordsmith, John Milton wrote a poem titled Comus: A Mask Presented at Ludlow Castle.

We borrow from Milton’s limerick and pose the question: did a sable cloud in Zimbabwe’s 2020 economic night, deepened by the global Covid-19 pandemic, turn her silver lining?

The five bright spots are discernible: adaptation, opportunity, innovation, people focus and outlook.

Covid-19 deepened an existing economic challenge characterised by acute foreign currency shortages, a debilitating liquidity crisis, hyperinflation that has resulted in skyrocketing prices of goods and services, company closures and job losses. In addition, more than half the country’s population is facing starvation.

Covid-19 has had disastrous consequences for Zimbabwe’s fragile economy.

According to a United Nations Development Programme assessment, the Covid-19 pandemic and global knock-on effects could sink or stall Zimbabwe’s efforts to revive its flagging economy, with devastating consequences; not only on the poor and vulnerable people, but also on already struggling businesses.

For some industries, the pandemic was an existential threat — a swift response, cutting through the normal bureaucratic spanners was not a luxury. Some service industries adapted remarkably.

As for print media, we, as Alpha Media Holdings, quickly experimented with e-papers, taking the lead on the market.

Banking services accelerated their pace towards reducing brick-and-mortar service delivery models through digital solutions. In the night of Covid-19, some industries that have had difficulty in implementing environmentally-friendly business practices, have become sustainable development champions due to reduction in carbon footprint as a result of digitalisation of both production, delivery and marketing.

Another boon has been a reduction in the importation of raw materials — digitalisation has been a driver of import substitution — a contributor to the trend of narrowing of the trade deficit.

Astute entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial corporates saw gaps and responded with marketable solutions occasioned by the global pandemic. Covid-19 created a huge demand for health-related products such as masks, sanitisers, hands-free sanitiser dispensers, for example. Online education delivery models have sprung up, ramping up demand for ICT-related services. Social distancing has led to people countering this anti-social phenomenon through massing around social media platforms.

Online seminars are becoming popular. Health consciousness has been sharpened, presenting opportunities for customised services in transport and food delivery.

Companies are discovering, by default, spaces for innovation around work. Telecommuting and online team-working is becoming a basic requirement for many service enterprises. This has helped reduce costs of production and saved workers money. Going forward, smart and nimble entrepreneurs in the service space are going to take advantage of the cost-reduction opportunities presented by telecommuting to launch low-cost but high quality product offerings.

Today, as we host the annual 2020 Quoted Companies Survey, the Zimbabwe Independent celebrates and applauds companies for continuing to stay afloat under very difficult times.

The annual premier event will be held under the theme Soaring Above Turmoil: Business Post-Covid-19. This year’s edition is being sponsored by Nedbank Zimbabwe.

The event celebrates the resilience of Zimbabwe Stock Exchange-quoted companies, which had to endure numerous challenges.

We celebrate the innovations that have ensured that the companies remained relevant in these tough times.

In the outlook period, there are signs of green shoots. Inflation has been slowing down. Foreign currency rate volatility has eased to almost stable levels. A La Nina climate event is expected — a good rainy season will have a positive impact on electricity generation and food production, potentially spawning stability in food prices and re-energising agro-based industry. A good harvest has the potential of reducing our food import bill by at least US$400 million a year.

Life is no different from the daily rhythm; night gives way to morning and morning fades into night. Business is no different; it always has its mornings and evenings. Even in the night, stars and the moon shed light. Congratulations to all the winners and we salute companies operating in Zimbabwe that continue to soldier on in these turbulent times.

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