The government endorses a whole new way of paying for what we want
Roll up, roll up, for a grand auction here in Harare this coming Friday. Leading auctioneers Hammer and Tongues are putting cars and other valuable goods up for knock-down sale. And the official currency for the event is the petrol coupon.
This new purchasing phenomenon has the blessing of the government. It has been advertised on television here, with the slogans: "Homegrown solutions for Zimbabweans!" and "Now we are selling in litres, not dollars."
Under the system proposed by the auctioneers, potential purchasers will have to put down a deposit of 1,000 litres of fuel coupons before they can make their bids. At the current prices that amount of coupons is worth about $US1,500. The balance will be paid - again in coupons - when the sale goes through.
But that auction is not the only aspect of life in Zimbabwe which is being run on the barter system..
Workers in private businesses and state departments are also being paid, at least in part, in essential food stuffs, while in their dealings with the public many companies are accepting monetary payment only in US dollars - a practice that remains illegal.
Private schools, currently sending out invoices to parents, are quoting their fees in petrol coupons. One school I know of is asking for petrol coupons to the value of a hundred litres per term. These the school authorities will exchange for hard currency on the black market.
For a while, then, the petrol coupon may seem to be helping stabilise commercial life here. But not for long. Already the value of a coupon is beginning to soar. And it becomes clear again to the meanest intelligence that such stop-gap and off-the-cuff moves will do nothing to salvage our wrecked economy.