The focus of this article is to make it crystal clear that civil servants’ salaries are literally crippling their livelihoods. For instance, looking at teachers, the lowest paid is getting $414 bond and they have been calling for an increment of that to $1733 bond. Ironically, government proposed a salary increment of a paltry 10 %. For the purpose of putting my point into perspective I have decided to just use an average civil servant salary of $500 bond. For one to cater for their livelihood, they must be able to cater for rentals (all house-related expenses), groceries, transport, insurance policies (medical, funeral etc), school fees, communication etc. The stark reality for civil servants now is that one can’t fully cater for all those areas.
With effect from midnight on 12 January, new fuel prices were officially announced by the President of the Republic of Zimbabwe, Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa. Diesel, formerly $1.38 now costs $3.11 per litre whilst petrol, formerly $1.43 now costs $3.31 per litre (note these are bond prices). Interestingly, in his statement he pointed out that government still insists on the 1:1 parity between the US dollar & the bond. That’s why it’s quite funny that for foreign missions, bodies & tourists he announced the cost of diesel to be $1.24 for diesel & $1.32 for petrol. The black market has, premised on this & in total disregard of the fallacy of the 1:1 parity predicated US$1 against $3.50 bond (it’s varying from $3.30 to $3.50).
So I took some time to just do a snap survey of pricing of groceries currently. I used Spar Supermarket prices as my basis to evaluate how much it would cost to buy a decent hamper of groceries. I was looking at someone buying just the most basic goods such as meat, bread, mealie meal, toiletries, tea, milk, sugar, salt, rice, cooking oil, cosmetics, cereals, toothpaste, etc, (excluding some other day-to-day consumables one can purchase from produce markets or vendors). I compiled a list of all those basic goods and did a summation of the total price. I discovered that to get a decent selection of groceries for 2 people you would need $377 bond per month (excluding other relatively smaller sundry purchases from time to time). Thus, approximately for 2 people, $400 bond would, to a greater extent, suffice for decent groceries in a month.
So for transport, there are basically two main means, either driving oneself or commuting. Though due to the prevailing fuel shortages, commuting might be more convenient. Let me just look at a simple example for driving oneself, suppose you have a diesel car with a fuel tank capacity of 65 litres. Getting a full tank (and only using the car for going to and fro work) could take you through a significant duration of the month; the full tank would cost you roughly $202 bond. For commuting, kombi fares are being priced differently across different routes and also according to the time of the day (off-peak or peak hours). Upon survey, the kombi fares are ranging from $2.50 to even $5 in some cases for a single trip (here I’m referring to intra-urban routes like for instance within Harare). So allocating $5 for a trip would be expedient as this will cushion you in any scenario. That will translate to around $200 per month for your kombi fares to commute to & fro work.
On rentals I’m going to be a bit conservative because the prices are so variably priced by location, town, house condition etc. However, according to a property listing firm in Harare, the average cost of renting one room in Harare is now $220 bond. A significant portion of civil servants are people with spouses & children, implying that one room won’t be enough. In principle, this means for a civil servant to rent out a decent place they would need at least $200 bond.
School Fees (Tuition, Uniforms, Consumables etc)
Again, this is a broad and vast domain characterized by various pricing regimes from day care centres to tertiary institutions. The prevalent situation is that school fees have doubled, tripled or quadrupled, meaning a school that was charging $200 bond per term now charges at least $400 bond per term. There were even some instances were a school blazer that used to cost $50 shot up to anything between $250 & $500. Don’t forget that most of the day scholars have to commute to school (that’s another expense).
It’s crystal clear from my projections above that a civil servant can’t live off their salary in a sustainable way. Suppose you cater for your groceries, rentals & transport, according to my submissions earlier that would be approximately $800 bond. You haven’t even catered for children’s school fees, electricity, insurance policies, communication (airtime), clothing etc. My adoption of a $500 civil servant salary estimate doesn’t cater for all civil servants; many earn below that. They receive the salaries mostly in RTGS form & then, for instance, kombis & other businesses insist on cash, meaning one would have to acquire cash at exchange rates that entail more loss through transaction charges.
The fact that government has given a clear distinction between RTGS & FCA, has given rise to a situation where transacting electronically is more expensive.
The truth must be given safe passage & be accorded its rightful recognition – the civil servants salaries have turned civil servants into de-facto volunteer workers; what they are earning is so low that it can’t cater for even their basic needs.