Hyperinflation: The Chaos of Everyday Life in Zimbabwe

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Hyperinflation: The Chaos of Everyday Life in Zimbabwe

Oct. 9, 2008

By Matt Schrader

The alarm clock on a small side table read “2:20 a.m.”, but Rose Mayo rolled out of bed just as she had so many times before over the past months.

“Time to go to the bank,” she thought to herself.

By now, the 29-year-old knew better than to go during normal daytime hours; Mayo once spent an entire day waiting in line just so she could withdraw enough money to buy a bar of soap.

But even in the wee hours of the night, she again found herself waiting in line to take out her own money.

The 2 a.m. wake-ups are just a few of the many efforts she’s making to save time for her hair-braiding business, and one of the many symptoms in Zimbabwe’s worsening economic struggle.

Rates of hyperinflation in the country reached 1,000 percent in 2006. Last year, that rate surged to 12,000 percent — an alarming rate that threatens to destabilize the rest of Africa.

In fact, the skyrocketing inflation rate has nearly made currency obsolete.

Schools are without teachers, hospitals, without nurses and many public services have simply shut down, as salaries seem to become worthless within hours.

But, oddly enough, a cash shortage has hit the country: It’s become increasingly difficult for locals to find cash. So banks such as Rose Mayo’s have set limits on how much money Zimbabweans can withdraw.

The government said it plans to continue printing money, which will further the inflation and further devalue the savings of many residents such as Mayo.

In order to print more money, however, the government has needed to lop zeroes off the currency so numbers are short enough to fit on bills.

Saying the country faces hard times is an understatement, said Jeffrey S. Sachs, an economics professor at Columbia University.

“[It’s] not exaggerating to say Zimbabwe’s hyperinflation problem ranks as one of the worst ever,” said Sachs, who has a Ph.D. in economics. “Like, in all world history.”

Sachs, like many experts, believes the problems stem from the pertinacity of the country’s president, 84-year-old Robert Mugabe.

Though Mugabe agreed to a power-sharing treaty with opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, the details are still yet to be finalized, and that leaves Mugabe in complete control.

The president said he absolutely wouldn’t let anyone take the finance ministry away from him — and the experts say the economy probably won’t change until somebody does.

But while Zimbabwean currency is icy cold, the American dollar is extremely hot.

Many people buy American bills illegally in the streets. Some businessmen even said government officials have been buying up dollar bills on the black markets.

More recently, hunger has struck many families. The shortage of money has fueled a significant increase in crime rates and in the number of empty stomachs.

“It’s survival of the fittest,” Mayo said.

And until things change, people such as Mayo will continue to struggle — from finding money to finding food — as their money loses value by the minute.

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