Coping With Tyranny
If there is one constant in the everchanging sea of Zimbabwe’s turbulent circumstances it is this: the economic wellbeing of ordinary people has been under seige over the last eight years.
With a national economy reeling from record inflation, untamed unemployment, an aneamic currency, and shrinking productivity, people’s ability to excercise economic self determination has all but disappeared. Prices of basic neccesities have rocketed out of range leaving most of Zimbabwe’s working people living under the poverty datum line (PDL).
All that is old news.
It never ceases to amaze me to note that every time I look, people all around are constantly innovating new ways to eke out the increasingly elusive survival. Many Zimbabweans refuse to give up even though they confront the most dire of circumstances with each sunrise. As long as there is school fees, rent, utilities, transport, and many other bills to be paid, people persistantly rise to the challenge, failing only after exerting the most valiant of efforts.
Tofira mutrial, a popular colloquialism which when literally translated means “we’ll die trying” has become the defacto modus operandi on the highways and by ways of our once teeming nation. And, as we Zimbabweans are apt to do when vexed by circumstances that defy the best of our attempts, we’ve coined a slang term to satirizes this new hustle; kukorokoza (the loose equivalent of gold panning).
But perhaps even more impressive that our uncanny ability to poke fun at our existential dilema, is the depth to which people are digging in as they refuse to allow these pressing circumstances to compromise their existence. Of all the resourceful ways people have invented to remain viable, none captures the communal resilience of my people better than the month-end phenomenon of circulating pots of money better known to Zimbos as “rounds.”
Each month end, at a predetermined date, small groups of friends (typically between five to 12 people) pool their monetary resources and give the collective pot of money to one member of the group. So for that one month, that member’s family has up to 12 times their usual disposable income.
Consider this as an example; a group of eight nurses who work together decide to throw $150 into the pot each month. Every eighth month, each of these nurses takes home an extra $1,050. This scheme, is in essence, a revolving fund of sorts or, an interest-free loan to members of the club.
Assuming that this amount is proportional to the price of things, each time a member takes the pot, their family is afforded a financial opportunity they typically would not have been able to experience. In real terms, this means that the family that collects the “round” can make a significant household purchase, save for school fees, or invest the money in an interest bearing tool.
Most of the TV’s in many of Zimbabwe’s households were bought with money from the rounds. As a kid, I have fond memories of that eighth month when my mom collected and was able to splurge. My favorite “round” purchase was a fine china tea set that my mom bought only to reserve its’ use for occasions when she had special company. Of course, of all the visitors we received at our house, and they were many, I can recall only a handful that were important enough to use the tea set.
Nowadays, rounds are being collected monthly to pay essential bills instead of financing out of the norm purchases. The rounds are now a means of survival. Rounds are just one of the many tricks that Zimbos are compelled to rely on in the face of unrelenting difficulty.
I pay homage to rounds not only because of their ability to enable Zimbabweans to prosper materially at a low cost, but because for me, they embody a unique type of capitalism that will one day catapult us to the front of the world’s economic stage.
In a rare marriage of self interest and benovelance, rounds, in their own unique way, represent the ultruistic benefit that can be derived from sheer capitalistic enterprise. In my opinion, this is strictly because of how central the notion of community is to rounds.
A reliable and trustworthy relationship is a prerequisite between any potential members of these clubs. The people have to both trust that they will all pay their monthly dues, and have confidence that each member will earn enough income to pay the dues. Who better to trust for long term reliability than one’s own neighbors and workmates?
This kind of a set up would never work in the western world because western capitalism actualizes opportunities and not the individuals that create those opportunities. In other words, under the west’s permutation of capitalism, people are expendable, but the capitalistic opportunity isn’t.
The idea of rounds subverts this notion because it is the people and their mutual trust and relationships that form the foundational basis that allows for the rounds to occur. In short, unlike today’s popular model of capitalism, rounds are based on the simple truism that people are indispensible to economic enterprise.
Western capitalism makes no pretense to work on the credibility of good relationships; if you want money, you must poney up the collateral.
This way of viewing people as an ends, and not a means, is not new to the traditional Zimbabwean economic paradigm. In antiquity, villages would on planned dates, gather together to plough and plant the fields of widows or orphans.
In return, those families that were helped were expected to turn out and help other families in distress when the opportunity arose. To this very day, my grandmother a widow who does not own any cattle of her own or an ox-drawn plough, relies on this communal exchange each year for the succesful seeding of her land. It has worked without fail.
As historic as they are, rounds are just but one of the many arrows in Zimbo’s survival quivers. To me, they embody the panacea that will unleash our our country and continent’s untapped economic potential.
Zimpundit is a writer and acclaimed blogger based in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. He blogs frequently at Zimpundit.
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