Cablegate: Zimbabweans' Tale of Downward Mobility
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 HARARE 000244
STATE FOR AF/S AND AF/EX
NSC FOR SENIOR AFRICA DIRECTOR JFRAZER
USDOC FOR 2037 DIEMOND .
PASS USTR ROSA WHITAKER
TREASURY FOR ED BARBER AND C WILKINSON
USAID FOR MARJORIE COPSON
E. 0. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ETRD EFIN ECON APER ZI
SUBJECT: Zimbabweans' Tale of Downward Mobility
Ref: Harare 178
1. Summary: The Embassy's Economic/Commercial section
recently convened a discussion group of 25 lower-grade
national employees to help us assess the impact of
Zimbabwe's economic crisis on ordinary citizens.
Employees described ever-worsening conditions in
transport, health, education, housing and nutrition.
Tragically, the world's fastest declining economy
seems to be making them and their countrymen poorer
each day. End Summary.
2. We restricted the meeting to national employees
grades FSN 6 and lower, aiming to learn how the
downward spiral is affecting average Zimbabweans.
Most earn US$150-400 per month, exceeding the salaries
of counterparts outside the Embassy due to U.S. dollar
indexing. We summarize the main discussion topics
3. As we pointed out (ref), transport between the
high-density suburbs and downtown Harare has become an
ordeal. Some employees spend 2-3 hours commuting each
way. They criticize an increasingly common practice
of van operators extorting high fees from desperate
passengers. Commuter vans raise fares 5-fold when it
rains. Employees are forced to pay one bribe to move
to the head of the line, then a second bribe to board
the van. Sometimes van operators order people to
disembark at the first stop in town or in the suburbs,
so they can pick-up new passengers.
4. Employees who drive now rarely secure fuel at the
heavily-subsidized official price. When a worker buys
fuel from the Embassy warehouse at the international
market price, he spends 6-7 times as much on fuel as
he is accustomed to spend on the local economy.
5. Quality of hospitals is sinking. Many have nearly
no drugs. Meanwhile, doctors, nurses and other health
professionals are emigrating and hence in short
supply. Patients must pay upfront for prescription
medication, then apply to their private insurer for
reimbursement. However, since the insurance company
can take 4 months to process claims, Zimbabwe's high
inflation eats a large chunk of the money they
6. Traditionally high education standards are
similarly eroding. One employee complained that
public school teachers -- who earn US$ 20-30/month --
are so unmotivated that parents must pick up the slack
and educate children in the evening. This was unheard
of just a few years ago. An employee said his kid
receives little attention in a class of 45 pupils,
while another said he knows teachers who must oversee
several grades at the same time. Still another caught
his child's teacher requesting that students bring
supplies from home that were never used in class.
Apparently, the teacher sought to supplement his pay
by unloading the supplies on the black market.
7. School fees are increasing. One employee told of a
5-fold increase since last year. Schools have stopped
supplying stationery and books, which parents can only
obtain on the black market. For example, a bookstore
clerk could not sell an employee her daughter's
required textbook for the controlled price. Instead,
the clerk directed her to a street-corner operator who
demanded triple the GOZ's mandated price.
8. Employees complained that it is impossible to
budget for food -- which swallows most of their income
- since it is on
ly available at widely-fluctuating
black market rates. Many supermarkets engage in the
illegal practice of "conditional selling," whereby
they only offer staples like milk and bread to
customers who pay a bribe or purchase a large amount
9. Like nearly everyone here, employees are struck,
even dumbfounded, by the speed of Zimbabwe's
impoverishment. Although Embassy employees have
gained considerably over their counterparts due to
salary dollarization, many Zimbabweans who owned cars
and took middle-class vacations just 2 years ago
barely able to feed and clothe their families today.
They watch an historically excellent infrastructure
crumble and have little choice but to bribe, cheat and
extort their way to basic services. Some say they
have given up hobbies, since they devote their non-
working hours to commuting and lining up for food,
fuel or other price-controlled items. Worst of all,
perhaps, is that the GOZ's economic policies are
tearing apart society's moral tapestry, forcing
formerly law-abiding firms and individuals into
black market dealings. Without a doubt, Zimbabwe is
becoming a very different place.