Plastic money pushing business in rural Zimbabwe

In Zimbabwe, just like in most African countries, a marriage could not take place without some form of gift or payment of animals, food or other material goods to the parents and family of the bride.

This practice of paying lobola/roora, which starts the process of marriage, is not only an expression of respect to the parents, but also an undertaking of responsibility to the spouse.

Lobola/roora is also a demonstration of how much the girl is valued by both sides, says Sekuru Tarirai Mahuda (65) from Buhera.

“Roora inzira yekubatanidza mhuri mbiri zviri pamutemo. It is a sign of approval of marriage by the families and it signifies decency, worthiness, as well as appreciation,” he says. “It shows that one is not stolen, but given away under mutual agreement between the two families.”

In most parts of the country, people prefer using cash for almost all lobola transactions and this is so because most Zimbabweans developed a culture of carrying cash.

Conversely, the current cash crisis, which has left a black hole in the country’s financial system, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), is forcing people to flee from using hard cash, but to embrace technology to aid easy of doing business.

Even people in rural areas, largely viewed as laggards by their urban counterparts, are embracing technology, particularly credit and bank debit cards to pay for lobola/roora, tithes, (condolence money) chema and rounds (mukando) – rotating savings and loan associations, widely used by women with lower income as well as buy groceries.

“My daughter was married recently and my son-in-law used plastic money to pay for matekenyandebvu, makandinzwanani, mafukudzadumbu and rusambo. I demanded cash for ndiro, kupinda mumusha and dare,” says Sekuru Mahuda.

“I accepted that because ndozvaveko mazuva ano. People are swiping, as well as using EcoCash to buy groceries here.”

Eunice Manatsa (44) from Gwebi adds that people should stop viewing technology as a great evil that diminishes our humanity, but view it as a problem solving tool.

“In my area, for instance, people are overcoming the fear of unknown and embracing plastic as well as mobile money platforms such as EcoCash, OneWallet and Telecash and this is revolutionising business at a remarkable pace,” she says.

“One major challenge though is that most people in my area, just like others in other parts of the country, are not banked.

Information technology specialist, George Magombeyi, says although rural people have no option, but to adapt to the use of point of sale machines due to chronic cash shortages, the move of using plastic money to pay lobola/roora shows that technology reinforces important cultural practices.

He urges societies, particularly those that are still sceptical about embracing technology for the greater good, to use plastic money, which now constitutes 70 percent of all payments in Zimbabwe, as per figures from the central bank.

“The issue of point of sale machines was alien in rural Zimbabwe, but it came as a measure to arrest cash shortages and it is spreading to most parts of the country,” says Magombeyi.

“Plastic money,” adds economist, Kudzai Manyanga, “is also transforming sectors such as agriculture, mining, health, education as well as business and finance.

“Honestly, it is now easier and faster to transact though swipe and mobile money platforms such as EcoCash, Telecash and OneWallet,” he says. “These platforms have also extended basic financial services like electronic transfers, storage and payments to the mass market, serving a significant percentage of the previously unbanked informal sector.”

The biggest attraction of using plastic and mobile money lies in the convenience, speed, as well as security that it offers to users, say senior lecturers at the Graduate Business School of Entrepreneurship and Business Studies at Chinhoyi University of Technology, Gerald Munyoro and Marvelous Matinde, but “aggressive marketing is required to encourage awareness of such benefits.”

On top of aggressive marketing, development practitioner, Cynthia Chanengeta says the government should improve energy supplies, as well as communications network in the country.

“Not all parts of the country enjoy steady supply of clean, affordable and sustainable energy, as well as telecommunication network connectivity,” she says.

“We, therefore, need to develop systems that can work on solar power and thrive to improve these requirements as they are critical in making the transacting public gain confidence in embracing plastic money.

Chanengeta also urges local banks to expand card infrastructure via agent banking in order to reach a greater number of rural citizens.

“Over 70 percent of the population in Zimbabwe is in the rural areas, but the coverage of point of sale facilities is highly concentrated in Harare, Bulawayo, Mutare and other towns; accordingly, banks and mobile money companies must extend their services to rural areas,” she adds. Dr Keith Guzah, black empowerment guru, believes organisations, especially banking institutions should also come up with avenues to cater for the informal sector and integrate them in the plastic money system because that is where the money is.

He also says banks should assign more resources into research and development sectors to ensure their technology is up to date and does not trouble plastic money users in any way.

Frankly, plastic money is opening up wider opportunities in Zimbabwe and other African countries and should be embraced to revolutionise people’s lives, memories as well as traditions as supported by historian, Arthur Schlesinger.