The turmoil of economic challenges is not a new phenomenon for Zimbabwe. It has endured recessions and hyperinflations many times. Perhaps these frequent downturns have been the biggest lessons for Zimbabweans to find their own way to cope with economic challenges. They have learned to rely on one another more and less on the government.
One of the most significant parts of Zimbabwean resiliency is informal markets. Zimbabweans turn to informal markets for everything from buying groceries to catering for other daily needs. Sure, designated shops such as supermarkets and shopping malls exist, but prices in those stores are not affordable for every group of people. This is the reason why informal markets exist. So, where are these informal markets? Its everywhere! If you need some sweet potatoes for dinner, just drive by one of the big boulevards where you will see vendors selling buckets full of sweet potatoes. If you need to do bulk shopping, go to Mbare, where you will find fresh fruits and vegetables at almost half the price of the supermarkets. If you need to buy some clothes, don’t worry, the informal market has that covered too. There is a whole street area where second-hand clothes and shoes are sold. My favorite is always the roadside bananas that I buy quite often. Believe it or not, I have always found them much tastier than the ones I get from supermarkets. After living in this country for a month, I have understood what informal markets mean for the locals. It is the way to deal with high prices and unemployment.
Informal markets mean job creation, informal markets mean being able to pay for food and services, and informal markets mean continuing life in a volatile economy. Informal markets do not only mean roadside vendors that sell stuff. It extends to providing services such as electricity, transport, repairs, etc. If Zimbabweans need any services, they first scout in their own community for a member who can provide those services instead of going to designated stores. Whether through their church community, personal contacts, or relatives, they find someone who can cater to their needs without having to go to a store where the cost of acquiring those services is often higher.
Another fascinating thing I have learned about Zimbabwe is how helpful people are to one another. This sense of helping one another is evident in how they resolve transport issues. Zimbabweans understand the challenge of transport all too well. Government public transportation, “Zupco,” serves in limited areas only. As a result, picking up hitchhikers is quite normal here. From main streets to small allies, people do not hesitate to wave at cars passing by to get a lift. That is how people who do not have cars get from one place to another.
Lastly, Zimbabweans have come to believe that “cash is king.” Let me rephrase that, “US dollar is king.” Rtgs (Zimbabwean local currency) holds very weak value against US dollars which is why Zimbabwean prefer to hold their asset in US dollars. They also feel more comfortable storing their wealth in hard cash (US dollar) because, in the past, the money they kept in the banks lost too much value during hyperinflations. As a result, Zimbabweans feel that the banking system is too risky and that the cash in hand is the only cash that matters. This is why the Zimbabwean market is predominantly cash-based, and it is common for an average person to not have any debit card. If they require any transaction that involves a debit card, they simply borrow it from someone else.
Overall, amid rising prices and volatile exchange rates, Zimbabweans have found their informal way to survive and carry on. In a country where once one loaf of bread costed 300 billion Rtgs, people have taken it upon themselves to form a system that works for them. In just a month of living here, the cost of a loaf of bread has changed from $1.06 to $2 already. I am concerned about where the Zimbabwean economy is moving once again, disappointed in the lack of government efforts, but hopeful that Zimbabwean resiliency will continue to strengthen them.
Posted By Dawa Sherpa
Posted Jul 19th, 2022