The Sunday Mail
Veronica Gwaze and Ellen Sanyanga
IN years gone by, the festive mood associated with Christmas could be felt from the end of November.
The 13th cheque, company shut-downs and Christmas parties for workers were some of the tell-tale signs that the time-honoured Christmas celebration was around the corner.
By this time, families would either be planning huge gatherings, preparing to travel or thinking about the menu for an expensive banquet with loved ones.
The season was synonymous with sharing and giving — reinforcing family ties and bonds.
In urban settings, the traditional meal of rice and chicken, and colourful lights from Christmas trees and decorations were the order of the day.
The fun would spill into Boxing Day as the countdown to the New Year began.
However, it seems like all this has changed in recent years.
The festive mood now gains impetus mid-December or even a few days before Christmas.
Years of economic decline, which the Government is in the process of fixing through painful, but necessary measures, are having an impact on this holiday.
Wanton price increases have seen many people struggling to afford basic commodities, prompting the Government to intervene to ensure the price of mealie-meal comes down.
Traditional Christmas goodies like quality rice and all sorts of meat have become a far-fetched idea. The season and the day has become just memories of a day that used to be.
Few people have the buying power.
According to the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe (CCZ), the cost of living for a low-income urban earner from October to November indicates that a family of six requires a consumer basket of about $4 397, 40.
The basket increased from $3 943,88 to $4 397,40 between October and November, translating to a $453,52 upsurge.
With most households now confined to tight budgets that can only cater for the nuclear family set-ups, most can no longer afford to share a meal with extended families.
One wonders how Christmas, which is synonymous with large family gatherings, will be enjoyed in this case.
However, it is not all doom and gloom.
Second-hand clothes dealers are enjoying brisk business. Being a time for new apparel, most people are taking to popular markets like Mupedzanhamo and the new Coca-Cola vending market.
While the buying of second-hand clothes (mabhero) was shameful in the past, it has recently taken over as the new normal.
Even gainfully employed people are buying second-hand clothes. However, the mabhero business is illegal and second-hand clothes are illegally being imported from Mozambique.
Despite that, for Thelma Guyo, a vendor at the Coca-Cola market, her sales have been increasing as Christmas Day approaches.
“Sales have increased as Christmas approaches, now we open two or even three bales per week. This year, most households are depending on second-hand clothes as boutiques are now too expensive,” she said.
Last week, a chiffon blouse that one can get for $30 from a second-hand bale was going for $200 in a boutique in Harare’s central business district.
Back in the days, Christmas was a time to be outdoors for holiday lovers. They would experience the joys of being away from home. Some travelled to their rural homes while others came from abroad to their homeland.
There is another lot — those who ditched the city crowds and noises for the quite resorts dotted around the country.
According to the Hospitality Association of Zimbabwe (HAZ), in the past, Christmas meant a marked increase in local tourist arrivals at popular destinations like Victoria Falls, Kariba and Nyanga, with occupancies rising to above 90 percent.
However, this year, indications are that most destinations will record depressed business, especially where locals are concerned.
With most accommodation facilities ranging between US$140 and US$250 per night during busy holidays, it has become too expensive for most holidaymakers.
Others might opt for braai and drinking spots like Mega 2, Red Wood, KwaMereki, Umvuvu, 747 and other “gochi-gochi” spots.
Although it may be relatively cheaper, meat prices per kilogramme and beverages continue to rise by the day, thereby making this option unaffordable for most people.
But in a sign that Zimbabweans are resilient and will always find a way around any hurdle, Mai Muzambia who cooks sadza and braais meat at the popular KwaMereki in Warren Park D, is expecting brisk business.
Back to school headache
A survey carried out by The Sunday Mail Society revealed that over 60 percent of parents whose children are in private schools and former Group “A” schools, where school fees are pegged in US dollars, are in the process of transferring them to cheaper Government facilities.
Parents are more concerned, at the moment, with where their children will be enrolled come January, than getting new clothes and fancy food for Christmas.
Confederation of Zimbabwe Retailers (CZR) president Denford Mutashu said the rise in school fees should receive adequate and increased attention. Should parents overlook Christmas and budget towards next year’s school preparations?
“Parents should not over spend, January is coming,” said Mutashu. “Children will need to go back to school,” he emphasised. The prices of basic commodities continue to skyrocket, which has led to an increase in school fees, a development which has left most parents in a dilemma.
“Our projections indicate that the hyperinflationary environment may persist into the first half of the year 2020 as fundamentals like the foreign currency issues have not realigned with industry’s expectations,” added Mutashu.
“As CZR, we are looking at bringing in more players to manufacture uniforms to bring relief for parents, guardians and school children. The 2019 fees’ schedules are shockingly steeper than anticipated.”
Recent weeks have seen long winding queues at service stations.
It is not clear if the fuel supply situation will improve in the next few days. However, this is a huge factor when one is deciding whether to travel or not. For instance, who wants to get stranded in Chimanimani?
Economist Persistence Gwanyanya said with the fuel prices and its scarcity, most travellers will be affected.
“It is also likely that although basic commodities will be available on the market, most people will not be able to buy them as prices continue to soar,” he added.
Partying in the dark
For those who would rather have a good time in their homes with their families, the 18-hour load-shedding will hamper such plans. However, there is hope.
The recent announcement by Finance and Economic Development Minister Mthuli Ncube, that “austerity is over”, should cheer up many as the country gears for growth.
Perhaps, next year will mark a return to the good old days.