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      The other face of the Zimbabwean crisis: The black market and dealers during Zimbabwe's decade of economic meltdown, 2000–2008

      a , *
      Review of African Political Economy
      Review of African Political Economy

            Main article text


            The main argument in this paper is that, despite the grim political and economic outlook that left negative social ramifications for Zimbabweans during the decade of crisis (2000–2008), it should be borne in mind that there are some dealers who benefited materially from Zimbabwe's corrupt and criminal ‘black market’. This angle of the crisis is largely missing from the bulk of the Zimbabwean literature that has been published on the crisis, which mostly focuses on the hardships Zimbabweans experienced as a consequence of the political instability and a precarious economy. The paper also contends that Bourdieu's concepts of the habitus and the field are enlightening in explaining the modus operandi of some of the dealers, notably during the peak of the crisis in 2008.

            As Zimbabwe's economic crisis deepened in the 2000s and the formal sector shrank, the informal economy burgeoned and sustained many livelihoods (Chagonda 2011, 2012). The significance of the informal economy is in stark contrast to what the informal economy was like at the advent of independence in 1980. Then, the informal economy in Zimbabwe was relatively small, accounting for less than 10% of the labour force (Mhone 1992). The largely speculative nature of Zimbabwe's informal economy during the period of hyperinflation was a dominant feature. The informal economy, also known as the black market, was very lucrative because of the shortages of foreign currency and most basic commodities in Zimbabwe. As a result, there was a thriving black market in foreign currency dealing, fuel and basic goods like mealie-meal, sugar, cooking oil and soap, brought by cross-border traders into Zimbabwe from neighbouring countries such as South Africa and Botswana. A speculative informal economy will in most cases thrive in hyperinflationary situations, because it provides an opportunity for people to hoard goods and resell them later at inflated prices rather than keeping money which loses value. In this case, speculative activities assist people to hedge against the devastating effects of hyperinflation (Hanke 2008). The black market also thrived in countries that faced hyperinflation in the past such as Germany during the Weimar Republic (1920–1923), Argentina (1988–1989) and Yugoslavia (1992–1994), as most goods became available in the informal economy (Dornbusch et al. 1990; Petrovic, Bogetic, and Vugosevic 1998; Carmen 2002).

            This paper is based on a larger doctoral study conducted in Harare in 2008 and early 2009 to ascertain the different responses of workers in formal employment and dealers in the informal economy to Zimbabwe's hyperinflation and the political crisis. A total of 18 dealers were interviewed and their activities on the black market ranged from foreign currency deals that included ‘burning money’, to trading in scarce commodities and dealing in diamonds from the Marange diamond fields. The observation method was also used in the study and it proved to be quite insightful in seeing directly how members of the urban working class and others who had left formal employment for the informal sector were earning their livelihoods. Through my observations, I was able to see activities such as foreign currency dealing and commodity trading in the informal sector in places such as Mbare's Mupedzanhamo market, Roadport (which was commonly referred to as the ‘World Bank’ because the monetary deals that took place there were deemed to sustain the whole of Zimbabwe) and Copacabana near the Central Business District of Harare, where the foreign currency dealers operated. The spectacle of seeing the foreign currency dealers really left a lasting impression, as each time I visited Roadport it would be a hive of activity, as forex (foreign exchange) dealers would move around, oblivious of the presence of the police, who also used to maintain a sizeable presence at the bus terminus. In return for the bribe the police required, the forex dealers with bundles of money and others with parked cars with trunk-loads of money were given the liberty to make ‘fortunes’. I also observed the conspicuous consumption patterns that were also very evident as some of the dealers moved around in fancy vehicles with personalised number plates while others were constructing double-storey houses in Harare's suburbs such as New Marlborough and Westlea.

            Studies on Zimbabwe's informal economy during the crisis years

            A number of studies were conducted on Zimbabwe's informal economy during the 2000s and most of them focus mostly on the survival strategies employed by informal sector workers to stem the effects of the crisis. Studies by Ndlela (2006) and Muzvidziwa (2005) focused on Zimbabwean female cross-border traders. Moyo (2009), Jones (2010) and Tamukamoyo (2010) conducted doctoral studies on the urban poor and informal traders in Zimbabwe during the decade of crisis. Moyo (2009) investigates and analyses livelihood strategies employed by the urban poor in an endeavour to bridge household food gaps under conditions of food insecurity and macro-economic meltdown. He investigates the effectiveness, viability and sustainability of livelihood strategies, the role and capacity of the state in addressing the food crisis, as well as state policies, laws and the ‘politics of the stomach’, and whether or not they have been a constraint on people's livelihood strategies. Moyo focuses on the urban poor in Bulawayo and the majority of his subjects are unemployed people. Jones’ (2010) study seeks to understand the effects of hyperinflation and economic decline on young men in Chitungwiza, a working-class township just outside Harare. Jones examines the development of a new logic of everyday economic action and argues that the kukiya-kiya economy – in local parlance, kukiya-kiya refers to multiple forms of ‘making do’ that are sometimes illegal1 – replaced the ‘real’ economy after 2000. For Jones, people participated in the kukiya-kiya economy as an individual survival strategy. Jones contends that the kukiya-kiya activities in Zimbabwe's informal sector during the peak of the crisis had far-reaching repercussions on the ethics and morality of the Zimbabwean people in general, as the culture of surviving through means that were not straight appeared to have taken root in the country. Tamukamoyo (2010) focuses on the nature of informal economic activities among urban traders in Harare, Zimbabwe. His point of reference was on the precarious lives of informal traders who were dealing in clothes and shoes, DVDs, arts and crafts, and second-hand books and operating from a particular flea market in Harare.

            However, unlike the aforementioned studies on informal traders who struggled to survive and barely stayed afloat during the crisis, this study focuses on dealers who thrived and made a ‘killing’ on the Zimbabwean black market through foreign currency deals that included ‘burning money’, commodity trading and diamond dealing.

            Foreign currency dealing

            Foreign currency dealing was one of the ways through which some dealers were able to benefit financially from the Zimbabwean crisis. Foreign currency shortages became acute in Zimbabwe in the early 2000s, largely as a result of sanctions that were placed on the country by the Bretton Woods Institutions and the Western countries. The non-performance of key sectors of the Zimbabwean economy such as agriculture, manufacturing and tourism also contributed to the foreign currency crunch faced by the country (Hanke 2008). Foreign currency dealers emerged in huge numbers to fill in the void of providing foreign currency which the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe and most banks were struggling to do. Foreign currency dealers at the Roadport bus terminus, Ximex Mall and Copacabana taxi-rank would buy and resell foreign currency to members of the public at a profit and this wreaked havoc on the precarious Zimbabwean dollar, which kept plummeting in its value against the world's major currencies until it was finally shelved in April 2009. Foreign currency remittances2 from Zimbabweans in the diaspora meant that forex dealers always had access to foreign currency, as people who received foreign currency from relatives or friends outside the country would sell their forex to the dealers who almost always offered more lucrative exchange rates as compared to the banks. One such foreign currency dealer whom I interviewed and who appeared to be doing quite well in this foreign currency trade was Alexander Muchirahondo.3 Alexander (popularly known as Alex amongst forex traders at Harare's Roadport bus terminus), who once worked for Olivine Industries as a book-keeper, said that he was retrenched by the company in 2003 and decided to engage in forex dealing as a means of survival. Alex narrated:

            When I was retrenched, I had to come up with a plan for survival and I decided to join other forex dealers who were buying and selling forex at Roadport bus terminus. I used part of my retrenchment package to buy forex worth US$1500, and that is how I began dealing in late 2003. I can tell you that from buying and selling forex, I was able to change my life in no time. I have many customers who buy forex from me who include some of the banks and even the Reserve Bank. After two years of forex dealing, I was able to import a good second-hand Mercedes from Singapore and I also managed to buy a housing stand in New Marlborough and I am busy building a double-storey house there. After I complete constructing my new house in New Marlborough, I shall leave Chitungwiza where I am currently staying.

            As Zimbabwe's foreign currency crisis persisted and worsened in the 2000s, the Reserve Bank began to actively participate in the country's forex black market by printing huge quantities of Zimbabwean dollar notes which it would give to its agents, known as runners, who would buy foreign currency on the black market with the printed money and surrender it to the Reserve Bank for a commission (Chagonda 2011). The reckless printing of Zimbabwean dollar notes by the Reserve Bank stoked the fires of hyperinflation, which officially peaked at 231 million per cent in July 2008 (Central Statistical Office 2008). However, one of the world's leading experts on inflation, Hanke, argues that Zimbabwe's hyperinflation peaked at a stupendous 89.7 sextillion4 per cent in October 2008 (Hanke 2008). I interviewed James Pinduka,5 one of the Reserve Bank's forex runners, who revealed:

            I have been buying foreign currency for the Reserve Bank on the black market since 2006. I get bags of Zimbabwean dollars from the Reserve Bank and I use that money to purchase forex which I will surrender to the Reserve Bank for a commission of 10% to 15%. This is big business because I deal with huge amounts of cash … As you can see, I have been able to buy myself this Camry vehicle and I also invest some of the money I make on the stock exchange. I regularly buy shares in companies such as Econet and PPC Cement. At least by investing some of my money in well-performing stocks, this might help me financially in the future as no one knows when these deals might come to an end. This will obviously not last forever, but for now I will try to make as much money as I can.

            As James’ interview reveals, some of the dealers had the sense to invest in ventures which they envisaged would cushion them in the future, such as Zimbabwe's well-performing stock exchange during the crisis, in the event their deals went awry. The Zimbabwe Stock Exchange (ZSE) performed very well during the period of the crisis, as individuals and companies chose to trade on the bourse's best-performing shares as opposed to saving money, which was being eroded rapidly by hyperinflation. The excellent performance of the ZSE defied basic economic reasoning, causing Koning (2008) to accuse some stock market commentators and analysts of making simplistic linkages between the stock market and a country's Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Stock market analysts normally inform the public that any event that stimulates GDP growth drives stock prices up, and any event that hurts GDP growth pushes stocks down (Koning 2008). The economic malaise that occurred in Zimbabwe, however, completely contradicted that logic. Koning (2008) argues that the ZSE was the best-performing stock exchange in Africa during 2007 and 2008, with the key Zimbabwe industrials index going up by 595% over a period of 12 months in 2007.

            Some of the foreign currency dealers were also involved in the ‘burning of money’ financial transactions. This ‘burning of money’ was a form of bank transfers done through a banking system known as Real Time Gross Settlement (RTGS). Under these RTGS transactions, if a person gave US dollars to the bank and requested that the money be transferred into their accounts as Zimbabwean dollars, that individual would get Zimbabwean dollars that were many times higher than the prevailing exchange rates. The trillions and quadrillions of Zimbabwean dollars which some of these dealers obtained through the ‘burning of money’ facilitated the possibility of other economic activities. For instance, some of the forex dealers interviewed revealed that the ‘burning of money’ was assisting them to fly with Air Zimbabwe for almost nothing to countries such as China and the United Arab Emirates (Dubai) to buy electronic goods and clothing items which they would resell in Zimbabwe. The dealers would ‘burn’ a few US dollars and then pay for their airfares with the quadrillions or quintillions of Zimbabwean dollars obtained in the RTGS transactions. In reality, the national airline was making huge losses as became evident when the Zimbabwean economy was dollarised. Elizabeth Mhlanga (interviewed on 5 June 2008), who was a forex dealer and had opened a clothing boutique at Sam Levy's village in Borrowdale, Harare, narrated how the ‘burning of money’ was benefiting her:

            My boutique at Sam Levy's village is doing very well but this is because I am able to buy quality clothes from Dubai and China which I resell at very profitable prices. I go once a month to one of these two countries with Air Zimbabwe. The airfares are very affordable to me as I ‘burn’ a few US dollars with the bank and then pay my airfare into Air Zimbabwe's account in the form of Zimbabwean dollars.

            Commodity traders

            Basic commodities such as mealie-meal, rice, sugar, cooking oil and soap were scarce in Zimbabwe during the decade of crisis and this led to widespread cross-border trading activities which saw a number of Zimbabweans going to neighbouring countries such as South Africa and Botswana to buy goods which they would resell at a profit in Zimbabwe (Muzvidziwa 2005; Ndlela 2006). In an endeavour to ease the shortage of basic commodities, the government of Zimbabwe through the Reserve Bank made a decision to establish what were known as people's shops. People's shops were introduced by Gideon Gono, the governor of Zimbabwe's Reserve Bank, in June 2008 (The Worker, August 2008 ). These shops sold basic commodities at cheap prices. Commodities such as cooking oil, sugar, soap and mealie-meal were known as Basic Commodities Supply Side Intervention (BACOSSI). Lonika Msengezi,6 who was involved in commodity trading during the peak of the Zimbabwean crisis in 2008, excitedly confided:

            I am making a lot of money from buying and selling milk, rice and cooking oil. I have a good connection at one of the people's shops who tips me when new supplies come. I am able to buy stocks of milk and cooking oil in large quantities at very low prices and so when I resell these products, I am making huge profits because I charge what I like because of the shortages of almost everything in the shops … I have been able to raise a lot of money from dealing in goods that are in short supply that I am planning on spoiling myself with a lavish wedding sometime early next year.

            However, there were reports that most of these BACOSSI products were looted by well-connected traders and top ZANU (PF) officials who would resell these commodities at higher prices on the black market (The Zimbabwean, 21 November 2008 ). Michael Sango,7 one of the commodity traders, opened up to me:

            These days I am into BACOSSI trading and I am making a ‘killing’ because I am now supplying supermarkets in Braeside, Waterfalls and Greencroft with all sorts of goods that I am hoarding from the people's shops at very low prices … It is not easy though to just get goods like sugar, rice and cooking oil from these people's shops. You need to be well connected. I am fortunate to have a brother of mine who works at the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe who has access to these BACOSSI products. He delivers the products to me and all I have to do is to look for customers and then we split the profits.

            Michael's exposé reveals how Zimbabwe's black market was fraught with a lot of corrupt and even criminal activities during the crisis years.

            Dealing in diamonds

            In the mid 2000s, a diamond rush fever gripped Zimbabweans as reports surfaced that huge diamond deposits had been discovered in the Marange area in Zimbabwe's eastern province of Manicaland. The diamond craze also attracted Hararian dwellers such as Dumisani Hove,8 one of my dealer respondents, as a number of people went to dig for the alluvial diamonds that were near the surface, while others obtained diamonds from Marange residents in return for bartering basic food commodities that were in short supply such as rice and cooking oil. Dumisani, a 26-year-old man, had once been a panel-beater at Delta Corporation from 2002 to 2004, but was now a diamond dealer. Dumisani shared some of his experiences in diamond dealing:

            I have been getting diamonds from Marange since 2006. Initially, I used to dig for the diamonds just like everyone else. However, I am now obtaining diamonds from other diamond diggers to whom I give rice, sugar or cooking oil. I have since stopped digging for the diamonds in the diamond fields because there are now a lot of soldiers who are patrolling the fields and they will shoot you dead if they see you in these fields. Diamond dealing is a deadly game, a lot of people have been killed and I always move around with large sums of US dollars which I will use to bribe the police or the army guys, just in case I am found in possession of diamonds.

            Diamond dealing during the crisis years was so lucrative that Dumisani revealed that he was prepared even to dice with death while on his diamond forays to Marange because this trade had allowed him to buy two cars and a housing stand in Westlea, Harare.

            Simon Gwenzi,9 who was a diamond trader, revealed that diamond dealing was so rewarding that he had quit practising medicine which was not remunerating him well enough:

            The money that I am getting from trading in diamonds is big bucks which people in the medical profession can only dream of. Just one trip to Marange is enough to make money that would take me years to make as a doctor.

            Zimbabwe's ‘dealer moment’ was, however, a short-lived phase in the history of the country, as the dollarisation of the Zimbabwean economy, which is discussed in the next section, abruptly brought many dealer activities to a halt.

            Dollarisation and the decline of dealer activities

            The dealers’ bubble was burst when the Zimbabwean economy started to dollarise. The widespread dollarisation of the Zimbabwean economy from September 2008 by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe in response to the weakness and volatility of the Zimbabwean dollar and official dollarisation, which saw the Zimbabwean dollar being shelved by the Government of National Unity in April 2009, had devastating effects on the livelihoods of many forex dealers, fuel dealers, cellphone airtime dealers and RTGS speculators who were still ‘burning money’. Bloch (2009) argues that the approval of the widespread use of foreign currency by the Zimbabwean government effectively ‘killed’ the beleaguered Zimbabwean dollar and forex dealers’ markets. Follow-up interviews in early 2009 with forex ‘barons’ such as Alex and James revealed that the forex dealing business was one of the earliest casualties of the devastating effects of dollarisation, as forex dealers saw business disappear overnight when the Zimbabwean dollar was rejected for currencies like the US dollar and the rand, and when the government approved the use of foreign currency in designated shops that would have applied to sell their products in foreign currency. This saw the termination of the use of the Zimbabwean dollar, because even those shops and traders that did not have licences or permission from the Central Bank to charge in forex began to do so, thereby rendering the Zimbabwean dollar unwanted legal tender. The Zimbabwe Independent of 13 February 2009 aptly summed up the demise of the forex black market:

            A few months ago, fast-talking dealers swarmed a downtown intersection that serves as a long-distance bus depot called Roadport also known as the ‘World Bank’. They waved handfuls and bagfuls of cash at this Roadport terminus, the Holiday Inn Hotel, Eastgate shopping mall, Ximex mall and Copacabana bus terminus. Now those places are quiet, no shops accept Zimbabwean dollars anymore and most dealers are now broke like most other people.

            Some resourceful dealers like Alex were still in the forex business, doing cross-rates between the US dollar and the South African rand, even though this was not as rewarding as conducting forex exchanges with the Zimbabwean dollar, which was extremely fragile. Alex10 also remarked that the dollarisation of the Zimbabwean economy had wiped out his forex dealing overnight and he reflected:

            My lucrative source of survival has been destroyed and I now have to find another alternative source in order to put food on the table. I have not decided on what to do next, but in the meantime, I am hoarding and selling cellphone recharge cards, but the profits I am making are miserly as compared to forex dealing. There are also too many recharge cards hawkers and this just makes it more difficult. I am also dealing now in forex cross-rates at Roadport … What I do is I exchange the rands that I will be having for US dollars with people who will be boarding buses to South Africa. A lot of people who will be going to South Africa for shopping in some cases will not be having the South African rand, but the US dollars, so for them to transact easily in South Africa, they exchange their US dollars for the rands which we will be having. The current official exchange rate between the US dollar and the rand hovers around 1:10, but when I am exchanging the rands for the US dollars, I use a rate of 1:8, so that I can get some profit from my rands. So in other words, I inflate the value of the rand and that is how I make profit from this cross-rate system. After engaging in these transactions, I then go to shops and change all the US dollars I would have obtained into rands, and I repeat the cycle again. This is not as lucrative as the forex dealing we were doing, but at least I get something.

            p>The suspension of the RTGS system (‘burning money’) of transacting proved to be a blow to all the forex dealers interviewed. To the dismay of many forex dealers and speculators, the RTGS system was suspended by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe on 3 October 2008, owing to the fact that a lot of speculators were making fast money overnight and becoming instant trillionaires and quadrillionaires in Zimbabwean dollars, thereby stoking hyperinflation. Too much liquidity was being created on the market that was disconnected from production and the sale of goods. Tafara Zamchiya, a forex dealer, commented, ‘Well, this is only a temporary setback because definitely we were spinning a lot of money using the “R Tigo” system [‘R Tigo’ was street lingo for the RTGS system]. We shall find a way of continuing with the speculative activities, otherwise how do you think we will survive?'

            The dollarisation of the economy, and the removal of price controls by the National Incomes and Pricing Controls Commission in September 2008, saw the fuel service stations suddenly awash with petrol and diesel because they could now openly charge fuel in forex without fears that the government would prosecute them. This development saw the fuel traders, who would sell fuel in the streets or bushes away from the glare of the police, go out of business, as most consumers opted to buy fuel from the fuel stations where one was guaranteed bona fide fuel which had not been mixed with water or paraffin, as some of these fuel dealers were notorious for doing. Fuel dealers were also hurt by competition in the latter part of 2008 from workers who were now increasingly being paid in the form of fuel coupons, which they could dispose of on the market at a price of their liking. Consequently, the influx of fuel coupons on the market and the fuel in the service stations put the fuel black market into jeopardy.

            Just as for the forex dealers, diamond dealers’ activities were largely brought to a bloody end in October 2008 when the Zimbabwe military used brute force to clear the diamond fields, and this included even killing some of the fortune-seekers (The Zimbabwean, 17 October 2008 ). Thus, the sealing-off of the Marange diamond fields had the effect of cutting off a very lucrative source of earning a livelihood for the daring who were prepared to go and mine diamonds at the heavily protected fields. The Zimbabwean government decided to send the military to seal off the diamond fields in October 2008 on the pretext that the diamonds should be mined properly, with the revenue derived from these diamonds going to state coffers, so that the government could then use this money for the benefit of the whole nation. In addition, the government also sought to prosecute some of the people who had benefited from diamond trading. The Zimbabwean newspaper of 6 March 2009 reported that the Zimbabwean government had confiscated over 100 luxurious vehicles from people who were mostly engaged in forex and diamond deals in early March 2009 under an operation codenamed Mari wakaiwana kupi? (Where did you get your money from?). In a follow-up interview with a visibly subdued and worried Simon on 18 April 2009, he lamented:

            The diamond deals that have been sustaining me and my family very comfortably for the past three years are now a thing of the past. I am worried about my family's survival. I am contemplating rejoining the medical profession. The only problem is that I have been out of the field for a very long time and I have forgotten a lot of things. These are really worrying times for me.

            Simon's revelation highlights the anxieties which gripped some of the dealers when most dealing activities faced a demise in 2009. Rejoining formal employment appeared to be the only way out in the light of a dollarised economy and the disappearance of hyperinflation.

            Hyperinflationary experiences elsewhere

            There is a precedence to Zimbabwe's experiences with hyperinflation and this is succinctly captured by the experiences of Germany and Yugoslavia. The Weimar Republic in Germany (1920–1923) and Yugoslavia (1992–1994) went through spells of hyperinflation. These countries also witnessed a corrupt and criminal black market emerging as people sought to survive the erosion of their incomes which was being caused by hyperinflation (Dornbusch et al. 1990; Petrovic, Bogetic, and Vugosevic 1998; Carmen 2002).

            As hyperinflation increased in Germany, people began to invest in goods such as houses, antiques, jewellery and even minor items like soap and hairpins (deCarbonnel 2009). Petty thieving also became a common way of coping. Copper pipes and brass armatures were stolen and fuel was siphoned from other people's cars. People also bought items which they did not necessarily require and bartered them for goods which they needed. The moral standards of Berlin plunged, as prostitutes of both sexes filled and roamed the streets. Thus, different types of responses to the crisis were witnessed as the Germans grappled with hyperinflation.

            Petrovic, Bogetic, and Vugosevic (1998) contend that during Yugoslavia's economic recession, people developed coping mechanisms that included relying on remittances from relatives living abroad, savings and, in particular, the black market. It is Petrovic, Bogetic, and Vugosevic's conviction that although Yugoslavia's black market enabled many people to survive, it was dogged by rampant corruption and criminality. The black market system diverted tax revenues, scared away foreign investment and turned almost everybody into a small-time hustler (Petrovic, Bogetic, and Vugosevic 1998).

            The German and Yugoslav cases reveal the devastating effects of hyperinflation which include many social ills, which Henry Hazlitt (2002, 18) concisely proposes as ‘ … malinvestment, waste, a wanton redistribution of wealth and income, the growth of speculation and gambling, immorality and corruption’.

            The utility of Bourdieu's concepts of the habitus and the field in explaining the survivalist nature of dealers in Zimbabwe

            Pierre Bourdieu's (1990) concepts of the habitus and the field are enlightening in explaining the manner in which dealers manoeuvred and negotiated their way in Zimbabwe's unforgiving and treacherous economic terrain in the 2000s. Bourdieu (1990) defines habitus as the mental or cognitive structures through which people deal with the social world. He further elaborates that people are endowed with a series of internalised schemes through which they perceive, understand, appreciate and evaluate the social world. Through such schemes, agents both produce their practices and perceive and evaluate them. In the Zimbabwean context, dealers as agents had to develop a habitus that contained elements of extra-legality in order to gain an edge over other agents in Zimbabwe's precarious and heavily contested economic field. Thus, through practices of dealing in foreign currency, scarce commodities, fuel and precious gems, dealers as agents were creating a collective habitus of criminality which, however, gave them an advantage over other actors. Through practices that involved extra-legality on the black market, dealers were able to reshape the social world to some extent as the culture of hustling, corruption and making a quick buck became pervasive amongst many Zimbabweans.

            The field, which is defined by Bourdieu (1990) as an arena of struggle and battle, can be viewed in the Zimbabwean context as the economic environment which was heavily dominated by the black market which had been spawned by hyperinflation. The position or success of the agents (dealers) in Zimbabwe's black market economy was determined largely by the economic and social capital they wielded. Success on the black market was therefore not only determined by possessing the courage to engage in illegal activities but also by economic capital, which meant having economic resources such as access to foreign currency in order to participate in the black market activities. Social capital was also critical as it enabled some of the dealers to acquire an advantage over other actors as a consequence of having social relations that ensured access to deals or even the evasion of arrest. One can therefore label some of the Zimbabwean dealers who made fortunes as agents who possessed a habitus which reflected a knack for survival in the murky waters of Zimbabwe's black market. These dealers were comparable to Bourdieu's tacticians who manoeuvre for advantage in a world that has other tacticians as they possessed that sharp eye for a deal at any given opportunity.

            However, one can also discern that the era of dollarisation in Zimbabwe, which ‘killed off’ the black market and its illegal activities, created a sense of hysteresis for some of the dealers. Bourdieu (1990) defines hysteresis as a condition that results from having a habitus that is not appropriate for the situation in which one lives. That is the reason why some of the respondents who were interviewed in this study went back to formal employment because the habitus which they had developed during the years of hyperinflation was now no longer compatible with a period of economic stability and the absence of hyperinflation.


            Zimbabwe's ‘dealer moment’ in the 2000s was a fleeting moment but a profound one that managed to change some people's fortunes for the better. This ‘dealer moment’ as argued in this paper proved that the Zimbabwean crisis did not only bring doom and gloom to Zimbabweans, but it also created opportunities for those with the requisite social and economic capital and also courage to make a ‘quick buck’ through all sorts of nefarious activities that were availed by the black market. This other face of the Zimbabwean crisis was, however, brought to an abrupt halt by the dollarisation of the Zimbabwean economy, which managed to wipe away hyperinflation and the black market it had spawned. The Zimbabwean crisis proved that hyperinflation will always provide a fertile ground for all sorts of corrupt and criminal activities that will in most cases compromise the moral scruples of a society. Weimar Germany and Yugoslavia's flirtations with hyperinflation during different periods in the twentieth century also expose the damning evidence of vices that excessive inflation will always breed.

            Finally, Bourdieu's concepts of the habitus and the field are quite useful in unpacking the agency that was displayed by some Zimbabweans as they devised different mechanisms of survival in Zimbabwe's troubled and treacherous economic environment that was marked by high levels of inflation in the 2000s.

            Disclosure statement

            No potential conflict of interest was reported by the author.

            Note on contributor

            Tapiwa Chagonda is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Sociology at the University of Johannesburg. He has published on the dollarisation of Zimbabwe's economy and also on the responses of the working class to Zimbabwe's hyperinflation. His current research focuses on knowledge transgressivity.



            Kukiya-kiya has also been referred to colloquially as kujingirisa by people taking part in

            informal sector activities.


            One major study on the extent of foreign currency remittances to Zimbabwe during the decade of crisis was conducted by Lionel Cliffe in Yorkshire, England in 2009. The study, which involved 400 Zimbabweans residing in Yorkshire, revealed that on average, each Zimbabwean migrant remitted around £300 per month to relatives and friends in Zimbabwe (Cliffe 2009).


            Alexander Muchirahondo was interviewed on 3 March 2008.


            A sextillion has 21 zeros.


            James Pinduka was interviewed on 16 March 2008.


            Lonika Msengezi was interviewed on 2 August 2008.


            Michael Sango was interviewed on 4 August 2008.


            Dumisani Hove was interviewed on 12 April 2008.


            Simon Gwenzi was interviewed on 25 March 2008.


            Alex Muchirahondo was interviewed for a second time on 29 April 2009.


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            Author and article information

            Review of African Political Economy
            Review of African Political Economy
            March 2016
            : 43
            : 147
            : 131-141
            [ a ] Department of Sociology, University of Johannesburg , Johannesburg, South Africa
            Author notes

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            Page count
            Figures: 0, Tables: 0, Equations: 0, References: 24, Pages: 11

            Sociology,Economic development,Political science,Labor & Demographic economics,Political economics,Africa


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