Zimbabweans count their toes as inflation soars above 130%
Harare(Zimbabwe)- Battling rampant inflation, Zimbabweans are counting their toes as they struggle to buy food for their families.
An internet rumour blazed through the country that desperate people were selling their toes for cash. The false report became so widespread that the country’s Deputy Minister of Information Kindness Paradza visited street vendors in central Harare earlier this month to debunk it.
One-by-one the traders took off their shoes to show that they had all 10 toes, as Zimbabwe’s state media recorded the digital investigation.
Paradza declared the toes-for-money story a hoax, as did local and foreign fact-checkers. Police later arrested a street vendor who now faces a fine or 6 months in jail on charges of a criminal nuisance for allegedly starting the story.
It’s starkly true, however, that Zimbabweans are finding it increasingly difficult to make ends meet. Since the start of Russia’s war in Ukraine, Zimbabwe’s inflation rate has shot up from 66% to more than 130%, according to official statistics.
The war in Ukraine has exacerbated inflation rising around the world. Consumer prices in the 19 European Union countries that use the euro currency surged 8.1% in May, a record rate as energy and food costs climb. In the U.S. and the United Kingdom, annual inflation hit or was close to 40-year highs of 8.3% and 9%, respectively, in April. Turkey approached Zimbabwe’s eye-watering prices, with inflation reaching 73.5% in May, the highest in 24 years.
Across the country, currency traders line the streets and crowd entrances to shopping centres waving wads of both the local currency and U.S dollars.
Many Zimbabweans who earn in a local currency such as government workers are forced to source dollars on the illegal market, where exchange rates are soaring, to pay for goods and services that are increasingly being charged in U.S. dollars.
Retailers said the rising rates for U.S. dollars on the illegal market are forcing them to frequently increase prices, often every few days, to allow them to restock.
The once-prosperous southern African country’s economy is battered by years of de-industrialization, corruption, low investment, low exports and high debt. Zimbabwe struggles to generate an adequate inflow of greenbacks needed for its largely dollarized local economy.
Ordinary Zimbabweans are returning to coping mechanisms they relied on during the hyperinflationary era such as skipping meals. Others now buy food items in smaller quantities, sometimes in such tiny packages, they are enough for just a single meal. Locals call them “tsaona,” meaning “accident” in the local Shona language.