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on the breadline
May 03, 2007
I used to think
of myself as middle class, having been born into a typical middle-income
family in the 1980s that owned a spacious house and a car. My four
siblings and I went to boarding school and had new clothes bought
every school holiday.
As a working adult,
I strived to achieve more or less the same status; not lacking for
anything, but not rich either. Now, a degree and several professional
diplomas later, it pains me to admit that I am poor.
situation has ensured the middle-class life I had envisioned for
myself remains just a dream. In Zimbabwe, you are either rich or
poor and struggling.
I, along with
approximately 80% of other professionals, fall into the latter category.
The poverty datum line has been pegged at Z$1,5-million, yet the
majority of the population earns far below this.
To put this into
perspective, a high-school teacher takes home Z$600 000, a nurse
Z$350 000, a general hand Z$200 000, a chartered-accountant intern
Z$300 000. All these people have one thing in common: a hand-to-mouth
I am a private
English tutor and take home on average Z$800 000 a month (about
R400 at black-market rates). This means I can barely afford the
basic necessities of life.
I am married and
my husband and I share responsibilities. He earns more than I do.
The situation has dramatically eroded any sense of empowerment that
I should feel. I now cannot afford to live without him. If I were
single and relying on my Z$800 000 salary, half of what I earn would
pay the rent for the one-bedroom flat we live in.
would have to be split between my phone bill and groceries for which
I have to queue. Grocery shopping is the biggest stress in my day-to-day
life as I cannot afford to buy much. Groceries are so expensive
that quality of life has been reduced to a mere existence.
I can afford to
buy only what I need when I need it and if I have the money. The
last time I bought myself something new was middle of last year.
Things were not any better then, but I could at least afford a new
pair of shoes or a new blouse. Now shoes, as with all other items
of clothing, cost almost half my salary.
I recently found
out how costly it is to fall sick. Two weeks ago I needed a very
common form of antibiotic, amoxicillin, and I thought Z$50 000 would
be more than enough. The cheapest quote was Z$200 000 and the most
expensive was Z$350 000. Such is my life now, for every item I purchase
another equally important one has to be foregone.
I have a car,
but I no longer use it. It's still working, or at least it was when
I last drove it three months ago. I can't afford to pay for petrol.
Although the government denies it, fuel is being sold at the parallel
United States dollar rate -- hence for me to fill up my 60-litre
tank I need close to Z$1-million.
The economic situation
has also affected my family life. I haven't seen my mom for more
than a year, yet she lives just 400km away. I could use public transport,
but that would cost me half my salary and leave me with nothing
left to give to her.
As is now common
with most people, I prefer to send her the little that I can spare
rather than pay a visit. Even in the city, no one pays as many social
calls any more; those are now reserved for emergencies such as a
death or serious illness. People are not very receptive of visitors
any more either -- no one wants to show how poor they are. I find
it extremely embarrassing to have people come over unexpectedly
when my fridge is empty. It is a situation in which I never thought
I would find myself.
Harare used to
be called the "Sunshine City". At night, much of the city is now
in darkness because of the increasing frequency of power cuts. My
neighbourhood once went 21 consecutive days without electricity
because of a simple fault. We were fortunate; some have gone for
three months without power.
Most days I either
I wake with the electricity off and miss my morning cup of tea,
or I get back from work and find it off and go to sleep on an empty
stomach. Power cuts are also wreaking havoc on the quality of my
work, as I cannot conduct planned audio or visual lessons for my
There is supposed
to be a schedule of load-shedding, but the power authority never
follows it, so power cuts are random.
As I finish writing
this article, a friend has called to tell me about the latest overnight
price increases. These are just more items that I will add on to
my already long list of things that I should afford, but can't.
I wonder if I will ever again live the life I always thought I would.
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