This entry’s theme for the Blogging Abroad Boot Camp Challenge: Money, money, money (aka rand, rand, rand, or what PCVs and their communities need for subsistence in 2016…also cue the Abba)!
The currency of South Africa is the rand (ZAR), short for Witwatersrand, an Afrikaans term meaning “White Waters Ridge.” The Witwatersrand is where Johannesburg and most of South Africa’s former gold deposits. Actually the isiZulu name for Johannesburg is eGoli, “the place of gold” where young men left home to try their luck.
Eish. Money is a touchy subject right now because South Africa is hitting a recession. Right now the 1 South African Rand (ZAR) is worth about $0.06 USD or on the flip side, 1 USD equals over 16 ZAR. The school year started a few weeks ago with news stories reiterating how spending is down on supplies and will sales are not expected to rise soon. As the economic powerhouse of Southern Africa, the monetary changes are impacting other African countries. I have a friend serving as a PCV in Northern Mozambique, and last month during a skype call (where hilariously both of us lost connection 5 times because of our countries’ respective utility Olympics), she made sure to ask me, “What is going on with the Rand?” She was noticing price inflation on basic items like bread.
The people of my community know how to adapt to financial hardships. In both sites, there are high unemployment rates and most of the population are dependent on government grants. Just like the United States, these grants are not meant for subsistence and to generate extra income people come up with creative side businesses. The most memorable business I have encountered was my Aunt X.’s informal food service.
A bit of background: For the first 5 months of my service, I lived in a beautiful and remote valley in the Drakensburg Mountains. While I was there during South Africa’s winter, the area was getting the brunt of South Africa’s drought and food access was difficult. There were tuck shops in most of the 18 communities, but these provided basic non-perishable goods (produce was seldom available). The closest and overpriced grocery store was at the base of the valley (a 12 ZAR trip) in an unsafe intersection. Shopping town 1.0 was an hour away and the sporadic taxi service to South Africa’s grocery store chains was 21 ZAR for a one way trip. When food is a challenge to obtain, you can see how Aunt X. easily made a profit off of her amagwinya.
Amagwinya (the term from Gauteng townships for fat cakes which comes from the Afrikaans Vetkoeks) are fried dough balls, like unsweetened doughnuts with less dense of a texture. They are far from nutritious but these days any homemade carbohydrate serves as my comfort food. Aunt X. made these big and fluffy amagwinya the size of my hands that she would sell for 3 ZAR. I have sampled my share of the delicacy in Southern Africa and nothing comes close to Aunt X.’s quality. Her amagwinya alone made a profit but Aunt X. added more options. She also offered sides of polony slices (pink tinted processed meat, but an invaluable source of cheap protein) for 2 ZAR and mango achaar (an Indian influenced condiment that infuses pickled mango with chile pieces…in other words delicious) for another 1 ZAR. Amagwinya alone are an energy dense meal in the mountains and adding the achaar with polony touches two other nutrition areas.
The community loved Aunt X.’s amagwinya. She is also a caregiver for organization 1.0, and every staff meeting Aunt X. would haul her Pick n Pay cooler filled with fresh amagwinya. I learned to race to the front room with my rand in hand, once I heard the end of the meeting amaZulu hynms. When I was slow, 25 caregivers would purchase Aunt X.’s entire stock within 2 minutes! On pension days when a market formed at the community hall, Aunt X. would provide another batch and sell out within an hour.
While I never learned what made Aunt X.’s amagwinya special, I know the main ingredients are oil, water, flour, sugar, and baking soda. In term of access, the one common problem Aunt X. could run into is if the water was cut off for a few days, as the rest of the ingredients are relatively inexpensive. With the compound structure of households, amaZulu are fans of purchasing in the bulk to feed all the family members (plus friends that visit unannounced and still get food). Most amaZulu women already have large bowls and pots required for the cooking. She would just have to obtain tiny plastics (plastic bags) for each item. Below is a breakdown of ingredient prices (and all ingredients would be used for basic cooking beyond amagwinya creation).
|Price Range in ZAR||
USD as of January 27, 2016
|10 kilogram bag of flour||50-60 ZAR||$3.05-$3.66|
|5 liters of oil||70-80 ZAR||$4.27-$4.88|
|500 grams baking powder||20-30 ZAR||$1.27-$1.82|
|5 kilogram bag of sugar||50-60 ZAR||$3.05-$3.66|
So if you do the math, at minimum if all 30 amagwinya were sold at 3 ZAR, that is 90 ZAR. If she did that 5 times a month, that would be 400 ZAR. For a year 400 ZAR per month would be a total of 4,800 ZAR. As of today (January 27, 2016) that would be over $24.00 ZAR a month or roughly $292.85 in USD annually.
In the best case scenario if every amagwinya sold with all the fixings (polony and achaar) for 6 ZAR, 30 amagwinya would make 180 ZAR. Under the same optimistic circumstances, that would be 900 ZAR a month and the projected annual total would be 10,800 ZAR. In USD that is currently an estimated $55.00 a month or $658.25 per year.
Compare this to the theater concessions business my friend and I ran for a summer (our staples were brownies and chocolate chip madeleines…the later was my pretentious idea). Between splitting our profits and purchasing ingredients, I earned about $200.00 USD for 3months of work. It was right before I moved to college and the money went to dorm supplies. Aunt X. generates more cash to replace her ingredients and fuels demand with a culturally accepted food. I can see how her business would generate enough money for basic groceries, taxi fares, or if she saved a small portion of her profits each month, her sons’ school uniforms.
When I return to graduate school, I may enter the amagwinya with the fixings market stateside for year. $292.00 is substantial textbook money!
Besides, they look gold on the inside just like the currency’s namesake! Amagwinya basically emulate money!