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A nation of billionaires

Cash shortage - Zimbabweans queue to access their accounts as banks run out of money.
(IRIN)

Where in the world could you be a multi-billionaire and still go hungry? The answer is, of course, Zimbabwe.

The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) has fixed the daily withdrawal limit at Z$100 billion (roughly US$1.25) a day for individuals, but that comes nowhere near to covering the day-to-day costs of people living in the most inflationary environment in the world.

A loaf of bread costs Z$100 billion at the official rate, a kilogramme of meat Z$450 billion, (around US$5.60) and a half-litre sachet of milk sells for Z$200 billion (about US$2.50). On the parallel market, where most people shop, prices are far higher.

Ernest Nyandoro, 43, works as a casual labourer at a brick factory in Zimbabwe's second city, Bulawayo. He was in a bank queue for four hours before he finally got to the teller's window and was handed his two Z$50 billion notes.

Neatly folding them into his wallet, he headed outside to find his bike and begin his journey to work, angry at the sheer frustration of daily survival in Zimbabwe.

"The money the banks are giving out is not enough. I borrowed Z$500 billion so that my two children can get transport fare to and from school, and food for the coming three days, but with what the banks are giving out I will have to queue here for five days before I pay back the amount," Nyandoro told IRIN.

"What is further irritating me is that I will have to find another excuse to give to my boss for me to come and queue at the bank again." But with Zimbabwe's inflation rate now officially at 2.2 million percent, and rising every day, "If I do not collect the money instantly I am afraid it will lose value, and the more time I will take in withdrawing [it]."

It would take him six days, in theory, to withdraw his Z$600 billion (about US$7.50) salary - that's not counting the bank queues and cash shortages that can scupper the best laid plans. And at the end of the day, his salary would not buy him much more than a 20kg bag of maize-meal at current prices on the parallel market.

"I re-sell bricks that I buy cheaply as a staff member at my workplace, and with the extra that I make I get ready cash that augments my salary," said Nyandoro, explaining how he gets by. His wife also sells vegetables at a stall near his home to help support the family.

Cash for sale

Charlotte Sibanda, 28, a nurse at a private clinic, turns to the parallel market when her superiors do not give her time off to get to the bank. Shops that have cash make it available to customers for a fee.

"The supermarkets charge a commission and a fee if one wants to write a cheque for them - just yesterday I signed a cheque for Z$400 billion and I received Z$300 billion in cash," she told IRIN. She said fees differ, but most shops in Bulawayo charge about 15 percent commission for cash.

A local businessman who runs a hardware store in the city, Collin Mandizvidza, said it was pointless banking his takings, given the difficulty of getting his hands on his money again. "The withdrawal limits are ridiculous, so the cash I make I sell to people who pay me in cheques," he said.

Reserve bank governor Gideon Gono said the bank was seriously considering increasing withdrawal limits. "The central bank is in the process of reviewing daily cash withdrawal limits following numerous representations from the public," he recently announced.

However, he blamed the business community for profiteering, forcing up prices. "The central bank notes with concern the unjustifiable and general increases in prices of goods and services, and we appeal to the business community to follow ethical business practices."

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This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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