Just a week before the festive season begins in earnest, the general mood in the country appears completely devoid of any merriment.
BY PHILLIP CHIDAVAENZI
In fact, what is clearly evident is the depression that pervades the nation, particularly in the capital Harare where the general talk is about hardships, lack of money, job losses and pressing needs, especially school fees.
The usual banter around the joyful issue of bonus is totally non-existent as the majority of workers have not received the 13th cheque with many even unsure of getting their December salaries.
Most people who spoke to The Standard last week said this year’s festivities were likely to be low-key as whatever money people may get would be reserved for critical needs such as school fees for next year.
“Things are very tough this year,” said Samson Saidi (43) of Kambuzuma, Harare. “For some of us Christmas joy this year is a luxury we cannot afford, so we will rather stick to the basics and not get excited. Things are difficult as most companies have been struggling to pay their workers. This means a bonus is unthinkable.”
He said traditionally, there was a tendency to overspend during the festive season and such extravagance was paid for by the 13th cheque. But this year things were going to be different.
One industrial worker said the US$300 salary he earns is not enough to buy his family Christmas goodies as he has to set aside US$100 for food, US$50 for transport, US$200 for school fees and US$150 for rentals at his Chitungwiza lodgings.
“You can see that from my salary of US$300 I actually have a deficit of at least US$200 which I have to scrounge from elsewhere,” said the Graniteside based worker.
Many businesses have been struggling against the backdrop of an unprecedented economic downturn.
Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa recently presented grim figures indicating that over 4 500 companies have shutdown with at least 55 000 workers losing their jobs in the last three years. The manufacturing sector alone saw 458 companies folding and 9 978 employees being made redundant.
Chinamasa said the company closures were precipitated by a number of factors including the liquidity crunch.
“The economy continues to be dragged down by liquidity shortages, antiquated plant and machinery, cheap imports and high cost of production. This situation has led to company closures,” he said.
Monalisa Kazunga of Southerton in Harare said the festive season has since lost it’s glamour over the past few years and this year was likely going to be worse as cash was elusive.
“All we have now are memories of the good old days when Christmas was a time of spending big,” she recalled with nostalgia.
She said given the economic downturn in the country, one would be content if they were able to just afford the basics. Spoiling the family with new clothes, sumptuous meals and other goodies was now out of the question, she said.
During this time of the year in the past, retail and clothing shops would be a hive of activity as families did Christmas shopping, but now it is business as usual with only a few shops having been adorned with colourful Christmas decorations.
A manager with an indigenous clothing shop, Watson Muchena said times were hard and there were no prospects of realising good sales associated with the festive season.
“We are just hanging in there, but I am not sure how long we are going to hold on,” he said. “People are no longer buying clothes for Christmas like they used to do.”
Most people are now resorting to cheap second-hand clothes imported as charity stuff from countries such as South Africa, Mozambique and Zambia.
Muchena said in the past they could record sales of up US$5 000 worth of clothes per day in the one week before Christmas. But their fortunes have dwindled so much that they would be lucky to get sales of just US$1 000 between now and Christmas day.
“Most people just do window shopping now,” he said. “It’s really bad.”
Christmas this year is set to be bleak as deprivation has become the order of the day in a country whose economic fortunes continue to sink.
Social commentator Robert Mhishi said Christmas was traditionally a holiday of choice during which people enjoyed to the full since it comes once a year, so it was tragic that people could no longer afford to enjoy even the most basic of Christmas goodies.
“Christmas has always been a holiday of choice for many Zimbabweans and the festive spirit would grip people just before December when most employees got their 13th cheque,” he said. “But the tragedy is that this now appears to be just a thing of the past.”
School uniform shops and the popular shoe shop Bata, are the only ones that seem to be recording good sales as most parents prefer to spend on school preparation than on Christmas.