There was upheaval and pandemonium when the Zimbabwean government announced a new form of currency in the form of bond notes, to replace the US dollar, which is ‘running’ in short supply. The bond note has still not been introduced, with some commentary calling for the South African Rand to instead be the replacement currency. And while the government mulls a decision, Cathy Buckle asks one simple question: Where have all the dollars gone? And she refers to the current crisis as one that’s self-imposed by government. Yet another own goal that’s seen the former crown jewel of southern Africa slip into further obscurity. Will South Africa follow? – Stuart Lowman
By Cathy Buckle*
Arriving at the international bank on another sweltering November morning in Zimbabwe, I was pleasantly surprised not to see hundreds of people camped out on the surrounding pavements. It could only mean one thing, the bank didn’t have any money. Sitting behind the wheel in a parked car nearby a man yawned and lifted his hand in greeting; he’d clearly been waiting there for some time and I soon found out why. Emerging from the double security box doors into the bank, the place was completely full of people but nobody was moving and the customers stood crammed up against each other in a stationery queue. There was no buzz of conversation, no angry mutterings, just a hundred or so people standing silently, patiently, waiting for a depositor. One person depositing one hundred dollars would enable two people in the queue to be served, allowed to withdraw a maximum of fifty dollars each.
You could hear a pin drop when I asked at Enquiries for a deposit slip and I could feel a hundred pairs of eyes boring into my back as I filled the slip in. I didn’t want to be depositing precious bank notes but needed to make a payment requiring a bank transfer. The slip filled in and bank notes in my hand, I turned and could almost hear the sigh of relief from people in the stationery queue.
“Go straight to the front,” someone in the queue said; “you’re welcome,” another said, smiling.
“If I deposit you can withdraw,” I said to the man at the front of the queue.
“Exactly!” he replied, a look of relief on his face along with a quick glance at his watch. I wondered how late he was for work already; how late everyone in the queue was.
Depositing my money I had hardly left the counter when the teller called for the first person in the queue. We smiled as we passed each other: depositor and withdrawer, but when he left the counter it wasn’t with any of my US dollar bank notes. He’d just been given his maximum daily withdrawal amount in the form of a bag of 50cent Bond coins, so who, I wondered, was going to get my US dollar bank notes: the bank? The Central Bank? Someone in government? My musings brought back to the boil the question we’ve all been asking for months: where have all the US dollars gone? For the last eight years they’ve circulated freely and driven our economy but in the past six months the whole lot have just disappeared. We’ve never been given a clear, believable explanation from our government of just exactly where all the US dollars have gone and no one has been held to account for the gross mismanagement of our economy or disappearance of an international currency.
The bigger denomination US dollar notes were the first to disappear a few months ago: $100 and $50 notes, then in the last fortnight $20 notes have become scarce and now the $10’s too. At one international bank customers are allowed to withdraw a maximum of $250 a week, the same as the $50 daily limit but they can get it all in one go to save time. A friend emerged from that bank this week with US$250, but all in one dollar notes: filthy, disgusting one dollar notes that make you want to immediately run for the disinfectant.
Then there’s the disgrace attached to some places which continue to refuse to install Point of Sale card machines or say their swipe machines aren’t working, forcing people to pay cash, making the lives of ordinary people a nightmare. Every time they tell us their swipe machines aren’t working it forces us to stand in bank queues for days on end to withdraw enough cash to pay for their services.
The current cash crisis in Zimbabwe has been created entirely by our own government who are now running a huge advertising campaign to tell us how wonderful everything will be once we start using their made up currency called Bond notes which they still haven’t introduced. “You deserve more,” their adverts say, telling us that Bond notes are an export incentive. The adverts are blatantly bribing people to export more or send more real money to Zimbabwe from the Diaspora and receive a 5% bonus for doing so; a bonus paid in Bond notes, and no doubt the capital paid in Bond notes too because there are no US dollars.
Yet again ordinary Zimbabweans are being lured into replacing the US dollars that have disappeared, becoming accomplices to yet more looting of our economy in the process. We are not fooled and yes, we deserve more, much more from the people who have been in power for 36 years.
- Cathy Buckle is the author of four children books. She has also written the non-fictional African Tears, the Zimbabwe Land Invasions, Beyond Tears: Zimbabwe’s tragedy, Innocent Victims: Rescuing the Stranded Animals of Zimbabwe’s Farm Invasions and Sleeping Like a Hare. The article was first published at cathybuckle.com, or follow her on Twitter @cathybuckle.