Survival in Zimbabwe today
How one young nurse keeps body and soul together
Westerners and Europeans all pose the same question: how is it humanly possible to survive in Zimbabwe in 2008, when there is nothing in the shops, inflation is rocketing beyond belief, and wages are pitifully low? Here is one personal story that might provide some, but not all, of the answer.
Docus Chririnda has been a nurse for 16 years. Her salary is Z$140 billion a month. Her bus fare to work is Z$100 billion a day. So she walks. But why bother to go to work at all, you may ask, when the new Zimbabwe $100 billion note, just issued, this week buys little more than two loaves of bread?
The answer is, Docus is a dealer. Her real income comes from poultry. She breeds chicken, and sells them, and eggs, to her hospital colleagues.
She told me: "Yes, I'm a poultry dealer. If you are not a dealer you will never surive in Zimbabwe. There is not a single person in this country existing on their salary alone. We use our workplaces, and our colleagues, to conduct our deals. And we hold on to our jobs, in the belief that one day things will improve, and we will regain our dignity."
But Docus has another string to her bow. As a senior nurse, and with her superiors turning a blind eye, she can take up to three months of unofficial leave. This means she can slip across the border, quite legally, to take temporary nursing work in South Africa.
This work will often be demeaning, with Docus being given the more unpleasant jobs. But it is well paid. And when the time is up, she will return to Zimbabwe with a big parcel of cheap South African groceries and other necessities of life. Some she will sell, using the money to pay her rent and other bills. The rest she will use herself, to survive.
Nearly everyone in Zimbabwe, especially those who have no food sent in from relatives abroad, has some scheme or fiddle going. For example, civil servants regularly charge individuals for items, such as birth certificates and identity papers, which should be issued free.
Even our policemen earn less than necessary to live. They have now taken to stopping individuals in public places, searching them, stripping them of any edible goods they carry on a charge of illegal trading, and confiscating any foreign currency they may have for the same reason. The currency goes straight into their own pockets, the goods straight into their own stomachs.
These are a few of the ways the Zimbabwe people manage to live. And those of you in the West should know that as Africans we have coped with extreme poverty in the past, and we will do the same today. We can live on almost nothing, if we must. We can find a way to survive.
You couldn't. But Docus can. And we can.