THE NGO NETWORK ALLIANCE PROJECT - an online community for Zimbabwean activists  
 View archive by sector


Back to Index

Life on the breadline
Polite Makowa
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.

The socio-economic 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 existence.

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.

What remained 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 students.

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.

Please credit if you make use of material from this website. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License unless stated otherwise.