HomeLocalZimbabweans sleep in bank queues as bond notes beckon

Zimbabweans sleep in bank queues as bond notes beckon

For months, the introduction of bond notes as a measure to curtail the cash shortages seemed to be the usual empty talk by a cornered government.

news in depth BY TAPIWA ZIVIRA

People sleep outside CABS Fourth Street branch on Thursday night.  Pictures: Tapiwa Zivira
People sleep outside CABS Fourth Street branch on Thursday night. Pictures: Shepherd Tozvireva

Without a consensus among government officials and financial experts on whether or not the bond notes would be good for Zimbabwe’s ailing economy, and with civic groups strongly opposing their introduction, it appeared the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) would relent on the decision to bring the notes.

For those pessimistic about bond notes — understandably so because of the 2008 hyperinflation ghost that still haunts Zimbabwe — they would rather struggle to access the United States dollar than have a currency they fear would bring back the ghost of hyperinflation, “money burning” and food shortages, among other troubles Zimbabweans went through eight years ago.

In conformity with the cash crisis, stranded Zimbabweans resorted to spending nights in bank queues to access their money, and keeping a keen eye on the developments related to the introduction of bond notes, which looked like they would never see the light of day considering the contestations around them.

It was only last week when reality dawned on many Zimbabweans after President Robert Mugabe invoked his presidential powers and gazetted Statutory Instrument 133 of 2016 paving the way for the introduction of bond notes as legal tender.

Showing no signs of going back, the RBZ immediately began an aggressive media campaign in the face of vagueness on where the notes would be printed after Germany recently turned down the job.

For many Zimbabweans, it sounded like the return of the 2008 money-printing and hyperinflationary era, and those with savings immediately started withdrawing them from the already cash-strained banks.

The banks, in turn, appeared to fail to meet the rising cash demand, with some limiting withdrawals to as low as $20 a day, forcing depositors to return to the bank on a daily basis until they exhausted the cash in their accounts.

In a survey in Harare’s central business district and the city’s outskirts last week, it was established that several banks had hundreds of people queuing outside from as early as 5pm the previous day and the queues grew with each hour.

For some of those who have day jobs, they join the queue soon after work, while others travel from home, armed with blankets and food.

At the CABS Fourth Street branch, where there is noticeably a higher number of people sleeping in queues, people line up the pavement, wrapped in their blankets.

The young and the old — showing all signs of desperation and fatigue — brave the rain showers and stay put in their positions.

Any movement from their position could render them out of the queue, a waste of the sacrifice they would have made.
One 46-year-old woman from Epworth who identified herself only as Mai Tafadzwa on Thursday said she was spending the night in the queue.

“After spending the night in the queue, I only got $100 at around 3pm so I decided to stay put so that tomorrow I may be lucky to get another $100,” she said.

“Maybe I can meet my cash demands for now, but I will resume on Monday till I have all my money as cash,” she added, disclosing that she had $500 in her account, an amount one could get in one withdrawal before the cash crisis started.

A mother of three, Mai Tafadzwa is afraid that despite assurances from government and the RBZ, the bond notes may not have the same value as the US dollar.

“I lost all my money in 2008 and I cannot afford to do that this time, so I have to get the last of my money before the bond notes come and we will see about the rest when the bond notes come,” she said, before joining a conversation with other women in the queue.

Typical of any gatherings, bank queues have become melting pots for political and social discourse.

This paper established during the small survey carried that unlike the fear that characterises many public forums in the country, there is an atmosphere of free speech and Zimbabweans appear to express themselves without fear of any consequences in the overnight queues.

This reporter listened to groups of people huddled together discussing — in unrestrained tones — the disappearance of human rights activist Itai Dzamara, the arrest of Higher and Tertiary Education minister Jonathan Moyo, President Robert Mugabe’s advanced age and his wife’s alleged interference in the running of the State.

They also spoke freely about corruption, election rigging and other hot topics in Zimbabwe.

But it is not just serious political and social issues that are discussed in the queues, humour and jokes also make part of the conversations.

As the night wears on, one by one, people would settle to their place, wrap themselves in blankets and doze off to wait for yet another day.

It is at this time, according to some in the queue at CABS Park Lane branch, that thieves are likely to take advantage.

“So some of us stay awake to make sure that we look out for thieves and street children who may want to steal, and we take turns to do that,” said one of the men who remained awake as others slept.

In addition to the risk of being robbed, depositors also face, among other challenges, the unavailability of ablution facilities, with women bearing the biggest burden as they have to relieve themselves in public spaces in full view of others.

“We just go around the corner, but it is always embarrassing because the city always has people walking around all the time, but there is nothing we can do, you cannot hold it until the morning,” said one middle-aged woman.

In the struggle to access their money, some are making a killing as they stand in the queue and sell their positions for $1 to those who come in the morning.

One young man, a self-confessed street person, said he can get up to $5 per day if he manages to hold five positions throughout the night.

Night vendors also pass by the banks, selling food stuffs that range from soft drinks to buns and snacks.

For all this struggle, the quest is simply to get the money that one would have worked so hard for.

Zimbabwe has experienced a number of cash shortages since the turn of the millennium resulting in the closure of many banks.

The worst cash crisis was between 2008 and 2009 leading to the death of the local currency.

Analysts say Zimbabwe cannot sustain its own currency owing to the collapse of the local economy and the introduction of the bond notes would be a temporary measure.

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