HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) – After working overnight as a security guard at a church in Harare’s poor Mabwuku settlement, Jeffrey Carlos goes home to help his wife fetch water to sell.
Persistent water shortages mean the capital’s more than 2.4 million residents must obtain their own water. Carlos is lucky because the property he rents has a well and his family can fill buckets with water to sell to neighbors.
“This is our gold,” he says of the well water.
“If we’re lucky, we can sell up to 12 buckets of water (per day) for $2,” said the 50-year-old father of three. He said there was enough money for the family to buy food for the day.
Soaring prices and a rapidly depreciating currency have sent many Zimbabweans on the brink and reminded people when the South African country faced world-record inflation of 5 billion% in 2008. Inflation rose to 257% in July from 191% in June. Many Zimbabweans worry that the country is heading towards such hyperinflation again.
To prevent a repeat of such an economic catastrophe, President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration took the unprecedented step last month of making gold coins legal tender. The country’s central bank, the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, said that because the value of an ounce of 22-karat coins was determined by the international price of gold, they would help control runaway inflation and stabilize the country’s currency.
It is difficult to see the brilliance of the gold coins as Zimbabweans struggle for a living. The government sees things differently and is asking for time.
Despite being expensive at an average price of less than $2,000 per coin, central bank governor John Mangudya said the coin would have a trickle-down effect that would eventually help ordinary people.
“The stability of these gold coins (provided by) will benefit the common man more. Where there is stability, there will be value for money and price stability,” Mangudya said before launch. He said the central bank plans to introduce small-denomination gold coins in November so that common people can also use them as a savings mechanism. He said the smaller coins were half an ounce, a quarter ounce and 10% of an ounce.
But many, like Carlos, say they can barely afford food, let alone earn enough to save.
“Where can I get money to buy gold coins? This is for them, for the rich. Poor people like me see no difference. Things stay tough in this country,” he told The Associated Press between trips to the well to get water from the bucket.
“Gold coins are a system for the elite. During an online discussion, economics professor Gift Mugano said, “Is there gold in the coins?”
With so many Zimbabweans searching for food every day, will gold coins help them?
“People fight. They live face to face, so most people can’t really have money to save at all. Most people are in an existential mode because of inflation,” said Prosper Chitambara, a Harare-based economist.
To make ends meet, many people are forced to work multiple jobs.
Carlos in Mabwuku says he makes about $100 a month from his job as a night watchman at a church and next door. This is barely enough to pay rent, school fees and other basic needs. Sometimes he trades water for food.
“If we bring someone water but they don’t have any money, we get tomatoes, vegetables, beans or corn. That’s how we get food,” he said.
His wife, Christwish, 43, prepares the day’s dinner – the staple of corn (maize) and vegetables from a small home garden – over a wood fire. Due to prolonged power outages in Zimbabwe, children do their homework with candles despite their parents’ urging them to use them sparingly.
“Firewood costs a dollar for a small bundle (for cooking) enough for one meal. Candles are expensive too,” lamented Kristwish, who supplemented family income by doing household chores for better families in exchange for money or food.
He said things that used to be considered fundamentals are now out of reach.
“The last time we ate bread with margarine was on Christmas Day,” she said. “Now we see these things in stores and leave them there.”