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Page last updated at 10:42 GMT, Wednesday, 14 May 2008 11:42 UK

Harare diary: Living in limbo

Zimbabwean students go to school on May 7, 2008 in Mbare, Harare

Esther (not her real name), 28, a professional living and working in Zimbabwe's capital, Harare, is writing a regular diary on the challenges of leading a normal life.

Zimbabwe is suffering from an acute economic crisis. The country has the world's highest rate of annual inflation and just one in five has an official job.

We have all become politicians over here.

We want to be ordinary citizens, just to live and let live, but our political situation pervades every aspect of our lives and we follow every development closely.

Reports of beatings in the rural areas keep coming in, and we have no parliament and no cabinet.

We are in a kind of limbo, waiting until we have a president.

Ever since the opposition MDC said they were considering whether to contest the run-off, we have been eagerly waiting to hear what they would decide.

My cousin wants to pay the bride price for his long time girlfriend in December, and is saving up by buying foreign cash
I know someone with a stall at a large flea market in Mbare, a township in central Harare.

Stalls at this market are mostly held by the ruling party faithful, card-carrying members of Zanu-PF.

My friend says the feeling there is that the opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai should stay where he is, and not come back from South Africa.

One lady there was even saying he should be locked up the moment he steps off the plane, and the keys thrown away.

This echoes the sayings of one ex-minister (he still seems to think he is one, even though the cabinet was dissolved prior to the election) that an MDC government would make Zimbabwe "unfree".

But elsewhere, the MDC decision to contest the run-off was met with relief.

Bolognese for billionaires

People have such strong faith that a change in government will bring a change in our fortunes.

We really do need change.

A trip to the supermarket for example will set you back billions, if you get everything you are looking for that is.

The other day I saw this simple pasta recipe, and thought I would buy the ingredients and try it out:

500g pasta: $750,000,000.00
500g minced beef: $560,000,000.00
200g cheddar cheese: $120,000,000.00
Bag of mushrooms: $480,000,000.00

So that is almost Z$2bn just to put one simple supper together.

Rich people are worth trillions, a billionaire is run-of-the-mill.

Paying the rent

Most property owners want their rent in South African rand or the popular greenback, even though this is illegal.

Those too scared to charge that way at least peg the rent to some amount, say US$200 per month, then adjust the Z$ amount to get the equivalent.

My cousin wants to pay the bride price for his long time girlfriend in December, and is saving up by buying foreign cash.

Women from Nyamapanda 300 km north of Harare, attend a press conference in Harare, Tuesday, April, 29, 2008
There are continued reports of attacks on people in rural areas

But it is useless to build up savings in our currency, unless you invest the money in shares.

As I was going for lunch this afternoon with a couple of colleagues, we were talking about how in January you could buy US$1 for Z$6m.

Today, five months later, to buy that US$1 you need Z$250m.

The discussion came up because one of the women, a young mother, wanted to buy a sack of potatoes for her toddler's lunches.

The going price is Z$2.5bn.

We were all shocked, until we recalled how we used to buy a sack for about $50m in January. When you do the maths, you realise a sack was US$10 in January and it is still the same price today.

But it is only OK if you have the cash in foreign exchange.

Speaking of which, our banks now have long queues of people selling their foreign cash.

I never thought I would see that.

It was announced that foreign cash would now be traded on the basis of willing buyer willing seller.

Banks are buying currency at rates just slightly lower than the parallel market.

For example, banks were offering Z$220m per dollar on Monday, parallel dealers were at Z$230m.

Before the announcement, banks were buying the dollar at Z$30,000, which was a big joke.

The parallel (or black) market has not yet died. Its rates are slightly above the banks', and banks only buy currency from the public, they hardly ever sell it.

So the parallel market will not die any time soon, as it remains the only place where one can access foreign currency for a holiday, a shopping trip, fees for students abroad and so on.

The new policy is to let the exchange rate float, and the value to be market-driven.

Finally someone up there has seen the light.

Hopefully, this will bring a change to the man on the street, with drugs in the hospitals, reliable power supply and running water in our houses.


Esther answers your questions

Q: Esther, the MDC economic recovery plan includes £1 bn being injected by the UK government but considering the history of UK promises, do you think Zimbabweans will give away their independence for £1 bn? The British goverment promised £500 Million in 1980 for land reforms, and only less than 7% of the promised funds ever reached Zimbabwe, don't you think the MDC is playing with the wrong people when they include the UK in the Zimbabwean political equation?
Freedom, London, UK

A: As an individual, my decision to vote for the MDC had nothing to do with their bed fellows. It was a protest vote. I'm not an avid supporter of the MDC, you seem to know more about their policy than I do. This election was about bringing about change, about having someone different at the helm. The government of R G Mugabe has failed the younger generation, and we have no emotional ties to it, we did not live under the Smith regime. We grew up thinking we'd buy houses better than the ones we grew up in, only to find you can't secure a mortgage to do so because inflation is so high, no bank can afford to lend anyone enough money to buy a property which is not going to generate income. So in short it's got nothing to do with whether or not the British will deliver on their promises, it's about us as a people showing Zanu-PF that we do have power to choose who governs us.

Q: Esther, thank you for taking the time to answer all these questions. My questions are: 1. The situation in Zimbabwe is a major crisis. People's attitudes are now so negative which makes it difficult to lead a country like that. What plan or policy does Morgan Tsvangirai have to change people's attitudes and rebuild trust?
2. The food crisis in Zimbabwe appears to be a global crisis, Does Morgan's regime realise that, and if so, what assurance do they have for the people of Zimbabwe and how do they intend to deal with this crisis and actually provide for the people's needs?
Trucila, UK

A: 1: The MDC does not need a plan to adjust attitudes, it is already there in the people - a hope that a change on the political scene will bring a change to the economic climate and an end to state sponsored violence and intimidation. The negativity that is there exists because we thought the change would come after the first round of elections, but it seems it will take more than that.

2: I believe our crisis is independent of the world food crisis. It started more than a year ago, the world wide crisis is only a few months old. We should see some improvement when industries reopen and businesses are allowed to charge economic prices without fear of being shut down or taken over by the state.

Q: It is a pity to see Mugabe behaving like this. It would be like Nehru going off the rails. This is the first time I have seen a liberator going against the people of the country. How can someone with so much experience, do so wrong?
Prabhjyot, Calcutta, India

A: Sorry for the cliché, but power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Our Constitution gives him too much power.

Q: It is very sad to see what has happened in your country. I worked in Botswana in the early 1980's and had several holidays in Zimbabwe. My question is what has happened to people's mortgages, car loans etc. with inflation so high? If you have a mortgage, is it paid for within months due to inflation? Can you even get a mortgage or other loan now?
John, Worksop, UK

A: There are very few credit facilities left, only a few banks still offer the credit card, but interest rates on those are more than 1,000%. We buy clothes on cash basis, as well as cars and houses. You cannot get a mortgage anywhere.

Q: I want to know if the black farm workers who helped run the commercial farms will ever be given a chance to take them over? They know how to look after commercial farms but they have never been given a chance because of their ethnic heritage. Will they ever be given a chance?
Rick, Dakar, Senegal

A: If by ethniticity you mean they are not Zimbabwean, then no, they will never get that chance. They were not even allowed to vote in the 29 March election! If you mean because they are black, no they cannot, not unless they are very well connected in the party (Zanu-PF) which is highly unlikely for an ordinary farm worker.

Q: Are there secret police in Harare?
Tom, El Cajon, USA

A: Yes, we have a Central Intelligence Organisation, the equivalent of your CIA.

Q: Esther, do you feel anger toward ordinary South Africans, who as of yet, have failed to take to the streets and protest against our government's absolute failure to speak out against what is happening in Zimbabwe? Should we be doing more to force our government to break its biased alliance with the Mugabe regime?
Matthew , Johannesburg, South Africa

A: It would warm our hearts to see people protesting on our behalf but to what end? We have all seen that R G Mugabe does not respect anyone's opinion. What we need is an observer mission based out of the cities, monitoring the situation in the rural areas but I'm not sure how that can be done.

Q: Esther, you are very brave and wonderful to keep the world informed about what is happening in your country. The injustices that occur there are terrible to hear about. What can people from outside of Zimbabwe do to aid the country in its struggle?
Joseph, Philadelphia, USA

A: I would say what I said above, we need independent people monitoring the situation away from the cities, right up to the second election and for a while beyond that.


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