Maxwell Matondo (42) had long given up hope of ever owning a personal car, until a suggestion from a friend rekindled that dream.
Today, the married father of three is a proud owner of a 2000 Toyota Corolla valued at $7 500.
Matondo says together with nine other friends, they decided to pool their financial resources and help each other buy a car between January and December 2010. Each member of the group had to contribute $800 monthly.
“It was a very effective scheme which produced the desired results,” Matondo says. “Together with all my close friends, we now own personal vehicles.”
Matondo explains that one of his friends suggested one night during a beer drink to have a “round-table” system and although at that time it seemed ridiculous to most of them, they decided to give it a try. “Surprisingly, it worked,” Matondo exclaims.
For many years, Zimbabweans have used the “round-table” system to maximise value from otherwise meagre financial resources.
The practice, mainly done by women and dating back to the 1990s, has seen men joining the bandwagon in recent years.
Back then, it was predominated by unemployed women who sought ways of making profit from the money they got from their employed husbands at the end of each month.
Susan Machingauta (59) of Chitungwiza recalls what they used to do: “At the end of each month, our husbands would give us money to buy groceries and other essential household goods. My friends and I would then bring together all the money and buy the goods in bulk, which we would then distribute among ourselves.”
She adds that the goods would last even up to two, and sometimes three, months.
Following the dollarisation of the economy, the practice has resurfaced and has seen many family men and women able to stretch otherwise meagre financial resources to cover all their basic needs.
Although most ordinary Zimbabweans earn no more than $300, the poverty datum line, according to the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe (CCZ) is currently pegged at $500.
The cost of living as depicted by CCZ’s low-income urban-earner monthly basket for a family of six increased marginally in the month of May to $504,05 up from $501,79 in the previous month.
A junior police officer who declined to be named says he, together with five friends, has also established a round-table among themselves to “help each other financially”.
Like what happens with most such round tables, he said they have a binding constitution that regulates the operations of the round table.
“This comes in hand should someone defaults as the constitution spells out penalties,” he says. “It also allows for the laying of a criminal charge on the defaulting individual as a last resort.”
Although older women who have been at it for years use it mainly for the purchase of family groceries, younger women and men who have also resorted to the system are thinking big, opting to help each other purchase more solid assets such as vehicles and housing stands.
Some also prefer cash rather than groceries or household goods.
Social commentator Robert Mhishi says the “round-table” system is a proven regime that has over the years allowed people to pool otherwise meagre financial resources and purchase items they would otherwise never have afforded on their own.
“Although this practice seems to have died a natural death at the height of the country’s economic meltdown, characterised by a hyper-inflationary economic environment, it is slowly resurfacing as people increasingly appreciate the value of the US dollar,” he says.
He compares it to what has been happening with banks, which had also put a stop to dishing out loans, but have since resuscitated the practice as the US dollar slowly re-injects life into the economy which had been in a comatose mode for over a decade.
But for most ordinary people, the US dollar remains elusive despite its significant value, and this has contributed to the resuscitation of the round-table system. Making ends meet remains difficult for many as their pay packages fail to stretch from the beginning to the end of each month.
School fees, rentals, food and transport all compete for attention. This has made the round-table system all the more necessary for many as they seek to balance the financial scale.
Low-income earners tend to have significantly lower contributions to their round-table system while big earners like Maxwell Matondo, who have also dashed on the opportunity to maximise their huge earnings, often play around with correspondingly big figures and bigger assets.