Nqobile Tshili, Chronicle Reporter
THE foreign currency auction system introduced by the Government in June has stabilised prices for the first time in years and is expected to cushion consumers this Christmas.
However, the Covid-19 pandemic and preparations for schools opening during the first week of January is dampening the festive season mood as most people have to monitor their spending.
There was a flurry of activity in the Bulawayo city centre on Monday which appeared to suggest retail outlets would be extremely busy this Christmas.
It was difficult to find parking space and pavements were teeming with people.
However, yesterday, despite almost all shops opening for business, the bustle had fizzled out. Business is expected to pick up today, peaking tomorrow.
Traditionally the festive season is a merry period as members of the public take time from their busy schedules to meet family and friends while enjoying a little bit of carefree spending.
But Covid-19 disrupted life as it is known, forcing the Government to impose a national lockdown at the end of March.
The Covid-19 pandemic induced national lockdown impacted negatively on the socio-economic lives of almost every citizen.
A Bulawayo resident, Mr Maxwell Gumbo said with the hardships that he has experienced this year, he would go out of his way to make a memorable festive season for his family.
“This has been a difficult year filled with gloomy stories and events due to Covid-19. But if we focus on the negatives only, we might forget to celebrate what we have. This is a thanksgiving period, so with the little that we have I think the Christmas period should remind us that we still have a chance to do better.
If we lose hope, we lose ourselves. So, this festive season I say in the midst of hardships I choose to remain hopeful and celebrate life,” said Mr Gumbo.
The news crew observed that a large number of residents queued to collect groceries from an online shopping platform for diasporans, Malaicha.com.
Retailers said they were optimistic of a good shopping season due to the price stability fuelled by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe foreign currency auction system.
Confederation of Zimbabwe Retailers president Mr Denford Mutashu said while previous festive seasons were marred by unjust price hikes, that is highly unlikely this year.
“We do not expect price hikes because of the trend that we have been experiencing in the past three months due to the success of the auction system. We believe that those who would decide to increase prices would be affected by competition,” said Mr Mutashu yesterday.
“In the past few days, we have seen an increased activity and even today most shops are open despite it being a holiday. This is an indication of a consumer who is willing to prepare for a festive season. I believe the consumers are also trying to forget the negative impact of sorrows that were caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.”
However, other residents said with Christmas only two days away, they are caught between enjoying the moment and having a disastrous start of the year when they have so many commitments.
Most of the residents said with schools opening on the 4th of January, it is better for them to prepare for schools opening as opposed to spending during the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.
Ms Beverley Hearst said she would be spending time at home and was not anticipating to be merry mainly due to school fees obligation.
“We have school fees in January. My child’s school sent us a long list of what is expected from us. So, after weighing my options I thought it would be proper to just focus on the school’s requirement as opposed to Christmas. My child is still very young so he does not understand much about Christmas so I don’t think I would have a problem,” said Ms Hearst.
Another resident Mrs Elizabeth Mpofu shared similar sentiments saying while the festive season has been part of the family tradition, the Covid-19 impact and early schools opening makes it hard for her to provide her family with ideal festivities.
“Even the uniforms and school stationery that we want to buy are very expensive. We have very little buying power so we would just focus on the most important things. My children are now mature enough to understand what is happening,” said Mrs Mpofu.
Mr Laiton Kambure who is in the taxi transport business said most people are yet to recover from the effects of Covid-19.
“This year is mainly about sacrifices. A lot of us do not have disposable incomes. A lot of people can’t travel to their rural homes because of Covid-19. They can’t even send groceries to their families in rural areas as their incomes were affected by the pandemic.
Also, the thought that schools are opening in the first week of January complicates the festive season even more. So, I can’t be spending on Christmas and two weeks later fail to pay school fees. Logic doesn’t allow me to do so,” said Mr Kambure.
A Chronicle news crew observed that only a few people were shopping yesterday despite shops being opened during the Unity Day Holiday.
A taxi driver Mr Clifford Sibanda said the festive season is usually his busiest working period but this year only a few people were hiring him.
Consumer Council of Zimbabwe southern region manager Mr Comfort Muchekeza urged consumers to be cautious with their spending especially considering that this year has been hard.
“Our message to consumers is that Christmas is just a day, same applies to New Year. Our celebration should be more confined to celebrating life and that the Lord has allowed us to see the next season. In terms of spending, we must know that what we have been eating and wearing daily remains our focus.
We should just know that there is life after Christmas and New Year’s celebrations,” said Mr Muchekeza.
He said parents and guardians should remember that school fees will be needed when schools reopen in January. — @nqotshili