EXCLUSIVE: Zimbabweans to spend Christmas on 'empty stomachs'

2016-12-24 12:00
Zimbabweans queuing at a local bank. (File: News24)

Zimbabweans queuing at a local bank. (File: News24)

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Harare - Many Zimbabweans are unhappy they will be celebrating Christmas with empty pockets this year as the liquidity crunch in the southern African country shows no signs of abating.

Long winding queues are now a common feature at local banks and the demand for cash has been increased by people wanting to travel this festive season. Many are spending most of their time lining up at local financial institutions to try and access their hard-earned cash so they can travel to their rural homes to spend Christmas with their loved ones. However, most of the depositors are set to go home empty-handed as fiscal authorities are failing to provide enough cash to meet the rising demand.

Some depositors like 33-year-old Mavis Ngorima complained that she would not be able to see her family during this festive period as she does not have any cent in her pocket for bus fares and to buy some groceries.

"I joined the queue as early as 05:00 hours but I could not withdraw any cent as we were told by bank staff that the money had run out after only a few people had been served," said Ngorima.

"This means I have to spend the whole holiday period here in Harare because I have no money to buy groceries for my children who live with my mother at our rural home in Masvingo."

'I have nothing in my pocket'

Although the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) introduced a surrogate currency called "bond notes" in November, the cash crisis has not eased. Some government workers are yet to be paid their November and December salaries, including the 13th cheque. Tempers are now flaring among many unpaid government employees.

"Our employer (the government) has staggered the payment of salaries so most of us are going to have a bleak Christmas because we are only expecting to be paid sometime in January; this is the first time that I will not beeen able to buy new clothes for my children for Christmas as I have nothing in my pocket," said Luckmore Makoya, a government employee.

The secretary general of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, Japhet Moyo told News24 that the situation is even worse for some employees in the private sector. 

"Workers are going for Christmas empty-handed; leaving behind salary arrears of a year or even more and they do not know whether their companies would still be operating when they come back after the holidays," said the trade unionist.

A report compiled by the Labour and Economic Development Institute of Zimbabwe and the Solidarity Centre described the failure by the private and public sectors to pay their workers as "wage theft".

Zimbabwe

Picture: Frank Chikowore, News24

Meanwhile, some depositors like Phoebe Munhuwa have devised means of accessing cash but it comes at a cost - swiping their bank cards for people who would be buying their items in cash in supermarkets. 

Economic performance 

"The problem is that people do not have a lot of money so I have to swipe so many times to get the amount of money that I require and I am also running a loss because each time I make a purchase a small amount would be deducted from my account to cater for the bank charges," said Munhuwa. 

The central bank recently ordered all banks to reduce their bank charges in order to cushion the public who are now using plastic money for most of their transactions. 

But most transport operators do not have the technology to enable their clients to use their bank cards during this festive season. 

"Its difficult to travel with no cash because the buses do not have point of sale machines for us to pay for our fares so one needs to have cash to be able to move from one point to the other," added Munhuwa.

Central bank governor John  Mangudya recently ordered all banks to double their withdrawal limits after increasing the surrogate currency in circulation to $29m.

"Bond notes shall fortuitously and subserviently go a long way to mitigate cash shortages with the economy. Clearing of cash queues at banks can never be an overnight event; it is a process," Mangudya said.

Zimbabwe's finance minister Patrick Chinamasa said he would not release too many bond notes into the market at once as it would disturb economic performance. 

Read more on:    john mangudya  |  patrick chinamasa  |  zimbabwe  |  southern africa

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