A few weeks ago we learnt that Econet was now limiting the amount of Zimbabwean dollar-denominated airtime it was selling. Even back then Zimbabwean dollar airtime started selling at a premium but with the current Zimbabwean dollar liquidity crunch we are starting to see massive premiums being charged on Econet ZWL airtime with middlemen pocketing the profit. Even electronic airtime which used to be in abundance is now being sold at a premium.

In our recent survey we noted the following:

  • Airtime vendors are selling $500 ZWL of airtime for US$1
  • Zimbabwean dollar airtime scratch cards are now rarer than pangolins and where they do exist are being sold at twice the face value.
  • US$1 airtime is more available however most vendors do not seem to be stocking it as the profit of about US$0.05 is deemed too little
  • US$1 airtime sells for $800 ZWL if you want to buy using bond notes (ZWL cash) this essentially means that the dealers are selling it at a rate of US$1: $800 ZWL.
  • A lot of supermarkets were not processing Econet airtime sales on their point of sale. Most cited some sort of Econet imposed limit as well.
  • Sometimes trying to recharge certain Econet numbers using HotRecharge is failing. This suggests that there is perhaps a personal limit to how much Econet ZWL one can buy on a given number.
  • HotRecharge a popular electronic airtime platform has said that Econet has been restricting the amount of airtime they can sell which has led them to impose limits on their airtime dealers. The company has said they are engaged in negotiations with Econet to get this limit raised or lifted altogether.
  • While liquidity has greatly affected the value of Econet airtime resulting in it selling at a premium the effects of the crunch have been less pronounced on Telecel and NetOne airtime.

The effects of the premium on Econet tariffs

A lot of people have continued to buy Econet ZWL airtime because they claim it is cheaper than USD airtime. Is this true? Remember vendors are now using a rate of $500 ZWL per 1 USD when selling Econet airtime. So let us look at the numbers. Based on this rate:

  • Econet call tariffs translate to about US$0.051. In the meantime, Econet call USD call tariffs are currently US$0.0524. This means that ZWL calls are ever so slightly cheaper than USD calls at this rate.
  • Each SMS costs the equivalent of US$0.0107 using ZWL airtime compared to US$0.0108. So again there is a tiny advantage to you buying ZWL airtime at these rates.
  • If you are an idiot who likes to use out-of-bundle pricing Econet will bill you at the equivalent of US$0.008 per MB if you buy ZWL airtime. Meanwhile, if you buy US dollar airtime you will be billed at US$0.0083. So there is a very tiny advantage to you buying ZWL airtime.
  • Based on a detailed analysis of data, WhatsApp and Facebook bundles we can spare you the maths right now by telling you that you are better off buying USD airtime and converting it to smart USD bundles

You are better of buying USD airtime

The advantages of buying ZWL airtime are marginal at the current rate at which it is being sold of $500 to 1 USD. The advantages are immaterial and only available to you if you are using out-of-bundle browsing or making calls and sending SMS. If you are using data Econet’s SmartUSD bundles have a clear advantage. Econet has peppered these with other perks such as additional off-peak data. Honestly, the difference is night and day. Again given how hard it is to get ahold of ZWL airtime at the moment you should spare yourself the hustle and just get USD airtime.

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