A Woman Named Fortunate Doesn't See Good Fortune Ahead In Zimbabwe

Oct 20, 2016

Fortunate Nyakupinda has parked her hatchback by the side of the busy main road leading to the industrial area in Harare — where she sells used clothing for men from the trunk and the back seat.

In June last year, Fortunate Nyakupinda was smiling and friendly, laughing out loud — and said she was doing steady business. This time round, she's still smiling and friendly. But the 31-year-old is now expecting her third child, having some health issues and says grappling with Zimbabwe's collapsing economy is taking its toll.

Business selling second hand men's jeans, pants, shorts and shirts, jackets and belts isn't so good this year.

"Hey, here things are difficult in Zimbabwe. We have got a big challenge. There is no money. Yes. There is no money. Yes. Things are not well," Nyakupinda says.

She says that a year ago she was able to earn $100 a day selling the clothes. Now, she's earning about $30 a day.

"My business is very low these days," she says.

And she and her husband will soon have an extra mouth to feed.

"You can see, our mothers, they have plenty, plenty, plenty of kids," she says. "But in those days the life was easier for them. But to us, the life is very hard these days."

When asked who she blames for Zimbabwe's economic woes — her reply is diplomatic. Nyakupinda says she doesn't want to discuss recent anti-government protests or calls for veteran President Robert Mugabe, 92, to go.

"Ah, I don't want to talk too much on that one. I don't want to talk politics. Yes. I don't like politics .... I don't want to talk about politics, but I want a good change in Zimbabwe, that's all," she laughs.

She didn't join the protests, she says, because she was working. Nyakupinda is more expansive about her main concern — and the hot topic of discussion among all Zimbabweans: the introduction of new bond notes. The Reserve Bank says they will have parity with the U.S. dollar — planned for the end of the month or early November.

Seven years ago, Zimbabwe abandoned its currency and relied mainly on the dollar in an effort to tame hyperinflation. But the dollar now is in short supply and Zimbabweans are afraid of a return to hyperinflation, harking back to the worthless billion and trillion dollar notes of their defunct currency.

There's been a run on the banks — long lines form outside banks and ATMs as people desperately try to withdraw their U.S. dollars.

"People are scared. Some of them, they lose their money. They are scared to put their money in the bank. They think that, maybe, if they put their money in the bank, if they introduce those bond notes, the U.S. dollars will be gone. So people are scared. They're keeping their dollars in the house. The U.S. dollars," she says.

Nyakupinda says she, too, will keep her money at home.

She buys bales of used clothing for more than $250 each from neighboring Mozambique, so she needs greenbacks for her purchases.

"You are not able to go outside the country with bond notes," she explains. "So I need U.S. dollars. In Mozambique, I use U.S. dollars. And in South Africa, where I get the clothes from. In Mozambique, they don't like bond notes. They only like U.S. dollars, so we have a big challenge on that one."

She says it's all about survival. Last year she could manage with $25 dollars a day for her family's needs. Now she needs a lot more daily, but is earning less.

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

We're going to check in on a woman we first met over a year ago. She sells used clothes in Zimbabwe. That's how she pays rent and school fees and buys food. Since then, though, the economy in Zimbabwe has gotten much worse. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton has returned to Harare to see how she's doing.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Thirty-two is the waist.

FORTUNATE NYAKUPINDA: Thirty-two is the waist, and 34 is the length.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: Fortunate Nyakupinda has parked her hatchback by the side of the busy main road leading to the industrial area in Harare. That's where she sells used clothing for men from the back of her car.

NYAKUPINDA: Can give you a discount.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Yeah, you know...

NYAKUPINDA: (Laughter) Yes. This one - yeah - he's going to give me money. I want money from you.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: I'll give you some.

NYAKUPINDA: (Laughter) Yes, I want money from you.

QUIST-ARCTON: When we first met just over a year ago, Fortunate Nyakupinda said she was doing steady business. This time round, she's still smiling, and she's still friendly, but the 31-year-old is expecting her third child. She's having some health issues and says grappling with Zimbabwe's collapsing economy is taking its toll.

NYAKUPINDA: There's no money. Things are not well. And last time, it was better. We were able to sell - maybe a day - hundred dollars. Now can sell $30 per day, so things are very difficult.

QUIST-ARCTON: And, says Nyakupinda, she and her husband will soon have an extra mouth to feed.

NYAKUPINDA: Yes, I'm pregnant. This one - this baby is third one.

QUIST-ARCTON: But if the economy is tough, how do you square that?

NYAKUPINDA: You can see our mothers - they have plenty, plenty, plenty of kids. But those days - the life was easier for them, but to us, the life is very hard these days.

QUIST-ARCTON: When I asked Fortune Nyakupinda who she blames for Zimbabwe's economic woes, her reply is diplomatic. She doesn't want to discuss recent anti-government protests or calls for veteran President Robert Mugabe to go at age 92.

NYAKUPINDA: People - they want this government to change. They want things to change. I told you that I don't want to talk politics. I don't talk about politics, but I want a change - a good change in Zimbabwe. That's all.

QUIST-ARCTON: Nyakupinda is more expansive about her main concern. That's the introduction of new bond notes, which the Reserve Bank says will have parity with the U.S. dollar. Seven years ago, Zimbabwe abandoned its own currency and relied on mainly the dollar in an effort to tame hyperinflation, but the dollar now is in very short supply. And Zimbabweans are afraid of a return to hyperinflation and several billion dollars they used to pay for a tray of eggs.

NYAKUPINDA: We are scared again of those trillions, billions, so people - they are scared to put their money in the bank. They thought maybe if you put your money in the bank, when they introduce those bond notes, all the U.S. dollars will be gone. So people - they are keeping their money in the house.

QUIST-ARCTON: And then Fortunate Nyakupinda turns to serve a customer.

NYAKUPINDA: I'll give you a discount of dollar.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: For each trousers.

NYAKUPINDA: For each trousers - so you are going to pay two trousers, isn't it?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Yeah, two trousers.

NYAKUPINDA: Eighteen dollars.

QUIST-ARCTON: So you've done a little business.

NYAKUPINDA: Yes, aye (ph). He is giving me money. Thank you (laughter). Well, let me give you your change.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Thank you so much.

QUIST-ARCTON: Nyakupindu buys bales of used clothing for more than $250 each from neighboring Mozambique, so she needs greenback's for her purchases.

NYAKUPINDA: In Mozambique, they don't like bond notes. They only like U.S. dollars. told us, so we have big challenges on that one.

QUIST-ARCTON: She says it's all about survival. Last year, she could manage with $25 a day for her family's needs. Now she needs a lot more each day, but she's earning less.

NYAKUPINDA: We are trying by all means to look for food, to take care of our kids. We are working very hard. And, you know, Zimbabweans - we Zimbabweans - we work very hard.

QUIST-ARCTON: And then it's back to work for Fortunate Nyakupinda, selling the neatly folded clothes in her trunk and charming the customers. Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Harare. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.