A Day In The Life Of A Zimbabwean Worker
She gets out the little gas cylinder they have… if she is careful it will last her the month. If not, they may have to build a fire in the garden using twigs from trees.
by Zimbabwe Victims’ Support Fund 2018
The alarm clock wakes her at 4:15 am. It is Monday morning and already she feels tired but she rolls out of bed to start her week. Luckily the electricity is still on so she can see what she is doing as she goes through to the bathroom and showers in cold water. She does have a small geyser but both the geyser and the fridge have been switched off for a month now. She cannot afford the electricity to run them. She then starts to fill all her buckets and any other containers that can hold water. At 6 am this morning the municipality will switch off the water to her area. She will not be able to run any more water from her taps until she gets home on Thursday evening.
It is now nearly quarter to 5 and she wakes her two children so they can go and have a shower. The last one until Thursday. In the kitchen she takes out her last 8 slices of bread and the bottle of jam that is almost empty. This is the only food she has left in her house. Luckily it is pay day today. Well actually it was pay day on Friday but something “went wrong” with putting the pay in the bank so the money will only be available from 10 am this morning. It has been a very lean weekend. She manages to spread the jam over all 8 slices and then throws the empty bottle away. She puts two slices for each of her children on the table for breakfast and pours them each a glass of water. She then makes two sandwiches with the remaining 4 slices and puts one sandwich in each of the children’s lunch boxes and fills their water bottles with water.
It is now 5 o’clock and the electricity goes off. It is summer so it is light enough just to see what she is doing. The children come and eat their breakfast and wash and put away their plates.
It is 5:15 and she and her children leave the house to walk to a place where they can catch the bus. The bus comes anytime between 5:30 and 6:00 but she cannot afford to miss it. It only costs 1 bond to catch the bus into town. This means that she only has to pay 30 bond a week for her and her children to get into town. Before the government put on these buses they had to catch a Kombi into town which cost 4 bond per journey. So she was paying 120 bond a week in transport. She feels sorry for those who have to catch further transport from town to their place of work. She earns 1000 bond a month. This is an average salary. She knows that government school teachers earn the same. Some people that she knows earn as much as 3000 bond a month but some as little as 800. She does not know how they cope.
The bus comes at 5:45 and she and her children pay their money, collect a ticket and climb on. They are fairly near the start of the bus route so they get a seat. She is relieved because she knows that the bus will take about 1 hour 15 minutes to travel the 15 kilometres into town. About 2 km along the road there is standing room only. But they continue to stop for passengers until all standing passengers are crammed as close as they can together and passengers are standing on the stairs right up to the door. If it opens unexpectedly many would fall out. There must be at least 100 people now on the bus but finally no one else can be squeezed in.
She sees the looks of despair on the faces of those they drive past. They now have difficult decisions to make. Do they wait for the next bus which will not be along for at least another hour. They will then get to school and work late. Will their teachers or bosses understand? They could not have caught an earlier bus. There was not one. Can they afford to catch a Kombi? Government has put on Kombies but even they cost 2 bond and they may be full when they arrive. She sees some shrug their shoulders and start to walk the 7 or 8 km into town. The roads are much quieter than they used to be. Very few can afford to pay the 17 bond that one litre of petrol now costs. Still there are some, mostly those who earn foreign currency, that manage to drive into town every day, eat 3 cooked meals every day, have solar panels and generators so they always have electricity, have boreholes and large tanks so they always have water. She wonders if they have any idea how the majority of Zimbabweans live.
It is just after 7 and they arrive in town. Her children start walking rapidly to school. They still have some distance to walk. She walks more slowly as she is fairly close to her work place. She arrives at about 7:20 and stands outside the door waiting for the managers to arrive by car. They will come in about half an hour. There are several people already waiting and some discuss how hard the weekend has been without money. Most do not bother but just stand and wait.
At 8 o’clock she is at her desk and ready to start work. She begins to type in the figures she has been given and is about half way through when the electricity goes off. She has saved most of her work but now has to wait until the generator is switched on so she can continue. Finally she gets the statements prepared and ready to send to the client. But now the internet is down. Although she has done the work as fast as she can she is aware she will be blamed if the statements are not sent out on time. There is nothing she can do but wait patiently.
Twelve o’clock and it is lunch time. In the cafeteria they are serving sadza and spinach for only 4 bond. You do not have to pay but can sign for it and get the money deducted from your salary at the end of the month. She collects herself a plate and signs her name. She feels a bit guilty that she is eating a cooked meal while her children have sandwiches but she has had nothing to eat since a very small supper last night. After lunch she finds the internet is back on and she works quickly to get her work completed before the end of the day.
It is 4:30 and she is finished work for the day. But not able to go home yet. She has to do some shopping. She walks to the supermarket and gets herself a trolley. There are some things she has to buy but she needs to be very careful with her money. She picks up a 10 kg bag of mealie meal and notices with a shudder it now costs 72 bond. But she has to have it. She also puts in a packet of soya mince at 20 bond, a litre box of long life milk at 17 bond, a packet of sugar at 20 bond , a packet of salt at 10 bond, a packet of 50 teabags at $15, some dishwashing liquid at 15 bond, a bottle of jam at $10, a bottle of oil at 20 bond and two loaves of bread at 15 bond each.
Finally she moves across to the vegetables. With the crippling drought even these have become very expensive. With the lack of water she cannot even grow her own spinach any more. She chooses a large cabbage, 4 tomatoes and 2 onions. This comes to 15 bond and will have to last for the next 4 nights. She looks longingly at a bottle of Mazoe orange but at 40 bond it is beyond her reach and with the cheapest cuts of meat now nearly 70 bond a kilogram it is over a month since there has been meat in her house.
She moves to the till and finds her groceries come to nearly 244 bond. Fortunately the teller is able to give her 20 bond in “cash back” . She only had 5 bond left in her purse. This would get her home and all her family into town in the morning, but she would then have had nothing to get them home in the evening. Now she will have enough for the week. She hands over her swipe card and an amount of her 264 is debited to her bank account. She knows the government will take off another 2.6 bond from her account as the 2% levy they charge on all swipe or ecocash transactions.
Carrying her purchases she walks to the bus stop and arrives there at 5:30. There is a very long queue of people and she knows it will be some time before she can board a bus. So she stands and waits patiently. Eventually she gets on the bus at just after 6:30 and arrives at the bus stop near her at 7:15. She takes her parcels and walks slowly home along the dark streets. The electricity is still off. When she gets home her children are waiting. It will have got totally dark at about 7 o’clock and they have lit a candle. She cannot expect them to wait in the dark. But candles are very expensive at 3 bond each and she notices the new candle they have used is already nearly one quarter gone. The quality of the candles makes them last for a very short time.
She is glad that neither of her children are writing public exams this year. How could they study in the evening? As it is they are getting into trouble for not completing their homework. They find it difficult to share one candle to do their work. Her neighbour has a son overseas and he has put in a few solar panels for her to give her lights. But it costs over 10000 bond. She could never afford that.
She greets her children and gets out the little gas cylinder they have. Luckily she had it filled last month and if she is careful it will last her the month. If not, they may have to build a fire in the garden using twigs from trees. She puts a little water out of one of the buckets in a pot and places it on the gas fire. She adds mealie meal and leaves one of her children stirring it while she quickly cuts some of the cabbage, half an onion and one tomato and places them in another pot with a little oil, and a little salt. As soon as the mealie meal is ready she takes it off the ring and puts on the next pot. As soon as it gets hot she adds a handful of soya mince, and about a cupful of water and she cooks the mixture for about 10 minutes. They are now ready to eat.
It is now just after 8 pm and everyone is very tired. She takes out the 5 small basins that she had purchased a few months ago when the water cuts first started. She takes a bucket and pours a little water into each of the basins. One of the basins is placed on the sink and the children wash and dry the dishes and pots and she puts them away. The used water is poured into the empty bucket. One of the children then takes one of the basins and goes into the bathroom and washes as well as she can. The child takes the torch with her. Its light is very dim but there never seems to be enough money to replace the batteries . When the child has finished washing herself she washes her blouse and underwear in the same water and then brings the basin into the kitchen. She pours the water she has used into the bucket and rinses her clothes in a basin of clean water. She then takes the clothes and hangs them on the line, leaving the rinsing water for the next child. The second child then does the same. Once they are finished they kiss their mother goodnight and go off to bed.
It is 9 o’clock. She takes the last clean basin and washes herself and her clothes then pours her water and the rinsing water into the bucket. She pulls the chain to flush the toilet then uses the bucket of used water to fill the cistern.
The electricity comes back. It is earlier than normal so she quickly goes and gets the clothes from the weekend, which have not yet been ironed ,and irons them. She is now exhausted and she sits on the side of the bed and thinks about the rest of the week. Tomorrow will be much the same except she will be able to give her children some tea with their breakfast and a few more slices of bread for lunch. And she will not have to shop in the evening. So she may get home a little earlier. She will have to shop for some vegetables at least once more this week.
On Saturday she will have to get up and go to the bank to try and draw some money, which you are only allowed to draw once a week. She hopes they will give her 40 bond which will enable them to catch the bus all week and have some over. But they may only give 20. And she must be there early. They usually run out of money by 10 o’clock. After that she will go and pay her electricity. She has heard the queues are very long and she may be there for over 2 hours. She will need to pay 167 bond to get exactly 200 units which is enough for lights and using a 2 plate stove every evening for the month. But nothing more. If she wants to buy another 200 units it will cost her twice as much so she would be paying 500 bond. This is why she has switched off her fridge and geyser. For anything more than 400 units you have to pay 4 bond per unit so only the wealthy do that.
She will then go and pay her rent which is luckily only 120 bond. But when she takes out her transport costs she will be left with only 280 bond to buy all her groceries for the rest of the month. And one thing she knows for certain is that the prices will go up. At the beginning of the year mealie meal was 12 bond for 10 kg, a loaf of bread was 1 bond and a litre of milk was 1.29. And petrol was also only 1 bond a litre. Sometimes the price of a commodity doubles in a month. Last week her friend took her sick child to the clinic. The child was diagnosed with tonsillitis but the clinic has no medicine so gave her a prescription. At the pharmacy they wanted 120 bond for the antibiotic and another 60 for the paracetamol. What if it had been her child? Where would she have found the money? What happens when one of her children needs new shoes? Where will she get money for next term’s school fees?
Suddenly it is all too much for her. She puts her head in her hands and begins to weep silently.
Images via https://news.yahoo.com/zimbabwes-children-suffer-countrys-economic-095946217.html