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A Woman Named Fortunate Doesn't See Good Fortune Ahead In Zimbabwe

Fortunate Nyakupinda earns a living by selling secondhand clothes from the back of her car.
Ofeibea Quist-Arcton
Fortunate Nyakupinda earns a living by selling secondhand clothes from the back of her car.

Fortunate Nyakupinda has parked her hatchback by the side of the busy main road leading to the industrial area in Harare — where she sells used clothing for men from the trunk and the back seat.

In June last year, Fortunate Nyakupinda was smiling and friendly, laughing out loud — and said she was doing steady business. This time round, she's still smiling and friendly. But the 31-year-old is now expecting her third child, having some health issues and says grappling with Zimbabwe's collapsing economy is taking its toll.

Business selling second hand men's jeans, pants, shorts and shirts, jackets and belts isn't so good this year.

"Hey, here things are difficult in Zimbabwe. We have got a big challenge. There is no money. Yes. There is no money. Yes. Things are not well," Nyakupinda says.

She says that a year ago she was able to earn $100 a day selling the clothes. Now, she's earning about $30 a day.

"My business is very low these days," she says.

And she and her husband will soon have an extra mouth to feed.

"You can see, our mothers, they have plenty, plenty, plenty of kids," she says. "But in those days the life was easier for them. But to us, the life is very hard these days."

When asked who she blames for Zimbabwe's economic woes — her reply is diplomatic. Nyakupinda says she doesn't want to discuss recent anti-government protests or calls for veteran President Robert Mugabe, 92, to go.

"Ah, I don't want to talk too much on that one. I don't want to talk politics. Yes. I don't like politics .... I don't want to talk about politics, but I want a good change in Zimbabwe, that's all," she laughs.

She didn't join the protests, she says, because she was working. Nyakupinda is more expansive about her main concern — and the hot topic of discussion among all Zimbabweans: the introduction of new bond notes. The Reserve Bank says they will have parity with the U.S. dollar — planned for the end of the month or early November.

Seven years ago, Zimbabwe abandoned its currency and relied mainly on the dollar in an effort to tame hyperinflation. But the dollar now is in short supply and Zimbabweans are afraid of a return to hyperinflation, harking back to the worthless billion and trillion dollar notes of their defunct currency.

There's been a run on the banks — long lines form outside banks and ATMs as people desperately try to withdraw their U.S. dollars.

"People are scared. Some of them, they lose their money. They are scared to put their money in the bank. They think that, maybe, if they put their money in the bank, if they introduce those bond notes, the U.S. dollars will be gone. So people are scared. They're keeping their dollars in the house. The U.S. dollars," she says.

Nyakupinda says she, too, will keep her money at home.

She buys bales of used clothing for more than $250 each from neighboring Mozambique, so she needs greenbacks for her purchases.

"You are not able to go outside the country with bond notes," she explains. "So I need U.S. dollars. In Mozambique, I use U.S. dollars. And in South Africa, where I get the clothes from. In Mozambique, they don't like bond notes. They only like U.S. dollars, so we have a big challenge on that one."

She says it's all about survival. Last year she could manage with $25 dollars a day for her family's needs. Now she needs a lot more daily, but is earning less.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is an award-winning broadcaster from Ghana and is NPR's Africa Correspondent. She describes herself as a "jobbing journalist"—who's often on the hoof, reporting from somewhere.