ZAIRE'S PAPER MOUNTAINS There is a lighter side to the chaos in Zaire - its currency. With inflation running at around 600% last year, the official exchange rate has deteriorated from three new zaire to the dollar in 1993, when it was introduced, to 162 000 this month. The most common note, the 10 000 zaire, is worth a paltry 6.2 US cents. Not surprisingly, monetary policy takes on a whole new meaning in these circumstances. It is centred in a street, appropriately called Wall Street, near the US embassy in Kinshasa. The value of the currency is determined not by pin stripes but by women sitting on stools on the pavement with bundles of zaires in front of them and rolls of foreign money stashed in their voluminous robes.
Their power, according to The Economist, is awesome. In January the government introduced new 1-million and 500 000 notes to make up back pay due to civil servants. Not known to fuss about, the women brutally dubbed them prostates - their emergence coincided with President Mobutu's prostate cancer operation - and traded them at a miserable rate of 340 000 zaire to the dollar. Even worse, government cheques are discounted at 600 000 to the dollar.
OUR BROWSERS DON'T BUY IT Our occasional Business Times browsers' polls (at www.btimes.co.za) on important economic and financial events seem to suggest that our readership remains highly sceptical of public institutions and their leaders.
The Budget, for example, was generally well received, ranging from adulation to very mild scepticism. Yet our poll on whether Finance Minister Trevor Manuel had finally proved his mettle drew a largely negative response. Only 180, or 32%, of respondents, thought he had. The rest (382 votes) remain sceptical of Manuel's performance.
Our latest poll asks you whether Telkom will become more efficient and customer-friendly as a result of its partial privatisation. Again only half (153 votes or 51.3%) believe Telkom will be dragged out of the dark ages although the deal has generally been hailed as a good one for South Africa. Browser scepticism suggests that South Africans want to see results first before they change their minds - or that computer nerds are simply a cynical bunch. Anyway, please keep on voting.
HOW MEN WOULD RULE THE ROOST Six out of Business Times's 10 permanent staff members are working mothers - and it is therefore not surprising that the following item finds itself in this week's Briefcase. Compiled by Paul Freinkel of the Wits Medical School, it concludes that if men got pregnant: