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Archive for December, 2007

Toyi-toying for a new constitution

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Friday, December 7th, 2007 by Amanda Atwood

Dancing for freedomHundreds of activists with the National Constitutional Assembly jumped, danced, sang, ran and marched their way to a new constitution this afternoon. The group chanted as they made their way across Harare’s city centre to Parliament, where they were violently dispersed by heavily armed riot police. The demonstrators were protesting the Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment Number 18 Act as well as the degenerating socio-economic situation of ordinary Zimbabweans. Read the NCA statement about the demonstration, and see more pictures of the event.

Forward planning on Zimbabwe’s black market

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Friday, December 7th, 2007 by Amanda Atwood

It’s been a long time since I’ve had a successful shopping trip at the TM supermarket over the road from my office. For months I’ve been making periodic forays and coming back empty handed and depressed by the barren shelves. But I need some pets food. Unlike the butchery, TM has the marked advantage of taking my bank card. Which, given that the last time I successfully went to the bank and came away with cash was November 9th, is a bonus. And my work mates had told me confidently that pets food was now readily available in the shops. So over lunch, I ventured bravely forth.

And I was shocked to find the Christmas spirit had taken over at TM. This wasn’t so much in terms of decorations. But the fact that there was actually a thing or two on the shelf gave it a distinctly festive air. I was stunned to see things like floor polish and rolls just sitting on the shelves waiting to be bought – no queue no nothing. I picked up a 2kg bag of rice for $6 million, and a bar of rubbing soap for another $6 million, but the posh imported Thai curry pastes were selling for under a million. Go figure.

The queue was long and slow. Everyone’s feeling the pinch of the cash shortage, and is instead swiping their bank cards. I watched a few people try and scalp cash-paying customers from the queue – offering to take their cash and pay for the other person’s good on the bank card. But the tills using cash were so much shorter, they didn’t have a chance.

Five out of the six people in front of me in the queue were stocking up on ice cream – each was buying the maximum three tubs they were allowed. Stocking up for the holidays, maybe. I haven’t seen those ice cream freezers full in an age.

There’d been a run on fake Mazoe orange cordial, selling for $1 million for 2 litres. The man behind me in the queue had two bottles. A youngster came up to him and asked where in the shop he’d seen the cordial, and was told it was now finished. “But,” the man said as the kid walked away, “I can sell it to you on the black market outside – $5 million.” Maybe he gets points for being proactive. Surely you save a lot of wandering around if you can scout out your black market transaction clients whilst you’re still in the shop buying the good you’re about to mark up and sell on.

The downside – no milk and no biscuits. So it’s going to be another hungry black tea afternoon at the office. And there was no pets food. I’m hoping my cat doesn’t lock me out.

F-wording with us in Zimbabwe

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Monday, December 3rd, 2007 by Natasha Msonza

Last Friday I attended a post-budget (someone called it a post-mortem) meeting hosted by AMG Global at the Chapman golf club in Harare. Various stakeholders – largely private businessmen, finance directors and company MDs converged to discuss the economic implications of the budget presented by the Finance Minister, dubbed the ‘People’s Budget‘. Don’t worry about what I was doing there . . but just know I am no expert in Finance jargon and issues. Somehow, most of the budget implications escape me when they are presented first time around, till the Eric Blochs start interpreting the jargon later.

During breakfast a colleague couldn’t help but exclaim that he’d never come across a government that is so against the development of its people until he came to Zimbabwe – and this budget, with the unexplained financing of the $1,76 quadrillion deficit – was just a “way of the tomcats f-wording with us!” Frankly, it was my first time to hear the word quadrillion actually used in a sentence, let alone a national budget. A nun representing a local FBO had earlier stood up to comment on some of the government’s policies especially on import tax. That one cannot get donations of brand new things from abroad anymore, especially vehicles, or even shoes because the tax burden is so heavy you could almost ask the donor to first thoroughly use whatever they want to donate, so that it has a worn appearance when it passes through customs.

Dr Honest Zhou (UZ) who did the post-budget analysis stressed that the budget would be overtaken by inflation even before roll out and would really be lucky to survive the first six months. He also bemoaned the fact that the budget was ‘unfriendly’ as it based its hopes on the ‘rationalized’ anticipation of an unprecedented growth in agriculture and a bumper harvest.

One banker raised concerns that the budget deficit would probably be financed through just printing more money because there is no “shocking limit to what these guys are capable of doing.” With the PDL running at $23 million, the banker moaned the fact that the Finance Ministry are seemingly oblivious of other major drivers of inflation apart from declining industrial output and depreciating local currency. He suggested that “increased output calls for increased capacity utilization, and the country could do with a bit of fiscal discipline and cutting down on unnecessary government expenditure”. Speaking of which, does the president really need that long motorcade?

I was surprised to note that government also intends to place serious tax impositions on informal traders. But how do you identify who is an informal trader (and who isn’t) and tax them? I can see life slowly becoming more brutish for cross-border traders who will be easily identified in the tax net. Find a way of taxing the guys at Road Port and I will call you a genius, better yet, give you a standing ovation. Some people just wont stop ‘f- wording’ with us for sure.