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Zimbabwe's Bank Queues a Way of Life

  • Peta Thornycroft

Across Zimbabwe, day and night, ordinary people are queuing at banks to get their money. Peta Thornycroft reports people are limited to draw the equivalent of the cost of one small loaf of bread a day.

A group of about 30 people were beaten Wednesday by riot police outside the central post office in Harare. One of the victims, a former long-serving soldier now working as a street vendor, said the police angrily told people not to stand in groups in the city.

He said his former colleagues with 10 years service in the Zimbabwe National Army do not earn enough to even buy a small tube of toothpaste a month. He said senior members of the army, from the rank of brigadier and above, are now paid in foreign currency and do not have to queue each day to withdraw their salaries.

There have been several incidents of violence in long queues outside commercial banks around the country in recent weeks.

Most employed people spend at least part of each day in a queue to withdraw their salaries, bit by bit, as central bank governor Gideon Gono limits how much people and companies can take from their accounts each day.

A hungry pregnant woman in a bank queue in Harare's fourth street says she goes to the queue early, without breakfast, and is there all day. She is never sure how much money will be in her bank.

"Since I am a civil servant, now we are not even aware of actual salaries, because they are putting it in halves. Ah! I think Gono has mismanaged the financial sector and I would think it would be better if they would put someone else," she said.

A father of two employed in the private sector says his family is hungry every day and he often remains in the queue throughout the night because, rather than walk home in the dark carrying money.

"I used to sleep here because it is dangerous for myself," he said. "If you can withdraw 50 million per month, it would be better for us to survive. It is difficult, very difficult. If our government could solve this problem of money it will be better."

Harare economist John Robertson says the ruling ZANU-PF elite have discarded the Zimbabwe dollar.

"The elite, I believe, have already found the Zimbabwe dollar inadequate and have already moved to foreign currency. So the government gives the privilege to the senior people in the form of foreign currency, but they are not admitting it, because they are not the ones standing in bank queues. They have found another means around the problem," said Robertson.

Robertson says the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe obtains foreign currency it needs by raiding exporter's bank accounts.

"So, it would seem the government is tapping into all the foreign currency exporter industries, mainly the mining sector, and agriculture is still exporting cotton and tobacco, but much smaller quantities than previously," he said.

Gono said Wednesday he would substantially increase the Z$10,000 companies may withdraw daily and believed the bank queues would end soon.



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