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Boxing Day Brings Little Relief For Zimbabweans Caught In Cash Squeeze

The cash crisis in Zimbabwe continued on Tuesday as most banks again defied the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe by keeping their doors closed on Boxing day as they did on Christmas, leaving automated tellers to dispense bills to desperate consumers.

ZimBank and CABS building society were among the few banks open in Harare, while sources in Bulawayo said Stanbic had just one ATM operating. Business sources said banks remained closed on Christmas because they had no cash to dispense.

There were conflicting reports as to how much the bank teller machines were allowing consumers to withdraw; some said Z$5 million, others said up to Z$20 million.

Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono announced Dec. 19 the issue of a new family of bearer cheques - central bank promissory notes - in denominations of Z$250,000, Z$500,000 and Z$750,000 to relieve chronic and worsening cash shortages.

But the new notes did not appear until Dec. 21 and reports said banks complained they had not received enough new notes to meet demand, and were obliged to maintain limits on how much consumers and business could withdraw.

Some economists said the central bank should have issued larger denominations, at a minimum a note for Z$1 million, enough to buy a loaf of bread. Others say the central bank does not understand or is unwilling to recognize most economic activity is now taking place outside the official financial system, thus the bank cash shortage.

RBZ Governor Gono has taken aim at what he calls the "cash barons" of the parallel currency and goods markets who he says are hoarding cash. In an effort to penalize black market dealers he has set a Dec. 31 deadline for Zimbabweans to turn in all Z$200,000 notes, until last week the largest denomination in circulation.

Gono has dubbed this "Operation Sunrise II," following his "Operation Sunrise" of mid-2006 in which many Zimbabweans suffered severe financial losses in the obligatory exchange of notes, at times through confiscation by police and other agents.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...