Harare – Bank queues, bags of bond coins and threats against foreign traders: Zimbabwe’s cash crisis is far from over.
Frustrated Zimbabweans queue, sometimes for several days in a row, to be able to access their salaries.
At times bank clients are only allowed to take out $60 at a time – and it’s almost certain that there won’t be a ‘real’ US dollar note in the mix.
President Robert Mugabe’s cash-strapped government introduced bond notes, a special-to-Zimbabwe currency that has no value outside the country, in November.
There are now bond notes supposedly to the value of $120m in circulation.
If you’re planning a trip to Zimbabwe these holidays, here are the basics you’ll need to survive.
Will I be able to pay for hotels and goods with a card from a South African or foreign bank?
Probably not. Non-Zimbabwean VISA cards haven’t worked in most places for some time now. If you’re staying in a hotel or camp, make sure you pay for your accommodation before you leave.
So should I take cash?
Yes. But you’ll have to declare how much you’re bringing in at the point of entry. And you can’t take any more than R 20 000 ($1 000) out of Zimbabwe at the end of your trip.
Road-blocks and toll-gates?
You’ll need cash to pay at toll-gates. In theory, you can “swipe” if you have a Zimbabwe bank account. But the swipe machines at toll gates don’t always work.
Also, you may find you have inadvertently joined a queue for a “non-swipe” booth. You’ll have to pay $2 per tollgate if you’re in a sedan.
If you ask to pay with your Zimbabwean bank card at a road-block, police will almost certainly grin and direct you to a police station some distance away.
Bond notes are accepted at roadblocks, if it’s any consolation. Some motorists like to pay their fines entirely in small-denomination bond coins.
I transferred money to a relative’s account before my trip. How will I withdraw the money?
With difficulty. The sight of a queue-less ATM in one of Zimbabwe’s town centres may make you quicken your step. But it’s likely it will be an empty ATM.
You’ll need to get to your bank early to queue (pensioners are ushered to the front). You may be lucky enough to get $100 in one withdrawal but that will be after several hours in the bank and it will be divided something like this: $70 in bond notes and $30 in bond coins.
Weren’t bond notes supposed to fix all this?
Central bank chief John Mangudya said they were supposed to fix “externalisation” of hard currency, stopping people taking ‘real’ US dollars out of the country.
What the bond notes have done is to chase the real dollars out of circulation, which is why you’ll now only see bond notes in banks, shops and markets (the central bank’s promise that no-one would ever have more than $19 worth of bond notes on them has been quickly broken).
Eight years after Zimbabwe’s last currency crisis ended, words like saboteur are creeping back into government speak. Last week Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa threatened retailers he said were “hoarding” cash and not banking it, according to the privately-owned NewsDay .
So what are the Zimbabwe authorities saying now?
That there’s “no need to panic”, according to RBZ chief John Mangudya in the state-owned Sunday Mail.
If you want to know if Zimbabweans believe him, read the comments under that piece. You will see words like “hogwash”.
A “bumper harvest” and better prices for minerals will improve the cash situation, Mangudya says.
That won’t be before the Easter break. So be prepared.