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Economic hardships dim grandeur of Easter

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APRIL has always been associated with festivity and grandeur.

NATHAN LEANDER GUMA

Like Christmas when Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, shop interiors are known to be lightly decorated with sparkling doilies and tinsel.

During Easter, when Christians commemorate the death of Jesus on the cross on Good Friday and celebrate his rising from the dead on Easter Sunday, it is common for church denominations worldwide to gather and remind each other of the importance of Jesus’ death and the significance of his rising from the dead.

In shops worldwide, it is common to see decorations associated with the period, of course dominated by Easter Bunnies and eggs.

But it not only Christians who celebrate; for the non-religious and people of other religious persuasions, this is a time to catch up with friends and family. It is time to relax and go for holidays or catch up with those in the rural areas.

Television, billboards and several forms of advertising media traditionally carry commercial messages which condition people’s minds, preparing them for the holiday mood.

Business owners have been known to capitalise on the holiday whose cultural magnetic field has created a billion dollar industry around the world.

Despite the associated festivity and grandeur, the Easter holiday is not always what it used to be.

Several reasons, particularly economic hardships, have resulted in low-key celebrations over the years in Zimbabwe.

The Covid-19 pandemic is also a factor.

Obey Mabwe, a youth based in Harare, says while he has knowledge about the holiday, he does not know its importance beyond remembering Jesus’ death.

“I only know Easter from a religious perspective,” Mabwe says. “I do not even know what items to buy when the holiday comes, neither do I see reason to celebrate. All I know is that people converge at churches to worship; everything else, I am not sure.”

The young man says economic hardship have seen people like him neglecting such holidays compared to popular ones such as Valentine’s and Christmas.

“Easter comes after Valentine’s Day,” he says. “People will be under so much financial pressure as they would have already exhausted their money in February hence no need to buy luxuries. In addition, whilst Easter is about loving the Creator, people seem to care much about pleasing their partners through buying gifts on Valentine’s Day hence its loss of significance.”

Some clothing shop owners say Christian denominations have been ordering clothes in bulk ahead of Easter, boosting their sales in the process. These include choirs, praise and worship teams, and groups within the church such as ushers.

“We mainly take orders from church members who will be in need of clothes for the holiday,” said a clothes retailer at Nyanhokwe Mall in Harare’s central business district.

She however said consumers are prioritising basic commodities over luxuries like clothes. Her opinion is supported by the Confederation of Zimbabwe Retailers (CZR).

CZR president Denford Mutashu says consumer purchasing behaviour is likely to be affected by inflation.

He says while Easter is known for impulsive and bulk buying, the holiday frenzy propels demand for goods and commodities.

“Our situation is unpredictable owing to low disposable incomes and the impending schools opening in May,” Mutashu says.

He says most people have no luxury to spend on booze and other niceties hence they would go for basics.

“A smaller proportion will focus on home improvement like household goods,” he adds.

According to the Zimbabwe Statistical Agency (ZimStat) report for March, Total Consumption Poverty Line (TPCL) for a family of six was estimated at ZW$58 242.

The Food Poverty Line (FPL) for one person in March 2022 was ZW$7 062.

Total Consumption Poverty Line for one person stood at ZW$9 708.15. An individual would need this amount for them not to be deemed poor. The amount is difficult to come buy, considering the salary earned by an average government employee.

A teacher in Zimbabwe earns a monthly salary of ZW$30 000, an amount insufficient to cover basics like food, health and education — let alone luxuries. 

This makes it difficult for people to buy luxury goods like chocolate, Easter eggs and others over food.

To small-scale retail outlets, discounts are a golden goose. In years gone by, many retail outlets used to roll out sales promotions during the week preceding the holiday.

Nevertheless, only bigger companies selling luxury products like furniture have been offering discounts on marked products.

“If I make a discount, it would be difficult for me to cover the deficit due to low sales. It would be difficult for us to make profit, considering inflation,” said a retailer who spoke on condition of anonymity.   

For various Christian denominations, the holiday will not be the same.

With a new Covid-19 variant being detected, life is unlikely to be the same. Botswana discovered new Omicron BA4 and BA5 variants.

The government has therefore warned the nation against complacency “as winter is fast approaching and the country readies for the Easter and Independence Day holidays”.

Most churches without own premises have been relying on schools during the holidays.

The director of communication and advocacy in the ministry of Primary and Secondary Education, Taungana Ndoro, said such churches ought to observe national Covid-19 protocols.

This will avoid a recurrence of the time when government barred churches from renting school premises to curb the spread of the pandemic.

Zimbabwe Council of Churches secretary-general Kenneth Mtata says the church’s failure to meet this holiday is likely to have a devastating effect on congregants’ well-being.

“In addition to the effects of the pandemic to the secular economy, this has had a huge effect on the financial sustainability of churches,” he says. “But the church is a hope-giving institution. It is recovering from the pandemic to continue carrying out its task.”

In addition, Reverend Mtata says Easter holiday gatherings will give churches a chance to meet with backsliding congregants  Zimbabwe Christian Ministers Association, a non-profit self-regulatory body of church ministers, believes the holiday is an opportunity for several denominations to practice goodwill.

“Our members have their churches who have been helping the vulnerable during the Covid-19 pandemic; we also worked with Higherlife Foundation, and pastors would identify the needy so they can be helped,” said Christopher Choto, a founder of the association.

“During the holiday, we will be supporting programme rolled out by our people (member churches),” Bishop Choto says. “There will be conferences just to encourage one another. I myself have got a conference also going.”

The cleric says people should use the time to iron out their differences and live as Christ counselled.

“This is where we are and we thank God,” Bishop Choto said. “The Lord has taken us this far. Let us celebrate and use Easter to forgive one another. We speak about unity and forgiveness.”

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