Changing our individual or family culture is one of the most difficult challenges we face as human beings. But it’s even harder to reform a national culture. We are witnessing this first hand in Zimbabwe, where a survival mentality has crept its way into our economic culture. In survival mode it seems as if anything goes and morality becomes relative.
Corruption amongst Zimbabweans has become so common that it is almost considered acceptable. When a parallel underground money market emerged where people illegally traded foreign currency, precious metals, stones and minerals, food or anything anyone could get their hands on, the rot affected nearly everyone as most trading took place outside of the so called legal sphere. The proper system had decayed to such an extent that food was being sold from the trunks of cars and in traders backyards while the stores were virtually empty. Everyone seemed to accept the new way of doing business. People hoarded whatever they could find, even if they had no need for it at that particular time.
This began to fuel hyper-inflation, leading people to live from hand to mouth, as planning for the future became a futile process. Prices changed daily or hourly and most people were surviving by dealing in currency or trading. Like the proverbial frog who boiled to death in the ever warming water, a whole nation got used to the idea of surviving by any means. Zimbabwe’s currency lost its value and was eventually printing one hundred trillion dollar notes that weren’t even worth the paper they were printed on. The note shown below ($100 billion dollars) couldn’t even purchase a bus ride when the currency had fallen to its lowest levels.
It was common to queue at a bank for several hours of each and every day for money which could not even buy a loaf of bread. This had been unheard of in Zimbabwe but people soon became accustomed to it, it became our culture; it became normal.
Recently there has been a national policy review, the nation has adopted the US dollar as its currency and people are trying to return to a normal economy. Businesses now have to operate with budgets, that reflect real incomes and expenditures, families have to budget their finances according to what they actually earn and resources have to be managed at a personal and national level. Adjusting to this ‘new way’ of living is hard for people, because it means having to change their attitude towards money. To trust the system, trust banks to keep our money, and to believe in the value of money is not easy. Businesses are forced to account for their activities using conventional means, which is foreign to most. Overcoming the fear of ‘not having enough’ and believing that there will be food in the shops tomorrow is challenging. It’s not easy to get rid of a “lack” and “corruption” culture. In some areas of our society the corruption is so deeply rooted that it may take generations for it to be eradicated.
If the people of Zimbabwe have learned anything, they understand; it’s easier to start a culture than to stop one. Corruption came to Zimbabwe almost effortlessly, but today, stopping the culture of corruption that has sprung up will require great effort on the part of everyone, because to some extent it has become part of life for all Zimbabweans. Once corruption and fear take root in society, it will take a fearless and brave generation to reverse the misfortunes of a culture of corruption.