Pat is a registered nurse in his early 40’s working at a hospital in Zimbabwe’s northeastern Mount Darwin district. In Zimbabwe’s hyper-infaltionary economy supporting his family has become a distant dream. “It’s not too much to ask is it,” he pondered, as he began to explain how difficult things have been for him in recent months.
“This hasn’t been a good start to the year,” he tells me. In January of this year, Pat struggled to find a place for his daughter to enroll for “form 1” (8th grade). “I really wanted her to go to Bradley Institute (a Salvation Army Mission High School), but when I when to talk to them I didn’t have the money they wanted.” He adds, “I’m a qualified nurse, I should be able to afford a decent education for my kids.”
Dejected, he resorted to sending her to a school he could afford which also meant it isn’t as good. He found place for his daughter at Mavhuradonha high school, a boarding school run by the Evangelical Church. “Anna (his daughter) doesn’t like it there, but what can I do?” If she doesn’t like the school, how can a 13 year old be motivated to succeed?
Last week Pat’s outlook turned even bleaker. Apparently the school invited all parents to come for a “consultation day.” Pat is not sure he wants to attend the consultation day meetings. It’s not because he is disinterested in his daughter’s academic wellbeing that he doesn’t want to go. “I’ve been hearing rumors that they want to double school fees to 40 million and they plan to announce it at the consultation day.” His plan by staying away from the meetings is to avoid confirming what has become inevitable in Zimbabwe’s economy riddled by inflation at 1,000% inflation; ever increasing prices.
Pat knows that if he doesn’t attend the meeting, when the next fee increases come due, he can claim ignorance of the new fees and buy time that way. The school officials will have to exempt him from the new fees, at least for a while, because if parents don’t attend meetings schools have no other way of passing critical information to parents. Zimbabwe’s juvenile mail system has not been spared the effects of the economy and has been riddled by problems, it has become unreliable. The school can’t call parents since not all of them have phones. Besides, the phone bill for that would be too high.
Pat has no idea where the money will come from after he’s finished stalling. “I can’t afford 40 million, I hardly get 20 million each month.” His only option is to find other means to raise a little extra money. For many honest Zimbabweans, that means turning to illicit activities because they want to provide for their family’s.
The cruel irony of Pat’s predicament is cemented by Mugabe’s message to civil servants on their pay stubs; “Live within your means. Do not support corruption.”
For people like Pat, his salary provides no adequate “means” to live by. This is the dilemma they live with each day.