Zimbabwe’s worst economic crisis in a decade: Street vendors sell contraband

They come out after dark all over Zimbabwe, when the local police have gone home for the evening, because selling things on the street is the only way to make a living.

Their wares are perched on scraggly bits of cardboard or displayed in the boots of battered-looking cars.

Vegetables sourced from local gardens sit alongside sugar smuggled in from Mozambique and washing powder secreted from South Africa.

Everyone is open about the contraband on sale. If you really want sugar in your coffee then you have to buy it here because you will no longer find sugar on the shelves of the local supermarket.

However, the shortages have become so acute that even the street-sellers have run out of things like bread and fuel.

As the business of the nation retreats to the shadows, Zimbabwe’s new president, Emmerson Mnangagwa is charged with preventing the economy’s collapse.

The leader inherited rampant inflation, food shortages and crippling government debt after deposing autocrat Robert Mugabe last year. But a recent election – designed to instil some legitimacy in his administration – has not resulted in stability.

Instead, Zimbabwe’s economy is heading for an implosion as the government struggles to pay its bills and its domestic “pretend” currencies (the “bond” note, bank cards and electronic “eco-cash”) plummet in value. Real money – like the US dollar – is impossible to source.

What is more, the owners of big businesses and retail shops are shutting their doors as the money they charge for goods becomes worthless. The people who run KFC have shut all their restaurants.

President Mnangagwa has turned to a former lecturer from the London School of Economics to tackle the country’s economic meltdown. His name is Mthuli Ncube and you can read more about him here.

But many doubt whether this mild-mannered academic will be able to make the sort of tough decisions (think massive layoffs in the civil service and the ending of unaffordable agricultural subsidies) that have to be made to instil confidence.

:: Sky Views: Can Mthuli Ncube save Zimbabwe?

One thing Mr Ncube cannot rely on is the country’s once profitable agricultural sector to solve his – and the country’s – problems.

Ex-dictator Mr Mugabe trashed the most productive sector of Zimbabwe’s economy when he authorised land invasions of white-owned farms in the early 2000’s.

There are plenty of people still trying to work the land but it will take decades of investment – and good governance – to rebuild the sector.

In the meantime, the residents of Harare and Bulawayo and dozens of other communities will hawk whatever they can get their hands on – but this is no way for the 16 million citizens of a long-suffering nation to live.