The terrain is slippery. Distress and frustration probably best describe Malawians’ feelings as they struggle to make ends meet in the aftermath of the 44 percent devaluation.
If you cannot imagine the predicament of the majority in the wake of devaluation, picture this:
Almost every commodity has been hiked in the devaluation aftermath without a corresponding rise in people’s income.
Esther Thom, a female guard working for a private security company in Blantyre now feels hopeless.
The single mother of one pockets a mere K35 000 every month, which is already way below the K50 000 minimum wage.
Thom rents a house in Mbayani Township, Blantyre, which is just one big room with an outside shared toilet and bathroom.
Her rent has since been hiked from K7 000 to K10 000 effective December 1 2023.
She said: “Before the devaluation, I was already struggling even though some things seemed cheap. But after the devaluation, the very same things have more than doubled.
“Imagine I have to buy three tomatoes at K2 000, three onions at K1 000 and sugar in our groceries is selling at K2 300. We know that sugar prices are at K2 000 after the devaluation, but these groceries are selling us at their prices. They say they want to make a profit.”
Thom, who visibly seemed frustrated throughout our interview, said it is sad that things in the local markets have also skyrocketed while it is unclear whether her salary would be adjusted upwards.
The weekend after the kwacha was devalued Thom went to Nyambadwe, an uptown suburb close to Mbayani, to look for casual labour also known as piece work or ganyu.
Unfortunately, she did not find any as those she approached said they were equally affected; hence, did not have any money.
Thom said she went back feeling frustrated as it meant the K1 000 on her at the time could not permit her to buy a pack of charcoal, pay for water at a kiosk or even afford tomatoes and vegetables for dinner.
“I bought jolly jus instead and five fritters. I gave three to my daughter and I had two,” she said.
According to Thom, she had to get a K7 000 from a loan shark within her locality so that she could purchase tomatoes, onions, and beans, and pay for two buckets of water from a kiosk at K2 000 each.
Similarly, Gracious Galeta, a mobile money agent who trades at Chichiri in Blantyre, said in an interview on Wednesday that a K50 000 monthly wage he gets from his employer will not sustain him following the devaluation.
A visibly worried Galeta, whom we found at his place of business, said life will be hard for his three-member family considering how prices of necessities such as salt, soap, sugar, tomatoes, onions and body lotion have increased.
This is aside from a hike in minibus fares, electricity tariffs and another impending 44 per cent hike in water tariffs, which is another cause of worry for Galeta, a resident of Ndirande Township.
Said Galeta: “I was already struggling to support my family because the K50 000 was not corresponding with the most basic needs. As such, I was so immersed in debt. Now, I am not sure how I will even survive.”
In the course of our interview, Galeta’s mood changed after staring at his phone for a split second when a text message came through. He said his landlord sent him a notice that his rent had gone up to K35 000 from K25 000, effective month end.
According to Galeta, the house has a single bedroom and a kitchen with an outside toilet and bathroom. But it has electricity. He sleeps in the bedroom while his four-year-old son sleeps in the living room.
This means from the K50 000 salary; he will remain with K15 000 after paying rent. This is even before settling the monthly electricity bill and buying other necessities, including paying for water from kiosks.
Galeta said he would have to find other sources of income to complement his monthly income. He, however, hopes that his employer will consider adjusting his salary to correspond with the devaluation.
The situation between the two mirrors the hardships that millions of other Malawians are facing following the devaluation, especially those earning below the minimum wage.
Victor Saeluzika, a civil servant from Lilongwe’s Area 25, fears he will struggle to pay for the newly adjusted one-way K1 500 transport fare, translating to K3 000 for a single day.
“This means I have to spend between K6 000 and K9 000 in a day just for transport, food and airtime in a day. [From] Which salary?” he said.
Similar worries were also expressed by Mitundu resident James Kanyundo, who said he is finding it difficult to provide for his family barely days after the devaluation.
“I am being forced to cut down on my expenditure not because some of the things are not important, but because I have no choice. This means my family will suffer,” he said.
Eric Nyirenda from Chibavi in Mzuzu in a separate interview also expressed worry that he is struggling afford basics that have skyrocketed following devaluation.
Unfortunately, the devaluation has also compelled some private institutions offering tertiary and secondary education to adjust tuition fees midway through the semester and terms, much to the dissatisfaction of students, parents and guardians.
For instance, Maranatha Academy headteacher Aaron Banda on Monday wrote parents and guardians notifying them that they have to pay an additional 10 percent of the tuition fee which includes boarding.
Wrote Banda: “All parents are, therefore, advised to pay an additional K70 000 for this term. This has been made to match with market prices of services and commodities for students.”
However, a parent who asked not to be identified described the decision as inconsiderate, saying the best could have been to adjust the fees next term.
At the time the kwacha was being devalued, Malawians were already grappling with a continuous rise in the cost of living for close to two years.
Centre for Social Concern project officer Kondwani Hara said in an interview on Tuesday that devaluation of the currency may have both positive and negative effects on Malawians, especially considering other factors such as the economic structure, government policies and global economic conditions.
Hara said the long-term effects of the devaluation will result in increased cost of living, inflationary pressures and that imported goods will become more expensive.
He said: “There is a risk that the devaluation could exacerbate income inequality, as the poor are often more vulnerable to economic shocks and may struggle to cope with rising prices.
“On the positive side, the devaluation may make Malawi’s exports more competitive in international markets, potentially boosting the country’s export sector. This could benefit certain industries and create job opportunities.”
Consumers Association of Malawi executive director John Kapito said the devaluation will result in a continuous rise in the cost of living.