With rampant inflation and shortages of just about everything from petrol to bread, more Zimbabweans are relying on technology to help them survive.
Relatives living outside the country are making use of a combination of Web sites and SMS technology to buy goods and services for their families in Zimbabwe.
For example, Mukuru.com lets expatriates (or other friends or relatives) pay for fuel from whereever they are in the world. The Zimbabwean resident gets an SMS with a 10-digit number that can purchase coupons which are then used to get petrol at independent importers.
Other sites, like Zimbuyer.com and Zimland.com, let outsiders buy food or appliances that are then delivered to the recipients.
The use of SMS highlights the high level of cellular penetration in Africa. In 2005, more than 5% of Zimbabweans had a cellular phone, more than twice the number of land lines in the country. Cellular telephony is also widely timeshared, with minutes and services sold on so an entire community can benefit from one instrument and connection.
Apart from fuel, the most popular items that people buy for folks back in Zimbabwe appear to be cooking oil, soap, rice, meat, and maize meal.