Zimbabweans grow poorer
Harare - Zimbabwean cashier Cosmas Gwizo does not look forward to pay day.
For the 43-year-old earning Z$500 000 a month (about $2 000) the receipt of his salary cheque is a painful rather than joyous occasion.
"Each time I receive my pay cheque I start scratching my head trying to work out how I will manage for the coming month and I find the money will not last me a week," Gwizo told AFP.
"I often forego basics like milk, cut down on things like meat and stay at home if I can't pay bus fare to work. It's painful when you work and yet you can't properly feed and clothe the body that toils."
In its most recent report, the government's Central Statistical Office (CSO) said the poverty threshold for a family of five had risen from $973 800 a month in February to 1.7 million in March as inflation reached 2 200%.
A family with an income below this margin is classified as poor, calculated on the cost of a basic basket of goods and services an average household requires to survive - including foodstuffs, transport and basic healthcare.
Figures from the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) put the poverty line at Z$19 000 in May 2002, when annual inflation was at 113%.
Currently, an estimated 80% of Zimbabwe's 13 million population is classified as poor.
With the country's seven-year economic downspiral showing no signs of relenting, Gwizo is one of many facing a daily struggle to stretch his salary to care for a wife and three children.
"Most people are doing without a lot of things they need. How they are surviving with the little money they are earning is a big question," independent economist John Robertson told AFP.
"We have a very deprived population which is becoming more so as the developments continue."
The monthly salary for an average urban worker ranges between Z$90 000 and Z$500 000. The price of a 10 kilogram packet of the staple maize meal is Z$114 000 and a loaf of bread costs $8 000.
Families resort to skipping meals
Bus fare from the suburbs costs around $7 000 one way.
Most families resort to skipping meals and many walk or cycle up to 30 kilometres (19 miles) to work.
Some supplement their salaries by moonlighting as smalltime traders of clothes or scarce commodities like sugar and cooking oil from under their desks at their workstations - usually selling on credit.
Others double as cross-border traders and street vendors over weekends and holidays.
"I make an additional Z$450 000 a month from selling mobile phone recharge cards to passers-by," says security guard Langton Bhowa.
"That is more than double my salary of Z$200 000 a month and is how I manage to come to work everyday."
'Most workers are overstretched'
For most families milk for their tea, margarine and jam have become luxuries and a square meal is a rare treat.
"Most workers are overstretched and can't meet their dialy requirements let alone invest," Best Doroh, a financial analyst with ZB Financial Holdings, told AFP.
"Wages and salaries are not keeping pace with inflation and ... that is the kind of trend we will continue to see."
The ZCTU said wages were so low that employers could be said to be enjoying slave labour.
"As the economy continues to slide so are disposable incomes," said ZCTU president Lovemore Matombo.
"We can no longer afford to send our children to boarding schools, neither can we afford one decent meal a day.
"Workers are subsidising their employers through finding other sources of income to raise bus fare."
The southern African country's economy has been on the decline since the turn of the century, and four out of five people are unemployed.