ZIMBABWEANS will endure one of the most bleak Christmas holidays on record as unrelenting economic hardships continue to haunt millions of families who can only agonise helplessly over unrelenting hardships at a time meant for merrymaking.
A drive by The NewsHawks around the major shopping areas in Harare showed low activity. There were only a few people shopping for Christmas goodies, with most families settling for basic commodities.
While it is tradition for families to buy new clothes for the young ones, the low traffic in clothing stores was testimony that Zimbabweans have less disposable income, following a gruelling year worsened by the Covid-19 pandemic.
At Mbare bus terminus, which is traditionally a hive of activity as buses ferry thousands of Zimbabweans to their rural homes, The NewsHawks team witnessed subdued traffic with markedly fewer travellers looking for transport. These are the lucky ones who can afford bus fare to their rural homes, while also carrying a few groceries for the folks in the countryside.
Most buses were not filled to capacity. Although 2020 was blighted by Covid-19, Zimbabweans have in past years complained of a stolen Christmas, owing to gross mismanagement by the government and corruption that has bled the country billions of dollars annually.
Moses Mukwape (37), one of the few lucky Zimbabweans to afford a rural holiday, said he could not abandon his annual tradition of spending the festive season in the countryside. He, however, could not afford to buy Christmas goodies for his family, save for a few basic foodstuffs.
“Life is very tough and Christmas is no longer the same. I am used to spending Christmas at home, so I have to go. All I could afford is this small parcel for my mother, the rest we will see when I get there,” Mukwape said as he boarded a half-full bus to Chisumbanje.
Another passenger, aboard a bus to Mwenezi, Elba Mudawariwo (40), said this year’s Christmas is just another day on the calendar as there is nothing to celebrate.
“I honestly think Christmas is now just another day on the calendar that we still hold dear. We are suffering, so there is nothing to cheer about really. I had to borrow money to travel because I just want to be away from the hustle of the city,” Mudawariwo said.
Christmas is one of the few holidays that Zimbabweans cherish, but over the years due to economic hardships the holiday has lost the excitement. With over 90% unemployment, only a few lucky workers enjoy annual bonuses, while the civil servant and other private sector workers continue to suffer.
While some companies failed to pay workers salaries before the holidays, others compensated workers with grocery coupons.
Those with relatives living abroad could be seen queuing at money transfer agencies like Mukuru, Western Union and World Remit to collect money by their loved ones.
With a smile on his face, Comfort Musakwa (20) emerges from a money transfer agency’s banking hall holding crisp banknotes.
His mother, who is based overseas, sent him money for the festive season. He is looking forward to the festivities which include a braai with friends.
“I queued here for about four hours but I am glad that I got the money. I was getting worried that the holidays may come without accessing the cash,” he said with a smile.
However, millions of Zimbabweans have nothing to cheer this Christmas, according to Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) president Peter Mutasa.
Mutasa said the ruinous policies of President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government have robbed Zimbabweans, especially the working class, of a decent Christmas.
“There is no festive season to talk about for the majority of workers and poor citizens. In fact, workers are pondering how they are going to provide basic foodstuffs, rentals and school fees for their children.
We are leading miserable lives under this current government,” Mutasa said in an interview.
Obert Masaraure, Amalgamated Rural Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe (ARTUZ) president, said the working class will endure a Christmas of poverty.
“The working class is going to endure a Christmas of poverty. Teachers will be suffering from lack of basics and are also haunted by the challenges that lie ahead in 2021. It is however important for the workers to use Christmas to reflect on what went wrong in Zimbabwe,” he said, adding that the government had failed to ensure that Zimbabweans access basic necessities.