Earlier this week we wrote about how Econet had started limiting the amount of Zimbabwean dollar airtime it sells. The reason for this is clear but it seems Econet is not alone in doing this. NetOne seems to have also stopped selling One Fusion and One Fi bundles. At first, customers thought this was a glitch as NetOne had been having issues during this period after a major system upgrade that did not go as planned. It now seems like the decision not to sell data bundles in Zimbabwean dollars was not a mistake but a choice.

Here at Zimpricecheck, we sell airtime mainly to the Zimbabwean diaspora who have either roaming lines or want to buy airtime for their relatives in Zimbabwe. The process is automated and that automation is achieved by using a technology that is known as an API. This API allowed us to automatically sell One Fusion and One Fi bundles on our site. A couple of weeks ago we noticed that our One Fusion and One-Fi pages were no longer working as intended. A quick investigation showed that there were no NetOne One-Fi and One Fusion bundles in stock. Even our fellow airtime vendors did not have these bundles listed either.

Trying to boost USD airtime sales

It seems both the Econet and NetOne actions are meant to boost the sale of USD airtime which is not only more profitable but puts foreign currency directly into the mobile network operator’s coffers. POTRAZ and the government have conspired to create pricing distortions that have resulted in Zimbabwean dollar airtime being too cheap and uneconomic. Mobile network operators are not being allowed to charge an economic tariff and so it seems they have decided to get creative and get the foreign currency they need to finance their operations in another way.

Buy USD Airtime

As we noted in the article about Econet limiting the ZWL airtime they sell, this is risky. The majority of civil servants earn Zimbabwean dollar salaries. They have been demanding to be paid either in USD or have their salaries pegged against the US dollar for the longest time. Mobile network operators somehow making it difficult to get Zimbabwean dollar airtime and bundles gives the labour unions all the ammunition they need. It is potentially politically explosive and our government is nothing but populist. The government might lash out against mobile network operators in some fashion.

In any case, our observations on the ground show that mobile network operators might not benefit in the way they think. As already said not a lot of people have USD to spare as the government insists on pouring Zimbabwean dollars into the economy. What we have noticed is that ZWL airtime is now selling at a premium shockingly even in supermarkets. $200 ZWL airtime now sells for as much as $300 ZWL. The vendors are now pocketing the profits which never reach mobile network operators. The result is fewer people calling and not more as the operators assumed would happen. Thanks to lower profit margins USD airtime it is not popular with vendors either. Customers do not buy a lot of it and the result is everyone is losing.