[By Michael B Munyimba]
I have finally decided that I am going to laminate and frame the biggest denomination we have in Zambia, the K100 note.
What else can I do because it seems I, just like most citizens, can’t use it anywhere since everywhere, no matter what you decide to buy from it, they will tell you that they don’t have change. Yesterday I sauntered into a reasonably big shop in town, anticipating to buy bread and a packet of fresh milk. The way the shop keeper scrutinised both me and the ‘big’ note in my hand, as though I was doing money laundering.
You know, when someone stares at you with a bewildered face, like the person is shocked to see so much money in one’s hand. I was even scared she was going to call the cops when I left her shop, thinking she would also ask them to trail me to see if there were more notes of that size where that one came from. So, I kept looking over my shoulders with unknown fright. And that was not the only shop I had patronised, yet the response was always the same, tilibe change’ (we do not have change). And this is in Lusaka my friend! What more in Shangombo or Kabwe my hometown? Don’t even dare produce such anywhere around, you may be taken in for questioning by ba C5. You can’t just walk in a bar and order a Mosi with such a denomination pa Broken Hill (Kabwe), people who don’t know may think you are honourable Tutwa Ngulube, or Chitalu Chilufya who has come to negotiate the price of the bar itself.
Now, first of all, my question is, did this issue of ‘no change’ everywhere start after the debasing of the Kwacha or what? Several countries have debased too, Mozambique and Ghana are some. It reminds me of the first time I visited Maputo in Mozambique. I was in the company of a friend of mine from there who had invited me over for a weekend. So, I carried a R5,000 in my pocket, which is more like K5,000 pa Zed, but I didn’t tell my friend. By the way, this friend I’m talking about is not just an ordinary lad from the street, I mean a diplomat, first secretary working for the Embassy of Mozambique in Swaziland.
So, I mean someone who has seen money in his time. After the logistics at the border, we sped off to Maputo town, a magnificent, lovely place, especially the ocean view where you now see that mixed breed of Portuguese and Shangans, young ladies and guys barely dressed, yayayaya! If you think you have seen good ‘clothed’ people on earth, perhaps you should see these without clothing. That’s when you will start enquiring about the possibilities of ‘dual citizenship’. Kekekeke.
Anyway, once we got into town, I asked my companion to take me to some bureau de change so that I could convert my R5,000 into their local currency. So, I filled in the required small form with the help of my friend who became both my translator and interpreter when talking to anyone there. It was after handing in the form that the young lady at the bureau counter saw the amount I had put there that I saw her smile fading and her beautiful mouth changing into a thin black line, her eyes invoked by sudden anger. She turned to my friend and spoke to him in a harsh rapid tone in their language, all the while pointing at the small form I had filled and the R5,000 I was holding in my hand. That’s when my friend looked at the form again, and the money I had put there. He said, “My friend, you can’t change that kind of money here, it’s way too much. The young lady is asking if you came here to buy an aeroplane or a truck.”
I was perturbed, R5,000? That’s money I drunk in a day back in the days in Swaziland each time I had a small quarrel with my wife, what were these crazy people saying, I thought silently. The young lady continued yapping; I became worried she was going to develop BP, so I again asked what she was saying. And my friend said that she was asking that supposing it was possible to give me such huge quantities of money in their currency, did I have a truck in which to load it? She went on to remind me that this was just a bureau de change, not Swiss Bank or Bank of England, and that here in their country I could end up being charged with not just trying to launder money, but with ‘treason’ too.
Wow! What a world! Anyway, I changed just a bit of Rands, bought a few things, took a few beers and did one or two bad things before we started driving back to Swaziland the following morning. I had refused to go sleep at my friend’s family house but opted for some hotel. Don’t ask me why because I can’t remember… kekeke! I actually loved Maputo, very nice and jovial people. I really enjoyed…well, except for one or two things I didn’t necessarily like.
On our way back, there was this big old bus coming in our opposite direction. It was so full it seemed the same number of people who were seated was the same number of those that were standing. Then it had the same quantity of others who stood or sat on the shoulders or heads of those that were already standing. Another group was on the roof of the bus, while others were clinging tightly on to the bumper behind the bus while it sped viciously in zig-zag to its 500 kilometre destination. God, have mercy on us in Africa!
I got so disturbed by the scene, so I asked my friend to pull over by the roadside where some ladies and young guys and girls sold some foodstuffs. I just needed to have some fresh air and clear my mind, and perhaps buy something to eat just to deter my mind from remembering what I saw. I decided to buy two boiled eggs and a can of coke from some young teenage boy. But upon feeling the temperature of the caned drink, it was so warm it was like it was kept in the oven, I just opted to go for the two boiled eggs. Then jumped into the car, and as we were starting off on our journey, I took out one egg, hit it by the door handle in my attempt to break and peel it, only to be surprised it couldn’t break. I tried again, and again, but it was so hard and cold like a stone.
So, I asked my friend to enquire from the boy when the eggs were boiled. The young man quickly muttered something in response. Then suddenly, my friend burst into laughter and looked at me as we pulled out. Then he said, “the boy says the mother boiled them eight days ago.” I opened my window, looked at the boy behind, then showed him my middle finger. He simply smiled and reciprocated the same way. That’s how we left Maputo. I spent three weeks in therapy trying to recover from that trauma. Kekekeke…tisekako chabe, oke vinachitika. But naikako chabe tu spice mbichana, kekeke.
Coming back to the issue at hand, can someone look into this issue of ‘change kulibe’ here in Zambia! What is causing that? Is the K100 or K50 too big for us to handle? Should that be the case? The Bank of Zambia should reduce its bulky circulation and instead increase the circulation of smaller notes on the streets. Even small countries like Swaziland have bigger notes like the 200 denomination and don’t have this problem of change such that even their babies in diapers at small outlets can break that and give you change from it. Why should we have such a disparity? Pa last, we shall all just start laminating and framing them mu lounge for visitors to think we are rich.
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