Castrated! The word evokes shame, disgust, barbarism and brutality. But for the past five months, I have literally been castrated by Zimbabwe’s central bank governor, Gideon Gono. He did not do it physically. He did it mentally by robbing me of my manhood.
I am a father of four. I have a respectable, full-time job. People even call me Mr. I work between eight and 16 hours a day. But I cannot even feed my family.
Sometimes I am not even able to buy a loaf of bread. There are trillions of dollars in my bank account but I cannot access the money. It is losing value everyday, sometimes by as much as half, because Gono will not allow me to withdraw my hard-earned salary when I need it.
I consider myself very fortunate because I have travelled the world. I have been to the United States three times, to the United Kingdom twice, to Australia, Germany, Singapore, Canada, Mexico and almost all the neighbouring countries to Zimbabwe.
I had therefore vowed that I would never leave Zimbabwe despite the worsening economic situation because I felt that despite the problems, home was still best. I am now having second thoughts. I was so humiliated this Christmas when the maximum amount I was allowed to withdraw— $10 billion— was only enough to buy four loaves.
I only bought two because the bank teller told me that I would not be able to withdraw any more money until January, yet there was more than $10 trillion locked up in my account.
I cursed myself because the two loaves were all that I could buy my family for Christmas. This had robbed me of the little dignity that I had left. I started asking myself, what kind of husband was I? What kind of father was I? How could I still call myself a man when I could not feed my family?
Only a week before $10 billion could have bought 20 loaves but I had not been able to access any money. The bank insisted that I was only allowed to withdraw my December salary, not my November salary and the bonus, which even at the black-market rate translated to a handsome US$4000. I could have bought a good used car with that but I was only being allowed to withdraw a maximum of US$4.
What hurt me most was that from my office window I can see money-changers, popularly known as osipatheleni (after their greeting: “What do you have for us?”), day in and day out, with “bricks” of money running into trillions.
How do they get so much money, in Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe wrapping, when all I am allowed is a measly $10 billion a month after 22 days of hard work?
This reminded me of what a colleague had once told me, that Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe, a former teacher who had gone all out to promote education at independence resulting in the country having the second highest literacy rate in Africa after Tunisia, was now destroying that base.
The manufacturing base was gone. Agriculture had been destroyed. Mining was collapsing. There was no incentive for anyone to work because unemployed, uneducated, unskilled people were making money out of nothing at the expense of those in full-time employment, the educated and the skilled.
What was more devastating was the impact at home. I was so demoralised because most of the time I went home with nothing yet I was tired after a full day’s work. It was so humiliating to tell my child that she may not be able to get her school results because I could not pay her fees. The school would not accept a cheque and I could not access my salary to buy the foreign currency that the school demanded, though it hid behind the façade of asking for fuel coupons.
I had always scoffed at reports that Zimbabwe had the unhappiest people on earth. Now I knew this was true. I was so unhappy that even my sexual appetite had dried up.
Looking at the misery around me, I found it difficult to accept the argument that has been used for decades to defend President Mugabe. It has been argued that he is a good, caring leader. The only problem is that he is being misled by his greedy lieutenants.
I didn’t buy this anymore. Surely, he had ordinary working relatives like me! They were going through the same experience I was going through. Or was this not the case?
If that was the case, how could he be so cruel to his own fellow citizens? Maybe I was just fooling myself. Whatever the case, now I understand why my former colleague and boss, Geoff Nyarota serialised George Orwell’s Animal Farm in the Daily News before it was banned.