Thabani Dube, “The changing faces of the Zimbabwean economy have made me a pauper”

BULAWAYO – Thabani Dube, 38, was a parallel-market trader who took advantage of Zimbabwe's collapsing economy, which resulted in empty shelves in shops and supermarkets.

When retailers could not provide, he could, selling everything from basic commodities to expensive electrical appliances. In the process he amassed great wealth, boasting sleek cars, trendy clothing and several city properties.

But the parallel market is declining because deregulation of the currency has made the South African rand, US dollars and the Botswana pula legal currency. The good times are over, and Dube knows it.

"Things are not going well for me – I have no form of income, there is nothing to sell anymore and I incurred a lot of debts due to the high life I used to live. The goods that I used to go and purchase in Botswana are now available in Zimbabwe, and people are now buying from the shops because it is much cheaper to buy there than from people in the black market.

"Everything was ruined for us cross-border traders when government licensed and allowed shops and wholesalers to trade in foreign currency. We were taken out of business and as a result we have no source of making any income, as the shops are selling the goods cheaper than what I would sell them for.

"The shops buy the goods in bulk from neighbouring countries and they still make a profit, even when they sell the goods cheaply, but for small-scale dealers the profit is realized from huge mark-ups in the selling price compared to the purchase price.

"When everything was rosy for us dealers we used to sell basic goods like sugar, mealie-meal [maize-meal], cooking oil, rice, margarine that we bought in large quantities from Botswana and South Africa and sold back home at double and, in some instances, at three times what we would have bought the goods for in Botswana and South Africa.

"I employed over 30 people who were runners for me. They would cross the borders to buy the goods in my truck and they would bring the goods into the country for resale. I was a big man then, with a large workforce, and I was respected in the city.

"When my business began to collapse I realised I was in serious debt, as I could not manage to pay for the expensive clothes, beers, property, needs of girlfriends and in general up-keep of my family. I sold the two properties I had in the city in January to maintain my extravagant lifestyle.

"Things did not change, as my source of income was drying up, so in February I sold one of my two cars … to pay for food, rates [property taxes] and for taking my children to school [by paying the fees].

"At the beginning of February I sold the second car … and that is the money that I use for getting along, but life is now difficult for me. Every month-end I used to travel with my wife to South Africa for shopping and we bought expensive clothes and imported whisky, but I cannot afford to do that anymore as I am not making any money now.

''I used to drink from the most expensive hotels in the city but I have now gone to my usual opaque beer and I drink from the local bottle stores – life now is very tough for me''

"I used to drink from the most expensive hotels in the city but I have now gone to my usual opaque beer and I drink from the local bottle stores – life is now very tough for me. I have moved my children from the posh low-density suburb schools and they are now back at the cheap government schools in the high-density suburbs.

"I have sold all my luxury goods that include hi-fis, plasma TV screens, laptops and computers so that I can support my family that was used to a high lifestyle.

"The changing faces of the Zimbabwean economy have now made me a pauper – one minute I have a lot of money and am living a good life, and the next minute I am a pauper, as all my savings have disappeared in the banks.

"Currently I am selling cheap biscuits … for five South African rands per packet to make ends meet, but the competition is stiff from the established wholesalers and retailers but there is nothing to do as I have no other means of getting money.
 
"But once things improve I will have to find a job in the formal sector, and since I am a trained and qualified teacher I have no option except to go back to teaching, but going back to teach will be difficult after the comfortable life I have had in the last eight years."