via Hang on to this money – The Zimbabwean 9.11.2015
Yesterday morning I offered a dollar for a 50c kombi fare and the conductor gave me R7 change in coins. In the afternoon, another conductor on the same route refused the same seven rands.
Anywhere outside the back seat of a Mbare kombi that would sound a bit strange. Those funny tokens are more acceptable than real money. After all, the tokens are not accepted anywhere outside Zimbabwe, but rands are rands. It may be a long time since I bought a new bicycle for R100.-, but rands, however devalued, are still money.
What is going on? I remember that some people warned us that those tokens – “bond coins” they say – were a first small step towards restoring the discredited (and demonetised) Zimdollar. “They couldn’t be that crazy!” I thought at that time. Now, when I remember all the other crazy things they have done, I am not so sure.
They have been unusually patient on this issue. Those tokens in my pocket are dated “2014” but I first saw one about February this year. Slowly, they crept into use. Kombi conductors, who work in multiples of 50c, were slower than the big boys of supermarkets in the northern suburbs to embrace this novelty. They only wanted a token to represent 50c. You would not have to hold it for long; you would give it as quickly as you could to another passenger for change, then 5 rands or 5 pula, as one coin or as many as five, That was at least real money. It was more reliable than those bricks of 50 million zimdollar notes which everyone passed on so fast, as if they were afraid of burning their hands on them. (or were they 50 billion?) We remembered that era and didn’t want to go back to it.
Now it has taken until November, and a collapse of the rand (or was it a rise of the US$?) in May to persuade the kombi crews to demonetise rand coins. I begin to smell the smoke of cooking fires, fires lit by someone who is thinking of boiled frog.
One thing they can always do is find a new name for an old confidence trick. I wouldn’t be surprised if their next move was emergency temporary introduction of “bearer cheques” or some other funny name they invent so readily, with a face value of US$1. We will treat them with suspicion at the start, but if we agree to use them, we’ll all be frogs swimming in water that is being heated slowly.
The cooks can afford to wait. They’ve become experts at boiling frogs, so they’ll be careful not to show their hand till it’s too late for the frogs to save themselves.
Maybe I’m exaggerating the danger. Maybe the fights among the cooks will get out of control before their plans reach fruition this time. That’s certainly possible. But if the worst does happen, don’t say I didn’t warn you. If you still believe they couldn’t be that crazy, just think back to all the tricks, involving smoke and mirrors and some very fast sleight of hand, of the era of Gononomics. And don’t forgert they printed at least two copies of every banknote. Gono may have left the scene, but is there anyone among the crazies in the driving seat now who knows as much as he did about real economics? The next round could be crazier.
All I can say, is “hold on to the rands in your pocket”. You might wake one morning to find that’s the only real money left.