Zimbabwe's fears of rising prices are reflected in the toes-for cash hoax

HARARE (Zimbabwe) -- Zimbabweans are struggling to pay for food as they battle rampant inflation.

Zimbabwe's fears of rising prices are reflected in the toes-for cash hoax

HARARE (Zimbabwe) -- Zimbabweans are struggling to pay for food as they battle rampant inflation.

A rumor circulated on the internet that people selling their toes in desperate circumstances was a scam. This false report spread so fast that the country's Deputy Ministry of Information Kindness Paradza visited central Harare street vendors earlier in the month to discredit it.

As Zimbabwe's state media recorded the digital investigation, traders removed their shoes one by one.

Paradza and other fact-checkers around the world declared the toes for money story a hoax. A street vendor was later arrested by police and sentenced to a fine or six months imprisonment on criminal nuisance charges.

However, it is a stark truth that Zimbabweans are having more difficulty making ends meet. According to official statistics, Zimbabwe's inflation rate rose from 66% to over 130% since the beginning of Russia's war against Ukraine. Rising fuel and food costs are a result of the war.

Inflation has been rising all over the globe due to the war in Ukraine. In May, the Euro currency-using countries of the European Union saw a 8.1% increase in consumer prices. This is a record as food and energy costs rise. The U.S. and UK saw annual inflation rise to or close to 40-year records of 8.3% and 9.9% in April. Turkey was close to Zimbabwe's eye-watering inflation, which reached 73.5% in May. This is the highest inflation rate in 24 years.

The impact of the Ukraine conflict is causing serious problems in Zimbabwe's already fragile economy. In May, Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube stated to Parliament that the war, "coupled with our historic domestic imbalances", has caused economic instability. This was evident through currency volatility and spilling over to price volatility.

The Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe tweeted that teachers "cannot afford bread and other basic necessities, this is too much" in June. Because their local currency has been "eroded overnight", the three largest teacher's unions are demanding that the government pays their salaries in dollars.

According to Prosper Chitambara, an economic analyst, "Due to high inflation the local currency is collapsing." Prosper Chitambara said to The Associated Press. "Individuals as well as companies have lost trust in the local currency, which has increased the demand for U.S. Dollars." The Ukraine war is only escalating an already difficult situation."

Many are concerned that Zimbabwe could revert to the 2008 hyperinflation which reached 500 billion% according to the International Monetary Fund. Plastic bags containing 100 trillion Zimbabwe dollars banknotes weren't enough to purchase basic groceries back then.

Robert Mugabe, then President of Zimbabwe, formed a "unity government", with opposition members, and adopted a multi-currency scheme in 2009. In this system, US dollars and South African rands were accepted as legal tender.

The U.S. Dollar continues to be the dominant currency, with local currencies often being compared to rates on the American currency's illegal market. This is where most people and businesses get their foreign currency.

Currency traders are seen all over the country waving dollars and local currency at shoppers.

Many Zimbabweans, including government workers, earn their money in local currency. They are forced to buy dollars illegally on the black market to pay for goods or services in dollars.

Retailers stated that the increasing prices of U.S. Dollars on the illegal market force them to increase their prices frequently, sometimes every few days, in order to replenish stock.

The once-prosperous southern African country's economy is battered by years of de-industrialization, corruption, low investment, low exports and high debt. Zimbabwe is struggling to attract the necessary greenbacks for its heavily dollarized local economy.

Ordinary Zimbabweans are reverting to the same coping strategies they used during hyperinflationary times, such as skipping meals. Some people now purchase food in smaller quantities and sometimes only enough to make one meal. They are called "tsaona" by local Shona speakers, which means "accident".

Ncube, the finance minister, promised better days ahead and said that the government would not hesitate to intervene to cushion price rises and volatility in exchange rates.

Many people are skeptical about such promises from the government. They claim that nothing less than a miracle will save Zimbabwe from its economic crisis. Many people can't help but make grim jokes about the situation, even as they struggle to cope with rising prices.

Asani Sibanda, a Harare resident, said that although all my toes are intact, it would be a good idea to sell one. "It would be impossible for me to walk without it but my family would get food."


Courtney Bonnell, AP journalist, contributed from London.

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