Mugged by social media | The Herald

Some of the shoppers who panicked and rushed to stock up on basic commodities fearing the return of the 2008 hyperinflation era as had been announced by mischief makers on social media last Friday

Joram Nyathi Spectrum
Many hundreds of ordinary Zimbabweans, a majority of them decent people, ordinary citizens with no political ambition whatever, must be licking their wounds now.

It’s partially through no fault of theirs. They are victims of technology, victims of some scheming political mind, but also victims of a crowd instinct which easy access to social media has fostered among Zimbabweans, especially the urban lot whom we are told are more discerning and smarter than their rural counterparts.

Last Friday must have begun like any other day for the hustling lot. Their major concern is to make a living. Economic conditions are tough. So, someone sat down, thought up some mischief whose impact will be felt bitterly by a number of these ordinary folk. The mischief maker sent out a message of impending doom. Whoever first got it decided they would not die alone or feast alone. By the end of the day the message had spread like the proverbial veld fire. Especially through so-called WhatsApp groups.

This is what the doomsday statement claimed in part; “In the next 3 to 5 days things may get very bad. Stock up any food or other basic commodities you may need. The inflation rate has gone up to 50 percent (,) it means the prices of stuff will be doubling at least once per day . . . Most shops may no longer be taking swipe transactions . . . brace yourself for tough times.” (We know better.)

Without pretending to be any cleverer, I described the statement as “Satanism” the moment someone posted it on our group. I have grown used to what is called “fake news” on social media, so there is a big chance that if the day to go to heaven were to be announced through social media, I might be left behind.

The proliferation of swanky Pentecostal “prophets” with their miracles has a lot to do with this growing cynicism. But thousands of people still flock to the shrines and holy places for miracle deliverance, miracle money and miracle babies. That is how the message about this impending economic doom and financial meltdown must have found so many eager listeners, ready believers. It was time to “stock up” to beat the doubling inflation rate.

Mainstream media, which should show restraint and sensible reporting, was stoking up the frenzy by the weekend. What they had been praying for, hoping for, warning of, predicting and forecasting, had finally come to pass. The Bond note had collapsed, 2007-8 was back with a crashing force.

Gotcha! You couldn’t miss the celebratory hysteria, the heady gusto. The herd instinct and greed took over in the high density suburbs. All rationality went out of the window. There was a rampage and scramble to beat everybody to get basics, not only for on consumption most likely, but to be able to sell later to those who couldn’t get anything. People emptied their savings to go and empty the shops. It was a mad rush.

Unscrupulous retailers anticipated the madding crowd by doubling if not tripling the prices of the basics. It was godsend of a windfall. Cooking oil which ordinarily sold for around $3 went to more than $8 in some shops. Motorists responded by filling up drums with fuel, thus causing a run down on the commodity at most fuel service stations, turning into a reality a hoax manufactured and abetted by social media.

Mainstream media lent the hoax a patina of credibility and faster legs to run on. Thus queues became inevitable given the disruptive nature of over-purchase which suppliers of fuel couldn’t have anticipated. There was bound to be a time lag before restocking. Zimbabweans were mugged by the media and the biggest beneficiaries were unscrupulous retailers while shoppers were the biggest losers.

Many of those who purchased basics at inflated prices hoping to make a killing later don’t know who to sell them to, for a profit. The shops haven’t been emptied. Instead the retailers whipped up prices are savouring their inflated balances from a miracle windfall precipitated by fake news. Meanwhile mainstream media are looking for justifications for their 2007 “crisis” and “doom” prophesies which haven’t materialized.

But we saw it coming. The war began with open resistance to the introduction of the Bond note. The easy, preferred option being “adoption” of the South African Rand. Industry has not help the situation by its ambivalence and prevarication when it comes to the need for a local currency, always setting conditions which they can’t create. This has fed into the now all too familiar “lack of confidence” in the Bond note and the “hoarding” of US dollars.

So the Bond notes were supposed to suffer a stillbirth. They can’t be seen to be holding their own as another November approaches. They must be murdered by the media if the market can’t do it fast enough. So when Reserve Bank governor John Mangudya announced recently that more Bond Notes were in fact coming, that he wasn’t resigning for “failure to end cash crisis”, the media noise to discredit the Bond Notes went a notch up, starting with justifications for an illegal three-tier pricing of goods.

Even though the Bond Note is not a floating currency, collapsing rates of exchange against the US dollar became a daily occurrence. The illegal black market became the most reliable measure of the currency’s health, never mind that illegal currency dealers have not stopped their nefarious activities since before the collapse of the Zimbabwe dollar. They have remained there, playing havoc on the South African Rand until it nearly lost its appeal. Conveniently, it’s now being resurrected to save us from the Bond Note!

Zimbabweans were being primed for a currency catastrophe. Many gingerly awaited this Armageddon, which arrived in the form of a social media hoax which should have been dismissed with the contempt it deserved.

Instead it found in Zimbabweans a population inadvertently eager to cause maximum damage to itself in aid of forces seeking to harvest political capital in next year’s elections: a protest vote. There is a temptation to laugh at those citizens who got their fingers burnt in the shopping stampede, until one realises that the supposed gulf between the gullibility of the rural folk and the savvy urbanites is often exaggerated when it comes to discerning political scheming.

Otherwise it would not be necessary for Government to intervene to tell people they are being taken for a ride. People would be able to tell that while indeed we face huge economic challenges, there are also political games being played on us. Then we would be able to resist the deliberate killing of our currency through unwarranted prices increases. Instead, it’s urban shoppers at the forefront of justifying the daily rip off in the name of foreign currency shortages, even for peanut butter made in Murehwa or tomatoes from Domboshawa!

And is it a coincidence or collusion between the media and retailers that it is Government being attacked for speaking out against the price madness, but there is sinister silence about gluttonous retailers themselves and the criminal abuse of social media to create economic mayhem in the country?

Are people being mugged by the media?

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