On Friday 14 November, 1997, my parents had taken my siblings and I for a long weekend to the Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe. We were staying in a cottage high up in the mountains, with almost no contact with the outside world. Instead, you could go for walks through pine forests, swim in trout-stocked dams, and read by the log fire at night. That Friday afternoon, we drove down to Troutbeck Inn for tea and scones (those scones were famous). And we stumbled into the news that the Zimbabwe Dollar had collapsed by 72% against the US dollar that morning. It was the first of many “Where were you?” moments – because that day became known as Zimbabwe’s Black Friday.
That day marked the start of Zimbabwe’s descent into a near perpetual economic crisis. Within a few short months, we would be hiding in our classrooms as the food riots broke out. Fuel shortages were about to become part of daily life. After that would come the farm invasions, and hyperinflation, and then all those other events and struggles that have led us to this point.
And I suspect it is no accident that Zimbabwe’s military non-coup began at about 11pm on 14 November 2017, with the seizing of the national broadcaster. Twenty years on, to the day.
Ten days later, today is also a Black Friday – the day after Thanksgiving, where Americans (and the rest of the world) launch themselves into their shopping for the festive season.
In Zimbabwe, we will have the inauguration of a new president.
In some ways, we are re-writing history and hoping for a new Black Friday. The kind that comes after a Thanksgiving, where people can be joyous and festive. A new season. An African spring.
Winter is not over
On Monday morning, there will still be no money in the banks. Prices will still be high. Life will continue to be hard.
And despite what many say, Zimbabweans are not naive. They have experienced the ugly reality of politics. They know how this works.
Economic change will be slow to arrive, if it comes about at all.
But we will do what we have always done. Everyone will make plans and find solutions, in the expectation that this too shall pass. The Zimbabwean diaspora will continue to send money home to their families. That mix of tenacity, patience and communal generosity is what has allowed Zimbabweans to survive the last 20 years.
The only true difference: last Saturday, Zimbabweans were allowed to have an unbridled say in their future.
We must not allow that freedom to be taken away.
Because it is the one change that Zimbabwe can definitely have on Monday morning.
If we choose to keep it.
Rolling Alpha posts opinions on finance, economics, and sometimes things that are only loosely related. Follow me on Twitter @RollingAlpha, and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/rollingalpha. Also, check out the RA podcast on iTunes: The Story of Money.