These creatures called human beings never cease to amaze me. Today I observed something very interesting about the lengths to which people will go for financial gain.

Due to the early start of the tobacco selling season in Zimbabwe this year, there is a shortage of packaging materials for wrapping the product. The packaging, commonly known by the manufacturer’s name as propaks, consists of khaki paper and sacks. Ordinarily, a roll of khaki paper should cover 60 bails while one huge sack will cover a bail of tobacco. The season normally starts in May but this year, Government made a decision to start in February. I won’t go into what we have been told are the pros and cons of the early start. However, one thing is for sure, farmers were ill-prepared for the early start to the season and so were other service providers, as evidenced by the shortage of propaks and the chaos that ensued, including snaking queues just to off-load the leaf at the auction floors earlier on in the season.

The pressure for the propaks, which are produced by one company, was quite serious and the monopoly had to enlist the support of the riot police first and later the ordinary police to maintain order as people jostled and almost turned riotous while trying to get the precious material. Without the packaging, farmers cannot transport their produce to the auction floors, which means they can not sell so their livelihood is affected and the business grinds to a halt.

As a result of the short supply of the propaks, people have to queue for hours on end for one roll of khaki paper and a maximum of 20 used sacks.

Naturally, where there is inefficiency, some individuals will look for ingenious ways to beat the system. So it was that today, having grown tired of queuing daily for more than four hours to buy the propaks, a certain man decided to use his ingenuity. He figured that since people with disabilities are sometimes exempted from queuing, he could hire a blind “farmer,” whom he would accompany as “a visual aid” and buy the packaging materials without hassles.

The “visual aid,” was immediately followed by another one who figured that since people over the age of 65 don’t usually queue, he might as well hire an elderly man whom he could claim was his frail grandfather and use him to jump the line.

However, what seemed like a good plan almost caused a riot and both tricksters, the visual aid and the grandson, were sent scampering to the back of the queue. Sadly, neither of the two tricksters were farmers. Both men are traders who capitalize on shortages and create a parallel market where they resell scarce products at inflated prices. Given the prevailing situation with the propaks, it is not surprising that a parallel market has sprouted. While on the formal market a roll of khaki paper costs US$135, a brand new sack costs $3.50 and a used one costs $2.40, on the parallel market the khaki paper costs $130 but will cover less than 60 bails and a sack costs $8.

I wonder though, if the dear souls who were willing to rent out their disability and age were paid the full sum, seeing as their services were not fully utilized.

On another note, we discovered that there is a separate queue for women, which is more orderly and moves faster hence all women managed to buy their propaks without difficulty today. I suspect a lot of men will spend this weekend recruiting women “farmers” to buy propaks on their behalf. Let’s see what happens on Monday, I imagine the line of “women farmers” will be longer than that of the “male farmers.”

My only advice is that the women who agree to be exploited should ensure they get paid in full.

Mmmm, isn’t it amazing though, what people will do for the love of money?

By Matilda Moyo
4 June 2010