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It Is Bond Belief

How much is a piece of paper worth? Zimbabwe is trying to find out in the worst of times.

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It is a hot, windy summer’s day in Road Port, Harare. A Coca-Cola can blows merrily down the street. The can has freedom many others here envy. This place is seized by an oppressive gloom. It is filled by a crowd of people pushing, shoving, shouting, buying and selling. There is dirty water flowing down the street and litter fills the potholes. Yet, this grubby place is seeing more trade than Zimbabwe’s biggest banks. Here, the black market is king and the new bond notes are pawns that can be sacrificed.

“The bond notes came recently and we are business people so we have already seen an opportunity to make a bit of money. We don’t see bond notes as having any sort of value, if you have 100 bond notes, I will give you US$70,” says Tapiwa Makoni, an informal money trader.

The Reserve Bank may say bond notes are 1:1 to the US dollar; the free market says no.

“People are already getting desperate for US dollars, especially when they are traveling out of the country. They are happy to get any real currency from us at whatever rate,” he says.

It all began in May, when the Reserve Bank Governor, John Mangudya, announced the bond note. Mangudya argued the notes would ease the cash crisis that saw the US dollar become scarce. It was going to come in gradually.

“The Reserve Bank has established a US$200 million foreign exchange and export incentive facility which is supported by the African Export-Import Bank to provide cushion on the high demand for foreign exchange and to provide an incentive facility of 5 percent on all foreign exchange receipts, including tobacco and gold sale proceeds,” says Mangudya.

The bond notes don’t seem to be helping much; as they too are restricted. The withdrawal limit of bond notes is $50 per day and a $150 per week.

Despite the introduction of the bond notes – that were touted by authorities as a solution to the liquidity crisis – there seems to be little improvement.

“There is a shortage of bond notes and there seems to be less US dollars on the streets. We used to get US$100 a day, but now my bank gave me only US$50 and 25 bond notes. The money is not enough because I need cash for my buying and selling business,” says a Harare trader who refused to be named.

Neville Mandimika, Africa Strategist at Rand Merchant Bank, says the bond notes are non-convertible.

“It is by decree that it is 1:1. The problem we are facing now is that because of the misunderstanding, fear and mistrust currently circulating in the economy, the US dollar is beginning to trade against itself because actual cash is more valuable than money in the bank because of the cash shortages. So [1:1] is of theoretical value but on the street, the market is saying otherwise,” says Mandimika.

According to Mandimika, the panic and kneejerk reaction has seen people holding on to their US dollars and moving it out of the country, which mitigates against the cash crisis being eased.

“That’s why the campaign by the authorities has been to reassure the market that this is not a fully-fledged return of the Zimbabwe dollar… The bond notes will spur inflation but not hyperinflation; at least we are not there yet… Everyone is trying to adjust.”

People have to adjust to it. If you have banked money in US dollars, you may get it in bond notes. This is not a currency and can’t be traded for another currency. Mandimika says Zimbabwe is likely to continue decelerating on a multi-quarter basis because of the debilitating liquidity crisis that continues to grip it.

“The continuation of the liquidity crunch has fueled the rise of the parallel market (US dollars are trading at a premium to the bond notes) which will likely add to the inflationary pressures. Although the latest inflation prints (November 2016), shows the year-on-year figure is still negative but month-on-month numbers suggests renewed inflationary pressure. This will likely be the trend for this year in the absence of a more permanent solution to the liquidity crisis,” he says.

It means the bond notes have been met with mounting anger and questions of legality. The city is full of protest banners mounted on brick walls, advertising billboards have #NoToBondNotes plastered all over them. Peaceful protesters are thrown into jail. One of them was Fadzayi Mahere, an advocate of the High Court and Supreme Court of Zimbabwe.

“Peaceful demonstrations are a constitutional right under Section 59. A demonstration had been organized by another entity, we believed in the cause. Unfortunately the organizers got abducted so the demonstration couldn’t happen,” says Mahere.

Once Mahere and her friends got news of the abduction, they decided to sit peacefully in the park. A handful of police came and ordered her and seven others into police vehicles.

“[Our rights weren’t read to us] in fact, we weren’t informed of the charges we were facing at that time. As citizens we are required by the law not to resist arrest so we went with them to the police station… We weren’t told about what charges we were facing until later on in the evening. We were asked to pay an admission of guilt fine and as a matter of principle, I was not prepared to admit guilt… the charges we were faced with were unfounded and trumped up,” says Mahere.

This meant spending the night in a filthy cell at the Harare Central Police Station. The tiny cell is cold and dark. There are no mattresses and blankets are infested with insects. The toilet is broken and water and urine floods the floor where some have to sleep, and no sanitary towels available.

“This is degrading to anyone. No one should be subjected to such conditions, even if you are held in cells pending trial. It was a long night. I am grateful I was in a group so there were moments of humour,” she says.

Mahere says, as unlawful as their arrest was, so are the bond notes. She says the term “bond note” is not defined anywhere in the Reserve Bank Act or the Banking Act.

“Bond note is not a term of conventional economics but an invention on the part of the Governor. It is clear that the law does not empower the Governor to create this, with respect, fictitious money,” says Mahere.

 

However, Patrick Chinamasa, Minister of Finance and Economic Development, argues, in a statement, that under existing legislation, the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe has the power to issue bond notes.

“I need to highlight that under existing legislation the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe has power to issue Bond Notes in terms of the provisions of Section 7 of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe Act Chapter (22:15). The Export Incentive Scheme could also have been introduced through Section 2 of the Exchange Control Act (Chapter 22:05) which empowers the President to make regulations relating directly or indirectly to exchange transactions and the control of imports into and exports from Zimbabwe, and payments,” says Chinamasa.

Mahere, however, argues that the Reserve Bank Act authorizes issuing Reserve Bank vouchers, not bond notes, when there is a shortage of currency of any denomination to pay civil servants or employees of the state.

“The shortage must be shown to require urgent action in the interests of public order or the economic interests of the state. The justification given by the Governor for the creation of bond notes is, therefore, inconsistent with section 42B of the Reserve Bank Act. The Governor’s justification for the curious move relates to foreign exchange stabilization and an unsatisfactory attempt to ease the cash crisis.”

“Within a few months, because we are such an import driven economy, when people are trying to replenish their stock, we will see what happens, we will see what our government does when it has the scope of printing money. We have seen that in 2008,” she says.

Mahere adds that her problem is not the bond note itself but the refusal by government to address issues at their root and attend to the fundamental causes to economic problems in Zimbabwe.

According to the Reserve Bank, the Retailers Association of Zimbabwe, fuel companies, representatives of the various business associations and the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe agreed on the use of bond notes as a medium of exchange in the country. Most traders are accepting the bond notes but worry about their future.

“I hope this will not be a repeat of 2008 where government will start printing money that is actually worthless. I have to buy my stock in South Africa because no company makes the hardware I sell here. I heard some petrol stations are already rejecting it,” says Clive Moyo, a cabinet and coffin handle trader.

The argument goes on. What is clear is people are buying and selling pieces of paper they aren’t sure about.

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Current Affairs

The Rage And Tears That Tore A Nation

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Snapshots of the outrage against foreign nationals and protests against sexual offenders in South Africa in recent weeks, captured by FORBES AFRICA photojournalist Motlabana Monnakgotla.


As the continent’s second-biggest economy, South Africa attracts migrants from the rest of Africa. But mired in its own problems of unemployment and political instability, September saw a serious outbreak of attacks by South Africans on foreign nationals and foreign-owned businesses. And they have been ugly.    

The spark that fueled the raging fire was in Pretoria, the country’s capital, when a taxi driver was shot dead by a foreign national who was selling drugs to a youngster in the central business district (CBD).

The altercation caused a riot and the taxi industry brought the CBD to a standstill, blocking intersections. It did not stop there; a week later, about 60 kilometers from the capital in Malvern, a suburb east of the Johannesburg CBD, a hijacked building caught fire, leaving three dead. As emergency services were putting out the fire, the residents took advantage and looted foreign-owned shops and burned car dealerships overnight on Jules Street.

The lootings extended to the CBD and other parts of Johannesburg.

To capture this embarrassing moment in South African history, I visited Katlehong, a township 35 kilometers east of Johannesburg, where the residents blocked roads leading to Sontonga Mall on a mission to loot the mall and the foreign-owned shops therein overnight.

Shop-owners and workers were shocked to wake up to no business.

Mfundo Maljingolo, a worker at Fish And Chips, was among the distressed.

“This thing started last night, people started looting and broke into the mall and did what they wanted to do. I couldn’t go to work today because there’s nothing to do; now, we are not going to get paid. The shop will be losing close to R10,000 ($677) today. It’s messed up,” said Maljingolo.

But South African businesses were affected too.

Among the shops at the mall is Webbers, a clothing and footwear store. Looters could not enter the shop and it was one of the few that escaped the vandalism.

Dineo Nyembe, the store’s manager, said she was in disbelief when she saw people could not enter the mall.

“We got here this morning and the ceiling was wrecked but there was no sign that the shop was entered, everything was just as we left it. Now, we are packing stock back to the warehouse, because we don’t know if they are coming back tonight,” lamented Nyembe, unsure if they would make their daily target or if they would be trading again.

 Across the now-wrecked mall are small businesses that were not as fortunate as Webbers, and it was not only the shop-owners that were affected. 

Emmanuel Nhlane’s home was robbed even as attackers were looting the shop outside.

“They broke into my house, I was threatened with a petrol bomb and I had to stand outside to give them a chance; they took my fridge, bed, cash and my VHS,” said Nhlane.

Nhlane had rented out his yard to foreign nationals to operate a shop. He does not comprehend why his belongings were taken because he doesn’t own a shop. Now, it means that the unemployed Nhlane will not be getting his monthly rental fee of R3,700 ($250).

Far away, the coastal KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa, was also affected as trucks burned and a driver was killed because of his nationality. This was part of a logistics and transport industry national strike.

Back in Johannesburg, I visited the car dealerships that were a part of the burning spree on Jules Street.

The streets were still ashy and the air still smoky, two days after the unfortunate turn of events.

Muhamed Haffejee, one of the distraught businessmen there, said: “Currently, we are still not trading.” 

Cape Town, in the Western Cape province of South Africa, which hosted the World Economic Forum (WEF) on Africa from September 4 to 6, was also witness to protests by women and girls from all walks of life outside the Cape Town International Convention Centre, demanding that the leadership take action to end the spate of gender-based violence (GBV) in the country.

There were protests also outside Parliament. What set off the nationwide outcry was the shocking rape and murder of Uyinene Mrwetyana, a 19-year-old film and media student at the University of Cape Town, inside a post office by a 42-year-old employee at the post office.

There was anger against the ghastly crimes and wave of GBV in the country that continues unabated. According to Stats SA, there has been a drastic increase of women-based violence in South Africa; sexual offences are up by 4.6%, from 50,108 in 2018 to 52,420 in 2019.

A week later, on a Friday, Sandton, Africa’s richest square mile and one of the biggest economic hubs, was shut down by hundreds of angry women and members of advocacy groups from across Johannesburg. They congregated by the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE), the cynosure of business, singing and chanting, to demand “a 2% levy on profits of all listed entities to help fund the fight against GBV and femicide”.   

Among the protesters was Cebi Ngqinanbi, holding a placard that read: “I’m not your punching bag.”

“We came here to disrupt Sandton as the heart of Johannesburg’s economic hub. We want to make everyone aware that women and children are being killed every day in South Africa and they [Sandton] continue with business as usual, sitting in their offices with air-conditioners and the stock exchange whilst people on the ground making them rich are dying. That is why we are here, to speak to those that have economic power,” said Ngqinanbi.

She added that if women can be given economic power, they will be able to fend for themselves and won’t fall prey to abusive men, since most women stay in abusive relationships because men are more financially stable.

Amid the chanting and singing of struggle songs, Nobuhle Ajiti addressed the crowd and shared her own haunting experience as a migrant in South Africa and survivor of GBV. She spoke in isiZulu, a South African language.

“I survived a gang rape; I was thrown out of a moving car and stabbed several times. I survived it, but am I going to survive xenophobia that is looming around in South Africa? Will I able to share my xenophobia story like I can share my GBV story?” questioned Ajiti.

She said as migrants, they did not wake up in the morning and decide to come to South Africa, but because of the hardships faced in their home countries, they were forced to come to what they perceived as the city of opportunities. And as a foreign national, she had to deal with both xenophobia and GBV.

“We experience institutionalized xenophobia in hospitals; we are forced to pay huge amounts for consultation. I am raped and I need medical attention and I am told I need to pay R5,000 ($250).

“As a mere migrant, where am I going to get R5,000? I get abused at home and the police officer would ask me where I’m from because of my accent, I sound Zimbabwean. What does my nationality have to do with my husband beating me at home or with the man that just raped me?” she asked.

Women stop traffic while they hold up placards stating their grievences against GBV. Picture: Motlabana Monnakgotla

Addressing the resolute women outside was the JSE CEO Nicky Newton-King who received the memorandum demanding business take their plight seriously, from a civil society group representing over 70 civil society organizations and individuals.

The list of demands include that at all JSE-listed companies contribute to a fund to resource the National Strategy Plan on GBV and femicide, to be launched in November; transport for employees who work night shifts or work after hours; establish workplace mechanisms to provide support to GBV survivors as part of employee wellness, and prevention programs that help make workplaces safe spaces for all women.

Newton-King assured the protestors she would address their demands in seven days. But a lot can happen in seven days. Will there be more crimes in the meantime? How many more will be raped and killed in South Africa by then?

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How LinkedIn Is Looking To Help Close The Ever-Growing Skills Gap

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As the job market has evolved, so too have the skills required of seekers. But when 75% of human resources professionals say a skills shortage has made recruiting particularly challenging in recent months, it would appear as though the workforce hasn’t quite kept pace. Now LinkedIn is stepping in to help close the gap.

On Tuesday, the professional social network announced the launch of a “Skills Assessments” tool, through which users can put their knowledge to the test. Those who pass are given the opportunity to display a badge that reads “passed” next to the skill on their profile pages, a validation of sorts that LinkedIn hopes will encourage skills development among its users and help better match potential employees with the right employers.  

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“We see an evolving labor market and much more sophistication in how recruiters and hiring managers look for skills. … We also see a changing learning market,” says Hari Srinivasan, senior director of product management at LinkedIn Learning. “The combination of those two made us excited about changing our opportunity marketplace to make the hiring side and the learning side work better together.”

So how exactly does it work? Let’s say a user wants to showcase her proficiency in Microsoft Excel. Rather than simply listing “Excel” in the skills section of her profile, she can take a multiple-choice test to demonstrate the extent to which she is an expert.

If she aces the test, not only will a badge verifying her aptitude will appear on her profile, but she will be more likely to surface in searches by recruiters, who can search for candidates by skill in the same way they might do so by college or employer. If she fails, she can take the test again, but she’ll have to wait a few months—plenty of time to develop her skillset.   

The tool has been in beta mode since March, and while just 2 million people have used it—a mere fraction of LinkedIn’s 630 million members—early results seem promising. According to LinkedIn, members who’ve completed skills assessments have been nearly 30% more likely to land jobs than their counterparts who did not take the tests.

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“This has been a really good way for members to represent what they know, what they are good at,” says Emrecan Dogan, LinkedIn group product manager.

While new to LinkedIn, the practice of assessing candidates’ skills has been a standard among hiring managers for decades. But when research commissioned by LinkedIn revealed that 69% of employees feel that skills have become more important to recruiters than education, LinkedIn felt as though this was the time to give job seekers the opportunity to prove themselves from the get-go.

As important as the hard skills that members can put to the test through LinkedIn’s new tool may be, Dawn Fay, senior district president at recruiting firm Robert Half, encourages those on both side of the job search not to forget the importance of soft skills. “You wouldn’t want to rule somebody in or out just based on how they did on one particular skill assessment,” she says.

“Have another data point that you can use, question people about how they did on something and see if it’s something that can feed into the puzzle to find out if somebody is going to be a good fit.”

-Samantha Todd; Forbes

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Economy

Why The High Number Of Employees Quitting Reveals A Strong Job Market

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While recession fears may be looming in the minds of some, new data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the economy and job market may actually be strengthening.

The quits rate—or the percentage of all employees who quit during a given month—rose to 2.4% in July, according to the BLS’s Jobs Openings and Labor Turnover report, released Tuesday. That translates to 3.6 million people who voluntarily left their jobs in July.

This is the highest the quits rate has been since April 2001, just five months after the Labor Department began tracking it. According to Nick Bunker, an economist at the Indeed Hiring Lab, the quits rate tends to be a reflection of the state of the economy.

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“The level of the quits rate really is a sign of how strong the labor market is,” he says. “If you look at the quits rate over time, it really drops quite a bit when the labor market gets weak. During the recession it was quite low, and now it’s picked up.”

The monthly jobs report, released last week, revealed that the economy gained 130,000 jobs in August, which is 20,000 less than expected, and just a few weeks earlier, the BLS issued a correction stating that it had overestimated by 501,000 how many jobs had been added to the market in 2018 and the first quarter of 2019. Yet despite all that, employees still seem to have confidence in the job market.Today In: Leadership

The quits level, according to the BLS, increased in the private sector by 127,000 for July but was little changed in government. Healthcare and social assistance saw an uptick in departures to the tune of 54,000 workers, while the federal government saw a rise of 3,000.

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The July quits rate in construction was 2.4%, while the number in trade, professional and business services, and leisure and hospitality were 2.6%, 3.1% and 4.8%, respectively. Bunker of Indeed says that the industries that tend to see the highest rate of departuresare those where pay is relatively low, such as leisure and hospitality. An unknown is whether employees are quitting these jobs to go to a new industry or whether they’re leaving for another job in the same industry. Either could be the case, says Bunker.

In a recently published article on the industries seeing the most worker departures, Bunker attributes the uptick to two factors—the strong labor market and faster wage growth in the industries concerned: “A stronger labor market means employers must fill more openings from the ranks of the already employed, who have to quit their jobs, instead of hiring jobless workers. Similarly, faster wage growth in an industry signals workers that opportunities abound and they might get higher pay by taking a new job.”

Even so, recession fears still dominate headlines. According to Bunker, the data shows that when a recession hits, employers pull back on hiring and workers don’t have the opportunity to find new jobs. Thus, workers feel less confident and are less likely to quit.

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“As the labor market gets stronger, there’s more opportunities for workers who already have jobs. So they quit to go to new jobs or they quit in the hopes of getting new jobs again,” Bunker says. He also notes that recession fears may have little to do with the job market, instead stemming from what is happening in the financial markets, international relations or Washington, D.C.

So what does the BLS report say about the job market? “Taking this report as a whole, it’s indicating that the labor market is still quite strong, but then we lost momentum,” Bunker says. While workers are quitting their jobs, he says that employers are pulling back on the pace at which they’re adding jobs. “While things are quite good right now and workers are taking advantage of that,” he notes, “those opportunities moving forward might be fewer and fewer if the trend keeps up.”

-Samantha Todd; Forbes

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